Initial thoughts on Liberty joining the FBS as an Independent?
Cyrus Smith: What?! I know there had been talks before but I didn’t think they would actually do it. Once they hired the Baylor AD I figured in a year or so we would hear some news about them joining the FBS if conference alignment was to go down again. But to make make the leap as an Independent is a strange one. Not exactly a ton of G5 teams reaping the benefits of being a FBS program.
Jared Kalmus: Pretty shocked. This isn’t the most profitable time to step into the NCAA as an independent. We’re seeing New Mexico State and UMass already struggle with it although Liberty has a much larger war chest to dive into and their goals certainly differ from that of a traditional university.
Joe Serpico: Liberty was looking to make the jump before the hiring of former Baylor AD Ian McCaw, but it is still shocking the NCAA approved this. The Flames have never been a football juggernaut and life as an Independent has not been friendly to many other than Notre Dame.
Tanner Spearman: Definitely didn’t see this coming. They’ve had success in the Big South the past few years, but they’ve only been to the playoffs once despite eight conference titles or co-titles. You would have thought a school like JMU or maybe NDSU would have tried this, but Liberty?
How do you feel about another relatively young program joining the FBS?
Cyrus: Not really a fan. There’s already too many FBS teams. Besides, it would be one thing if North Dakota State or James Madison was joining the FBS as those programs have established credibility that they can compete against FBS teams, but we’re talking about a school who is still growing and has yet to show that they can compete with the best FCS teams nonetheless current FBS teams.
Liberty is 4-21 all-time against FBS schools, with wins over Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Georgia State and Appalachian State. https://t.co/dCrEATHReS— Sporting News (@sportingnews) February 16, 2017
Jared: I think the FBS has gotten a little bloated recently so I would actually prefer to see some programs drop down to the FCS level. I think poorly-funded programs are getting slowly suffocated by all of the new expenses in college football (cost of attendance stipends, 10th assistance coach, etc.) so that subtraction might still be a few years out.
Joe: If it was a program that has consistently competed for FCS championships in years past – Appalachian State and Georgia Southern come to mind – then it is a move that makes sense. But Liberty? Just look at the tweet above.
Tanner: Again, if they were at least in competition for FCS titles, that would be one thing. But they’ve only made one trip to the FCS playoffs (2014), and that only got them to the second round. The FBS is a bit overcrowded as it is, so if we’re going to add teams, they need to be competitive ones.
Can they make this work?
Cyrus: It depends on how many resources they are willing to give to the football program. There has already been talks of stadium expansion which is good to hear and they have a solid head coach and a known name in the college football world in Turner Gill running the show. Given their location, this could work out pretty well for Liberty. Having their own TV network is also a nice asset too.
Jared: Certainly. The Flames have a pretty good head coach in Turner Gill and Liberty has an unbelievable resource pool to utilize, something no other school can really match. With over 100,000 online students Liberty could easily become one of the highest funded programs in America if they implement even some minor athletic fees for online students.
Liberty essentially has its own TV network which could put their football games in 25 million homes. Their administration is focused on expanding the university’s image and promoting their mission. The Flame could potentially have a national fan base among evangelical Christians much in the way that Mormons across the world support BYU’s football program.
Joe: They do have their own TV network, but it will come down to attendance on whether they survive. McCaw took the job with this scenario in mind and Turner Gill does have the experience to get things going in the right direction. But what attracts the rest of the FBS to want to play them?
Tanner: Not really optimistic about their future, ESPECIALLY as an independent. Maybe the new AD can get them off the ground, but that’s really the only bright spot I see for them. Gonna be hard to get anyone halfway respectable to come play them in Lynchburg. Expect to see a mostly road schedule for the first few years.
Should they expect any conferences knocking on their door anytime soon?
Cyrus: Unless you’re BYU or Army - and I wouldn’t even classify BYU as a G5 team - I don’t think being a G5 Independent program is sustainable. Those programs have the cache of having a large fan base built over time. UMass has been irrelevant as an FBS member and even more so when they left the MAC. Having extra revenue come from conference affiliation is vital for a lot of G5 programs so they should definitely hope the Sun Belt or C-USA comes calling.
Unfortunately for Liberty I don’t see that happening. Hiring former Baylor AD Ian McCaw right after Baylor’s massive scandal was not great foresight and they already have a checkered past to begin with. Not to mention if they really push having their own TV network I can’t see any G5 conference willing to let them have it.
Jared: Nope. Their political baggage is too great to overcome in my opinion. It seems that university presidents and athletic directors agree. Most university presidents are very uppity types that wouldn’t want their university associated with a pro-profit institution that has been broiled in scandal since the school’s inception. Let’s see if that changes if the Flames become a force as an independent though.
Joe: They better hope so, but again, what do they have to offer to any of the G5 schools? UMass cannot find a home and they are a better option at this point. Hard to find any conference wanting anything to do with them.
Tanner: I’d think they’d be more likely to knock on the conference’s door than vice versa. C-USA is full, and the MAC would need another team to join alongside Liberty. MAYBE the Sun Belt since that conference is losing New Mexico State and Idaho at the same time Liberty comes in to FBS, but even that is a stretch.
The one bright spot for them is that if a conference does decide to expand, they may choose Liberty since they’d already be FBS rather than finding another FCS team, whom they would have to wait a year for due to the upgrade rules.