Football's here ... sort of

Macon TelegraphJune 12, 2012 


Mark Richt is a year short of sharing the title of dean of Georgia head college football coaches, and he has more hair and less gray than several of his in-state colleagues.

Richt and most of the other head coaches – and a few assistants plus a couple dozen or so players – spent 90 minutes talking football, concussions, expansion, injuries, budgets and stuff at the annual Peach State Pigskin Preview at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame on Tuesday.

The gathering was broad, ranging from the immediately recognizable Richt to always personable David Dean at Valdosta State to HR director/coach Bobby Lamb at Mercer to Phil Jones at Shorter. 

Yup, college football is that broadly based. Fans rarely look past their own teams, so most don't grasp or understand the different levels in college football. So let the blog debut include a primer.

First, there are three levels of Division I athletics, and one level in Divisions II and III. In D-I, they're based on number of sports and scholarships offered, and if football is involved.

There are nearly 350 Division I schools. Nearly 350. That's about one for every other county in Georgia. So when somebody moves up to Division I, it's easier to get lost than they think.

FBS/Division I-A: 85 scholarships and a bunch of sports. Georgia and Georgia Tech are the state's FBS programs, with Georgia State making a huge, huge, huge gamble and going to the biggest level after only two years of football and not exactly big crowds.

There are about 120 FBS schools with some provisional members, and 11 FBS conferences, plus independents.

FCS/Division I-AA: 63 scholarships that can be "split" to reach 63, as in two players can make up one scholarship, i.e. a head count. Can't do that in I-A.

Georgia's FCS programs: Georgia Southern, Savannah State and Mercer (starting in 2013). There are 14 FCS conferences, and three of those are non-scholarship leagues: Ivy, Patriot and Pioneer. Mercer will be in the Pioneer League in 2013.

And no, Mercer won't be playing Georgia Southern in the near future/lifetime. There will be few if any in-state games for the Bears for awhile once they start.

            Then there are the non-football schools. There are nine non-football conferences, including the A-Sun. Again, before the NCAA got goofily annoying with names, it was I-A, I-AA and I-AAA.

Mercer was I-AAA before it decided to play football.  Quality athletic programs like Belmont, George Mason, Gonzaga, Winthrop, Bradley, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, College of Charleston and George Washington, among others, find life without football fine.

So the Division I levels are based on scholarships offered, which means how much money is available. But they're all Division I, and the other divisions are formulated similarly, based on scholarships and sports, thus money.

Teams are allowed 36 scholarships in Division II, which requires at least 10 sports and has a little more than 275 programs.

Georgia's Division II football programs: Fort Valley State, Albany State, Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, West Georgia, Shorter and Valdosta State. Those teams are split into the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Gulf South Conference.

            Shorter has moved up to Division II and began the three-year transition process in 2011-12, staying in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), which is not connected to the NCAA. The school has been accepted by the Gulf South, which is one of 25 Division II conferences.                      

            There are about 450 Division III athletics programs, again, more than all of Division I. Division III requires 10 sports,

            Georgia's Division III football program: LaGrange. There are eight other in-state athletics programs in Division III, including Wesleyan.

            And then there's the NAIA, which has only one Georgia football program, in East Point. Note that there are nearly 300 NAIA athletics programs, so it's not much smaller than the NCAA's entire Division I.

            Junior college, which Georgia Military College is, offers a whole 'nother report, as do explaining the divisions and scholarships with other sports.

            And I think that pretty much covers it, far as I can tell. But see, there's plenty more to it than folks think.

            Tuesday at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, we had the gamut, from the big boys that play in front of 93,000 to those who play in cozy confines on the junior college level.

            The bottom line, of course, is that football is around the corner. And there's never a bad time to spend a couple hours talking about it.

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