ESPNs Chris Fowler was in Charlotte on Thursday to speak at a Charlotte Touchdown Club luncheon at the Westin Hotel. Fowler has been the networks top college sports studio host since 1989, and now spends each week on the road with ESPNs GameDay football and basketball shows. He joined ESPN in 1986 and also covers tennis and horse racing, among other things.
This weeks GameDay stop is in Athens, Ga., where Georgia will play Louisiana State on Saturday. Before Fowler left Charlotte for Athens, he answered questions from the Observers David Scott about Charlotte 49ers football, the state of college football and what its like in Fargo, N.D.
Q. So, as a college football expert, you know that the Charlotte 49ers have a football team now, right?
Absolutely. Im aware that theyre a start-up and they won their first couple of games.
Q. What do you think of their plan of moving from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivisions Conference USA in two years?
Its ambitious. (GameDay) was just at the No.1 team in FCS, North Dakota State, and its a big issue for them. Do they want to build a dynasty (in FCS) or move up? Egos aside, theyre happy to be there and win championships and to stay at 63 scholarships.
But moving up, like the 49ers want to do, is a huge leap. For the prestige of the school and the egos involved, you want to be at the highest level, but you have to be prepared to take your lumps.
Q. How does the uncertainty of the college football landscape play into that?
You dont know what it will be like in five or 10 years. You dont even know that Conference USA will be at the highest level if theres going to be a split (among the current BCS leagues and other FBS leagues). Even the fact that its called F B S makes no sense (anymore) because were going to a playoff system.
So programs like Charlotte could get lost in the shuffle. Thats no disrespect, but there are just too many variables that could come into play, like full cost of attendance or pay for play. I dont know where thats going to put schools like Charlotte. But they have an ambitious plan, Ill say that.
Q. Where do the 49ers fit in recruiting in the Charlotte area?
Thats why I think its ambitious. So many programs make recruiting North Carolina talent crucial to their plans. And the ACC has a hard time defending their borders from the SEC. (North Carolina), Clemson and N.C. State really struggle protecting that turf against the SEC.
Now the 49ers step in. Theyre not going to go after those kinds of players, at least not now. But they want to get a couple of them to believe in them after theyve been offered by somebody else. Theyre competing with Appalachian State and East Carolina for a certain kind of player, too. So the 49ers are trying to sell their program on a couple of different levels.
Q. Can the ACC teams in North Carolina overcome that SEC dominance in recruiting?
Football programs in this state have been underserved for so long. I dont mean to rattle cages, but I think the fans would agree with that. The Tar Heels are a sleeping giant, with their resources and global reputation, and Ive always thought they should have a program thats closer to what they have in basketball. (New N.C. State coach) Dave Doeren has gotten in there and is selling his vision. I believe in him as a coach.
Q. Whats it like taking GameDay to a place like Fargo, N.D.?
We expected it to be cool, but it went beyond our wildest dreams. Its an example of a program with fans who wanted to show the world theyre as passionate and crazy about their team as anybody. And it was easier to get to, surprisingly, than places like Tuscaloosa or Eugene.
Q. Did you consider taking the show to Appalachian State when the Mountaineers were winning FCS championships?
We always try to go to places with alternative programs and we almost went to App State. When they were rolling with their three-peat, it would have been really cool to go to Boone. When we were in Fargo, we showed some FCS highlights and included the Mountaineers beating Michigan. Its great theyve got two guys, Armanti Edwards and Corey Lynch, who (have played in) the NFL.
Q. How about a GameDay for Gardner-Webb at Charlotte next week?
(Laughing) That could be on my list. But a lot of things would have to happen first.
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