By TYLER PHILLIPS
The conversation has started for Eastern to become a bowl-playing football member.
Recently, athletic director Mark Sandy presented a 24-slide power point presentation to the Faculty Senate explaining why Eastern would be a good fit in the FBS, what would need to be done to make it happen, and if chosen, where Eastern would ideally be.
Sandy’s presentation outlined the benefits of a move to the FBS level. It would renew rivalries with WKU and Marshall, and raise Eastern’s NCAA revenue share from a little under $200,000 to $1.2 million. The move would raise the university image, garner higher profile home games and increase university enrollment.
Since the presentation, Sandy was named the Interim V.P. for Marketing and Communications, so acting athletic director Simon Gray said no immediate action has been taken for Eastern to make a move to the FBS, just conversation.
However, Gray said that most of the conversation is done by President Benson to the commissioners.
“The conversations lie at the Presidential level and the Commissioner level,” Gray said. “He [Benson] is the point of contact.”
As for where Eastern is looking? Sandy’s presentation identified two specific conferences that Eastern would fit well in. The Sun Belt and the MAC.
“Both would be a good fit,” Gray said. “The MAC is a great geographic fit, the Sun Belt is an area where Western [Kentucky] is now leaving, so it looks like they need a Kentucky school or a school on the eastern end. They are both fine leagues.”
Gray said there is one specific factor that separates Eastern from other possible schools that would give Eastern an edge, and that is commitment.
“Without the support of the president’s office, the chairman of the board, athletics can’t move the needle a lot,” Gray said. “But that group is willing to get behind it. There would be an effort to increase the budget, but also improve facilities. Those are two things that I think the people in FBS are looking for.”
For this move to happen, great financial needs must be met. Eastern’s overall athletics budget of $10 million is third in the OVC, behind Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech. If a move were to occur, Eastern would be the 11th out of 14 schools in the Sun Belt and last in the MAC. So where would the money come from?
“It would come from the university in come capacity, but we would also be expected to raise our revenues,” Gray said. “The university is looking into making a commitment to the athletics department and then in turn we would be looking for ways to make ourselves self-sufficient and less dependent on the university.”
Gray said that he didn’t know the chances of this move happening, but said there is room for Eastern if either one of the conferences chooses them.
“It’s hard to quantify what the chances are,” Gray said. “From everything that we’ve heard and seen online, it looks like there is room for expansion in FBS.”
Gray said if chosen, it would be a two-year transition for the university. The university has to be invited by a conference, accept, and then formally apply with a strategic plan and pay a fee to the NCAA. After acceptance, it is two years before the school is fully embedded in that level.