Appalachian State’s journey to bowl-subdivision football will be complete Tuesday.
That’s the day the Mountaineers will become official members of the Sun Belt Conference.
They will compete in every sport the league offers. The occasion will be marked with Sun Belt Day events, including a public reception at 5 p.m. featuring school, community and conference representatives at the Jones House Community Center in Boone.
Charlie Cobb, Appalachian’s athletics director, said the venture to a new level will be different but exciting.
“Appalachian deserves to be at the highest level attainable in athletics, and playing at the FBS level is part of that,” Cobb said. “It’s to raise our profile regionally and nationally.”
The move from the Football Championship Subdivision, where the Mountaineers competed as members of the Southern Conference, to a Football Bowl Subdivision conference will cost more, but Cobb expects to bring in additional revenue to compensate and said that is what makes the move fiscally feasible.
“Costs have increased, but we have been able to identify revenue streams to offset them to give us financial stability,” he said. “We certainly expect this to be a strong move for us financially.”
The Mountaineers’ proposed athletics budget for the coming school year is $20.65 million. That’s up from $18.5 million for 2013-14.
Costs for travel to compete in the more-expansive Sun Belt and for additional scholarships required to compete at the bowl level are expected to double. The projected budget for those two items is $2.45 million. Travel costs for all sports are expected to increase by $800,000 from the $1.2 million for the past academic year, and an additional $450,000 will be added to pay for additional scholarships.
In football this season, Appalachian will travel for Sun Belt games against Georgia Southern, Troy (Ala.), Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Appalachian State also will take in more money, an expected $1.2 million after the first year in the league from a share of Sun Belt television and FBS postseason revenue. In the past, the Mountaineers received no SoCon television revenue and limited revenue from FCS playoff appearances.
Additional revenue will be generated from larger guarantees for nonconference road games against FBS opponents, some debt restructuring that will allow more money to go to the operating budget, a fee increase of $32 per student for athletics and the hope for continued increase in scholarship donations.
Because of the Sun Belt’s larger geographic footprint,travel distances will increase for eight of Appalachian’s 20 varsity teams – football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, baseball and softball – but aren’t expected to increase for the other 12 sports.
Ten teams won’t have regular-season games in the Sun Belt and will compete in a conference meet only. Wrestling will continue to compete in the SoCon, and field hockey will continue to play in the NorPac.
And although miles logged will increase overall, travel time won’t increase significantly, Cobb said. Teams will travel more by plane and less by bus.
“We think for a number of sports, we will actually spend less time away from campus,” he said.
The competition level will increase for football and other sports competing in the Sun Belt, but Cobb said there is optimism that Appalachian State will be competitive across the board.
But, for football at least, the FBS level will be different from the FCS level. The excitement of winning three FCS national titles might not be replicated, but the hope is that the upgrade to an FBS schedule and anticipation of a bowl bid will produce a buzz of its own.
“The caliber of teams that we will now be able to play, both home and away, will generate excitement,” Cobb said. “You look at the incredible run we went on in ’05, ’06 and ’07 and beating Michigan, you can’t compare. The reality is it’s two different animals.”
Appalachian State football coach Scott Satterfield has experienced success at both levels. He has been part of the Mountaineers’ playoff and title runs, and he went to two bowls while at Florida International.
“It is different,” Satterfield said. “What we obviously always tried to do here was to win Southern Conference championships and get an opportunity in the playoffs. The three national championships were unbelievable.
“Now the first goal is to get bowl eligible, basically six wins and maybe seven in the Sun Belt. You still want to win your conference, but to get to go to a bowl is like a celebration. You spend four or five days at a bowl site, and it’s great for the fans to be able to celebrate that success, and if you win, it tops it off with a great win to a great season. To me, those national-championship weeks when we went to Chattanooga was kind of similar to what a bowl feels like.”
A new challenge will be to get to a bowl, beginning with the 2015 season when an NCAA-mandated, two-year reclassification process is complete.
“We’re at the highest level we can play at this point,” Satterfield said. “It’s exciting to be able to do that, to know that you’re playing against teams with 85 scholarships week in and week out and trying to prove yourself. If you’re good enough to win six, seven or eight ball games, you’ve had a great year.”
The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer. For more Appalachian State coverage, go to journalnow.com/sports/asu/
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