Realignment could reach far across the FCS
Conference realignment often deals with one school at a time changing affiliation, not new football conferences springing up in Division I.
But recent media buzz suggests big things are potentially happening with the Atlantic Sun Conference, or ASUN, and the Western Athletic Conference, or WAC.
And where there's smoke with realignment...
Neither conference sponsors football, but the nine-school ASUN in the southeast has been openly seeking additional membership, reportedly putting focus on state schools that happen to have excellent FCS programs, Central Arkansas from the Southland Conference and Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State from the Ohio Valley Conference. UCA and EKU just played each other twice in the last month. Might that be a future conference rivalry?
The ASUN includes current members with football programs: Kennesaw State and North Alabama play in the ever-growing Big South as part of a working agreement between the two conferences, and Stetson plays in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League. While ASUN commissioner Ted Gumbart has been open to creative, flexible solutions – he's loving how another conference member, Liberty, is off to a successful first three seasons as an FBS independent – the prospect of having a new football league must be enticing. A new league probably wouldn't include Stetson due to funding, and it would have to be FBS for a football reunion with Liberty.
Gumbart reacted to all the expansion talk, releasing the following statement Monday evening: "The ASUN's goal remains singularly focused: how can we maximize the opportunities we provide to our student-athletes, our teams, and our member institutions to achieve at the highest level, academically and athletically. The planning done by our Presidents' Council over the past two years has put us in the proverbial catbird seat. We will not comment on specific institutions with which we have had discussions, but we are confident that we will partner with institutions boasting innovative, visionary leadership that will join us in building a more stable, more sustainable, more sensible structure for mid-major collegiate athletics over the next decade."
The WAC surely wants back into football even more than the ASUN because it sponsored the sport for 51 seasons from 1962 to 2012 and members included the likes of Air Force, Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, Boise State, Hawaii, San Diego State, and Wyoming.
FBS Independent New Mexico State and two new FCS programs, Dixie State and Tarleton, are already WAC members (New Mexico State, though, hasn't indicated it wants to drop down to the FCS – a move Idaho did to the Big Sky in 2018). The WAC is rumored to have interest in Southland programs Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, and Stephen F. Austin, which aren't necessarily geographic fits in Texas, but football programs out west are fewer than in the eastern and central portions of the country.
The newest conference to form on the FCS level was the Great West in 2004, but it only lasted through the 2011 season.
A conference generally has to have at least six members to be eligible for an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy of Central Arkansas Athletics)