By Michelle Brutlag Hosick
The Southland Conference, host of the 2011 NCAA Division I Football Championship, will bring together Football Championship Subdivision administrators in advance of January’s championship game to discuss the subdivision’s future.
Called the FCS Summit, the day-long event will feature NCAA President Mark Emmert as keynote speaker. A variety of programming, including panel discussions about the championship game and the current status and future of the FCS, is on the docket for the Jan. 7 meeting at the Frisco (Texas) Convention Center.
FCS subgroup chair Doug Fullerton.
In the morning, a panel reviewing the championship game and the intricacies of selections, officiating, and television coverage will feature Jim O’Day, chair of the Division I Football Committee and athletics director at Montana; Greg Shaheen, NCAA interim executive vice president of championships and business strategies; Damani Leech, NCAA director of Division I football; Burke Magnus, ESPN vice president for collegiate programming and Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton. Patriot League Executive Director Carolyn Schlie Femovich will moderate.
The afternoon panel will discuss the subdivision’s future, including conference realignment, membership standards, migration from the FCS to the FBS and other legislative matters. Panelists include Jim Isch, NCAA chief operating officer; David Berst, NCAA vice president for Division I; Dennis Poppe, NCAA vice president of Division I football; Greg Burke, Northwestern State AD; and Patty Viverito, commissioner of the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Doug Fullerton, chair of the FCS subgroup of the Collegiate Commissioners Association, said he hopes the summit provides an opportunity for FCS administrators to realize the value of the subdivision and what it offers.
Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett.
“As soon as we get good at the FCS level, the first thing we do is bring the consultants in (to look at a move to the Football Bowl Subdivision),” he said. “Frankly, there are a bunch of schools that should go in the other direction. I need people to realize what we’ve got going for us in the FCS.
“The FCS can deliver what presidents want out of their athletic department: the on-campus experience, the connection with the alumni base, branding. I can deliver what they need through the FCS without breaking the bank.”
To Fullerton, the summit will provide an opportunity to convince people already in the subdivision that it’s a good place to be.
Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett believes that would be a desirable outcome, as well. Burnett said he and several other commissioners began talking about a summit surrounding the championship game several years ago, and when the Southland was given the opportunity to host the championship for three years, he got to work. The combination of a change in location and a change in the date formula – the game will be played about two weeks later than in years past – provided a good opportunity to start something new. Burnett hopes that in addition to driving more attendance at the championship game, the event will provide the opportunity to discuss a common vision for the subdivision with administrators, presidents and the like. He would like to see every FCS athletics director attend.
Northwestern State AD Greg Burke.
One athletics director that will be there will be Burke, who is also president of the FCS Athletics Directors Association. Burke said that the ebb and flow in the subdivision has been enormous in the last five years, and convening administrators will provide a good opportunity for both education and networking.
“Sometimes, in the electronic age of conference calls and video conferences and e-mail, it’s easy to lose that personal level of communication, which should be at the root of everything we do,” Burke said. “There’s no better time to do that for our subdivision than around our championship game. It makes perfect sense.”
Viverito agreed that shaping a vision for the future of the FCS was the major goal of the summit, but she would like to hear talk about another project: playoff expansion. She believes that expanding the playoffs will help keep some FCS members in the fold.
“It’s very difficult for our membership in Division I to look at 70 postseason opportunities available to the FBS and 20 postseason opportunities in the FCS,” she said. “It’s tough to get in the playoffs. You might not even need a winning record this year to go (to a bowl game). Postseason opportunities and championship experience are huge motivating factors for all of our teams.”
Missouri Valley Football Conference commissioner Patty Viverito.
The summit will provide the subdivision’s members with the opportunity to hear from Emmert, as well. Viverito said she hopes to hear honest comparisons from the new NCAA president, who has experience at both the FCS and FBS levels.
“He expressed unequivocally (at a recent FCS meeting) that he sees the value in this level of football and that it’s in everybody’s best interests to keep this subdivision strong,” she said.
Burnett hopes that the summit becomes a regular occurrence that will help guide the FCS through issues like conference realignment and new membership standards.
“You can’t deny football’s importance in all of our lives,” he said. “We’re all defined by how we sponsor football. Regardless of what level we sponsor it, there are larger issues that involve all of us. It’s in a football package, but it really involves everything we do.”