Georgia State has returned home.
The Panthers officially announced on Monday that they have joined the Sun Belt Conference, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Saturday. The move is driven by Georgia State’s desire to play football on the FBS level and to create more natural geographic rivalries.
Georgia State, a charter member of the conference in 1976 before leaving five years later, will begin in 2013 and will be immediately eligible to compete for championships.
“Welcome home,” Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr., chancellor of Troy University, told Becker.
The decision to leave the Colonial Athletic Association, considered one of the best mid-major conferences in basketball and a power in FCS football, is driven mostly by money, both revenues and expenses. Sun Belt teams play football on the FBS, or bowl, level, which have the potential to generate more money for GSU because of bowl sharing and the potential of guaranteed games, compared to the CAA.
It is a remarkable progression for a football team that played its first game in the Georgia Dome, where Monday’s press conference to make the official announcement was held, two years ago. The atmosphere on Monday was of excited anticipation, with a blue carpet welcoming more than a hundred university officials, coaches, including football coach Bill Curry and basketball coach Ron Hunter, athletes and fans.
“For us to be able to move this quickly is something I would’ve never dreamed of…Maybe six or eight years down the road, but not this soon,” Curry said.
GSU president Dr. Mark Becker said there wasn’t a timeline for a move when he first met Curry in December of 2008. But he said the university’s desire to improve, coupled with the ever-changing landscape of college football, caused them to commission a feasibility study in December last year to study options. As athletic director Cheryl Levick and Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson began talking in January, it became apparent too both that the move had to be made.
“It was too perfect not to act on it now,” Benson said.
Becker notified Colonial Athletic Association commissioner Tom Yeager on Sunday that Georgia State was resigning. Once a member resigns, CAA bylaws exclude them from participating for conference tournaments. Georgia State has requested a waiver for spring sports this year and hopes that the CAA presidents will vote to allow GSU to compete for titles next year. An email to Yeager hasn’t been returned.
Georgia State must pay an exit fee of at least $250,000 to leave the CAA, and will likely have to forfeit any revenue-sharing agreements with the conference. The CAA is poised to vote on Tuesday to increase the exit fee to $1 million. Becker cited the current CAA bylaws when asked if Georgia State expected to have to pay the increased exit fee. There also will be a $300,000 entry fee to join the Sun Belt.
The move may help alleviate several concerns that Georgia State has had since joining the CAA in 2005. The CAA stretches from Atlanta to Maine in football, and Atlanta to Boston in basketball so regional unfamiliarity, the lack of rivalries, missed class time and travel costs have been an issue.
The Sun Belt has 10 football-playing members, stretching from Texas to Florida. Georgia State was a charter member of the Sun Belt in 1976, but resigned to join the Trans America Athletic Conference in 1981. That conference eventually changed its name to the Atlantic Sun. Georgia State left it to join the Colonial Athletic Association in 2005.
Benson, on the job for three months, isn’t done. The Sun Belt will have 11 football-playing schools in 2013. Benson wants to get to 12. But the number is less important than his ambition.
“We want to be a player on the FBS and BCS levels,” commissioner Karl Benson said today.
Georgia State now must submit an application to the NCAA a notice to reclassify, along with an application, strategic plan and philosophy statement, as well as pay a $5,000 fee. The NCAA’s annual deadline for receiving such packages is June 1, with a required postmark by May 25. Levick said that application is in the process of being completed.
Georgia State’s athletic department has been exploring a move for the past few months. Levick commissioned a report last year that studied the ramifications of moving up to FBS.
The report concluded that “GSU is well-positioned to make a transition to FBS” and “that the Sun Belt would be the best fit.” Georgia State was also well-positioned to move to the Sun Belt from a budgetary standpoint, according to the feasibility study. The athletic department’s projected $22.9 million in revenues in 2011-12 is 44 percent more than the average Sun Belt member, according to the report. However, the difference in those revenues can be traced to student fees: Georgia State receives more than $16.5 million compared with $5.6 million for an average Sun Belt school. Conversely, the average Sun Belt school received $1.5 million in game guarantees to GSU’s $440,500.
“At the end of the day, unlike FCS schools that rely primarily on student fees, most of this revenue coming forward will come from other sources,” Becker said.