Georgia Southern trying to be an exception with move

mlough@macon.comMarch 28, 2013 

Knowing it was coming doesn’t help.

But Wednesday’s announcements that Georgia Southern and Appalachian State were moving “up” only revived a familiar years-old feeling about such decisions.

“Y’all really sure this is the right thing?”

Let’s preface things with the caveat that this monologue is based on logic, as well as loving football, loving FCS football -- and wishing we’d just go back to I-A and I-AA and get it over with -- and more than appreciating the success and traditions of the two programs involved.

I’m a defender of football in the month of December, on both levels, which are very different when it comes to the logistics of football in the month of December.

All that said, the Eagles and Mountaineers now join, well, just a bunch of teams in the bottom third of a list.

For one, know how so much of the college football populace’s grumbles about too many pre-Christmas bowl games that nobody cares about? Appalachian State and Georgia Southern might now compete for the honor of playing in them.

For another, there’s the new geographic footprint and travel. Appalachian State is 60 minutes from one interstate, 80 from another and much farther from any airport of note. Georgia Southern is 15 miles from I-16 and about an hour from Savannah’s airport. The Eagles’ drive to Troy -- Warner Robins is a nice midway food stop -- and the Mountaineers’ trek anywhere will be lovely.

This tentativeness here is because moving “up” assures nothing. Sometimes “up” is really “over.”

I was in Louisiana around the time that Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Monroe (then Northeast Louisiana) made the moves, which were followed by fudging of attendance figures, massive ticket giveaways and big-money losses.

Last season was good for both. They were 83rd and 85th in FBS attendance, averaging 25,841 and 24,981. Marshall, an old playoff rival of Georgia Southern, was 86th at 24,896.

A few years ago, Marshall was 89th, Louisiana Tech 97th and Louisiana-Monroe 116th. And the big boys -- except for West Virginia at Marshall occasionally, thanks to politician-inspired heat -- aren’t making visits to the smaller outposts with any remote regularity.

Louisiana Tech (first FBS season in 1989) has had 11 winning seasons in the 24 -- which included six as an independent -- since moving up, and Louisiana-Monroe (1994) had its first last season.

Then there’s funny mantra about being on the score ticker Saturdays, with 240-plus Division I football programs and 340-plus Division I basketball programs. Fans are keeping up with Bowling Green, Colorado State, Idaho and North Texas, are they?

And there’s the humor involved in attendance figures, including near Eagle Creek. Head coach Jeff Monken said in his fall visit to the Macon Touchdown Club that Paulson seats about 14,400, 4,000 less than the longtime listed capacity. It seats 14,400 but fits 4,000 more on grass. There’s a difference.

It’s misleading, like how schools list their total system enrollment rather than their main-campus undergraduate enrollment. A satellite-campus an hour away sure has little in common with the sophomores or the baseball team at the “main” campus.

But note this about attendance: from 2007-11, the Sun Belt averaged all of 5,100 more fans per game than the Southern Conference did. Soon enough, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will be happier to play each other to make up for New Mexico State and Idaho.

And the footprint will cover three time zones.

The requisite misguided “national exposure” argument hasn’t quite kicked in for Utah State, Wyoming, UAB, Florida International or Florida Atlantic -- isn’t raving football success in Florida supposed to be automatic? -- and Eastern Michigan.

There’s no national exposure for just showing up Saturday. We know about Florida Gulf Coast, among many others, because of a non-football sport. Remember that.

I understand all this to a point, but then I don’t.

A tremendous uniqueness is lost. It’s the same reason we don’t all live in big cities or their suburbs. Saturdays in Statesboro and Boone will be different because what is gained on one hand is most certainly lost on the other.

Here’s wishing good luck to the Eagles and the Mountaineers as they venture into a world of more uncertainty than many recognize. May they be the exceptions that others expected to be.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or mlough@macon.com.

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