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Hustle Belt Roundtable: Does The Demise of the UAB Blazers Mean the MAC Should Go FCS?

With the UAB Blazers being the first team to shutter its doors since Pacific in 1995 due to what was described as "financial considerations," we rounded the Belt and asked the question: what would happen if the MAC went FCS?

Celebrations can be short-lived; this was earlier in the season for the now-defunct UAB Blazers.
Celebrations can be short-lived; this was earlier in the season for the now-defunct UAB Blazers.
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

James H. Jimenez: First off... RIP University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers. Nothing like being plucked off right as you're making great strides. (6-6 in C*USA, despite small attendance numbers and the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa straight up draining the state dry for money to renovate football facilities and whatnot... DAMN YOU SEC.) The fact that 125 students, an entire coaching staff, trainers, gameday crew, and even the freaking marching band are affected by all this is pretty tragic. You really feel for them.

Second off, what exactly do we have to gain by putting the Mid-American Conference in the FCS?

Matt Gritzmacher: Fit this in however you want: I think a move to FCS that preserves conference rivalries could be good for the MAC schools who have strong rivalries. As the Olympic/Buffalo guy, it would have little effect on Olympic sports aside from money, but it would likely push Buffalo to get out ASAP, which most MAC fans won't be too upset about. UB would avoid a move to FCS at all costs and look strongly to move east towards a larger chunk of its alumni base: The AAC if possible to stay in FBS, or the CAA if they're doomed to FCS.

JHJ: I'm sure the MAC will figure out a way to live if that is the case, especially since UMass is leaving us relatively soon. Frankly, I don't look at this as a competitive issue or an athletics issue; I look at this from the scope of the university. Some of the programs in the MAC, like Eastern Michigan and UMass are pretty dependent on the money they receive from the ESPN contract or from their status as a D-I school. This includes merchandising rights and conference monies. As soon as you shun D-I, you're pretty much losing the vast majority of your monetary support. Schools use their athletic programs in multiple capacities; as a sort of recruitment tool for prospective students, as a pool of money to fund athletics and various other projects, and as a point of pride for alumni (who they honestly hope to scrape for money.) The recruitment is especially important; at most public universities, one in every four students are from out-of-state, and those OOS'ers pay double of a state resident. National recognition, therefore, is very important, and sports brings national recognition. Making such a rash decision to drop our D-I status and go FCS could end up costing the schools a lot immediately and in the future.

Carter Adler: Let's quantify some of those numbers. The easiest is scholarships: FBS is 85 (usually all full scholarships) while FCS is 63 full scholarships (divided among up to 85 players). So right off, every school saves the cost of 22 scholarships per year. For EMU, tuition, room, and board is about $19,000/year in-state and $33,000/year out-of-state. I think it's safe to assume that a drop from FBS to FCS would also result in fewer out-of-state recruits, so we're probably looking at a savings of $500-$750,000 per year just in scholarships. EMU has one of the lowest attendance costs (tuition, room & board, etc.) in the MAC, and therefore the savings are lower. At the other extreme, out-of-state students pay about $41,000/year at Miami University, so the savings from eliminating 22 scholarships could be nearly $900,000.

But wait, there's more! Twenty-two eliminated men's scholarships means there's a potential for up to twenty-two eliminated women's scholarships. Double those numbers, for scholarship savings in the $1.0-1.8 million range. Those are very rough numbers, but they're good enough to give us a general idea of the financial impact of such a move.

By comparison, the new ESPN deal pays about $670,000 per school per year (only about 3% of the smallest athletic budget in the MAC), so even if dropping to FCS voids the contract and the MAC is not able to make a single dollar from media rights, it would still be a significant net savings. That doesn't include reductions in payday games, but it also doesn't include presumed reductions in coaching salaries. On the whole, I suspect that the entire conference dropping to FCS would at least be a break-even proposition, if not a net gain financially.

With that out of the way, it then becomes a question of whether you want to stay and "compete" at the highest level, where the deck is stacked against you six ways from Sunday, or drop down to a truly level playing field. From the way I worded that you can probably guess where I stand. I've argued in the past against EMU dropping to FCS on their own, but if we're talking about most or all of the Mid-American Conference making the move in concert, I'm all for it.

Corey Gloor: Looking at this from a conference perspective, I see some merit to this idea. The most telling thing about the MAC for me is that you never see MAC schools lure other DI coaches to their programs to take over. Coaches move up to other DI conferences from the MAC, and the MAC hires either assistants or coaches from FCS or below. The MAC is truly at the bottom of the FBS on nearly every plane. Much like our discussion of #MACtion, are the benefits of being FBS outweighing the negatives for the conference?

Looking at this from a strictly NIU perspective (of which I do more times than not), a hypothetical drop to the FCS would not include Northern. Like it or not, NIU is the national face of the conference, and has broken through barriers once thought to be impossible to reach for a conference at this level. With extensive plans now in place to overhaul the athletics campus in DeKalb, coinciding with an even more extensive plan to overhaul the academics campus, NIU sees FBS as their future.

Carter laid out a ton of numbers that all make sense (and now I have a migraine). I believe a conference drop to FCS does make sense for a lot of the programs. It does not make sense for NIU, and if any serious consideration is given to do this by the MAC (which there are not indications there have been), Northern Illinois will be quick to find another home in Conference USA (who I hear is losing a team and provoked this post) or The American.

Alex Alvarado: When you want expensive things, you must be able to spend a lot of money, or at least have a good plan to spend the money. If you want something cool and don't have the money, then you shouldn't be planning on spending money that you don't have.

If the MAC dropped to the FCS, there would be a ton of discussion filled with people who act like who know economics, which is fine. I'm sure a lot of people had to re-read what Carter said. That's good, because we should all be learning something new every time we want to form an opinion about this situation. I'm not one of those people who follow the cash flow of all of this, so I personally won't say that dropping down is neither good nor bad, but there's a reason we're having this conversation, and there's a reason why we keep revisiting this damned thing.

Keith M. Scheessele: Fascinating numbers, and while that may come off as sarcastic, I mean it. I wouldn't do research on my own and I learned a little bit, so thanks. If it's cool with everybody however, I'd like to take a look at this from a fan's perspective as it seems to be sorely missing from the discussion. Before I get to that though, I've a quick question. Regarding using football and FBS status as a recruiting tool for prospective students, is anybody prepared to raise their hand and say that they based their college choice on the success of a school's football team? If so, you're an idiot. And I'm going to call you an idiot everyday until you resign from your post as the mayor of Idiotsburg.

I am extraordinarily proud to have graduated from Ball State University. I think the school stacks up academically against any university in the state not named Notre Dame. You can throw at me 100 statistics about how IU or Purdue is better, and my response will always be that I went to the beach on Thanksgiving Day. Thanks, Ball State.

That said, my only interests as far as college football is concerned lie with the Cardinals and the Mid-American Conference. I long ago abandoned "Power Five" football. It's boring. It's dull. The newly minted "College Football Playoff" will only serve to further separate those P5 schools from the "Group of Five." If you let me pick ten teams, and I'll give you the field, I guarantee you my ten teams will represent at least 50% of teams that make the playoff for the next ten years. This was created simply for the benefit of traditional football powers. A MAC school can beat every team on its schedule by 3 touchdowns and they are not getting in. Ever. If you think they are, you're a sucker.

So, as my interests only lie with BSU and the MAC, I want the opportunity to win in a fair system. I want close, competitive games. I love the FCS tournament. It's so much cooler than anything FBS offers. Clowning SEC fans is really the only thing interesting about the FBS. If NIU and Buffalo elect to stay on the top level in a completely irrelevant role and fade into obscurity, that's fine. I'm cool with the rest of the MAC making the move. I realize a MAC move to the FCS means it will probably be more difficult to keep Northwestern on the schedule. I'll get over it.

If you can show me numbers that clearly indicate that my degree from BSU is not worth as much or that the university is crippled by an FBS to FCS move, then fine. Stay at the highest level. If not, let's make the move before the FBS kicks us out anyway, which I assure you is inevitable.

Sam Barloga: For reasons previously stated, a move to the FCS level wouldn't work out financially, but would be great from a fan's standpoint. When it comes to football, Division I is ready to split into three subdivisions instead of two. As the CPF begins to become adjusted (and likely slightly expanded) power five teams will be more likely to cut match-ups with G5 teams in order to strengthen their own schedules. This will make the divide between the P5 and G5 even greater, and might even drag it to the point where the Group of Five becomes something like what the FCS already is (in terms of football budgets and national coverage). Therefore, a switch to the FCS could end up accidentally bumping the MAC down two levels in the long run.

Even if this full split doesn't happen, FBS vs. FCS games are going down in number, even more limiting the amount of money a FCS-level athletic department would have to spend on their all of their programs. No money from TV deals and no money from playing non-con games against higher level teams means less money for all sports, including everything from basketball to swimming.

But, no one is trying to say a move to the FCS wouldn't be fun for us, the fans! The playoff system is awesome on the FCS-level, and it's only getting better and more exciting in recent years. Most schools in the conference would have no trouble becoming instant national title contenders. The level of play isn't that much different when it comes to the FCS' higher ranking teams, with some at the top likely being even better than most of the conference.

As a fan I would love it, but being a realist I know the money would stop any plan like this right from the start.