Saturday’s game between the Charlotte 49ers and Appalachian State will include everything that a budding college football rivalry should.
The 49ers’ sold-out Richardson Stadium will be packed with fans from both schools. Players who were high school teammates will face off against each other. Recruiting battles will be at stake.
Yet one crucial aspect will be missing from a game between two Football Bowl Subdivision teams located 107 miles apart: the sense that the rivalry can gain a foothold beyond 2019, when the series concludes with a second game in Boone.
“One of the things this sport is built on is rivalries,” 49ers athletics director Mike Hill said. “So it says something that the game this weekend is sold out and tickets are going for twice their value on the secondary market. There’s a demand for it and people really care about this game.
“But if we could start from scratch, from Charlotte’s perspective, we would play this game every year.”
The sentiment is similar in Boone.
“We would be interested in playing Charlotte on a regular basis,” said Mountaineers athletics director Doug Gillin. “We’ve talked to them. Us playing any of the schools that are part of the (university of North Carolina) system makes sense. We don’t have to go out of state, class wouldn’t be missed. It just makes sense.”
But figuring out how to make a Charlotte-Appalachian State game an annual affair is complicated.
College football schedules are often made up as many as six years in advance and Charlotte and Appalachian are no exceptions. The 49ers’ four-game non-conference schedules are complete through 2021, and they have three games on the books each season from 2022-24.
Appalachian’s schedules are locked in through 2022, with three games scheduled in ‘23 and ‘24.
That hasn’t kept Hill and Gillin from having some preliminary and outside-the-box discussions about continuing the series.
“We are exploring some options to try and maneuver some games to create some space,” Hill said. “But it’s not that easy. There are significant financial consequences in breaking a contract and we’re not looking to break any contracts. I can’t speculate at this time if we can get this thing done in the immediate term, but we’re trying to find a way to extend this series so there’s not a significant gap between (2019) and the next time we’d play.”
Said Gillin: “The biggest detractor is not that we don’t want to play, but figuring out the scheduling.”
Charlotte’s four-game nonconference schedules typically include a home game against an FCS opponent, one or two games against “peer” (Group of 5) opponents and at least one against a “Power 5” team (from the ACC or SEC, for example).
In addition to Appalachian this season, the 49ers played FCS Fordham, play at FBS independent Massachusetts and the SEC’s Tennessee. In 2019, Charlotte’s nonconference schedule includes home games against FCS Gardner-Webb and UMass and games at Appalachian and Clemson.
The Mountaineers’ nonconference philosophy is similar. Appalachian opened its season at Penn State and, after Saturday’s game at Charlotte, will play host to C-USA’s Southern Mississippi and the Big South’s Gardner-Webb. In 2019, the Mountaineers have home games against FCS East Tennessee State and Charlotte and travel to North Carolina and South Carolina.
“So you’re looking at your schedule and seeing if you can move a game,” said Gillin. “But it’s something that has to fit in your (scheduling) philosophy, whether you want to keep playing an FCS team, that kind of thing. That all goes into it.”
Further complicating matters: In 2023 and ‘24, the 49ers and Mountaineers both have available dates open, but they’re for a home game for both teams.
Could a potential solution for that be Bank of America Stadium? The idea was floated this week by 49ers coach Brad Lambert.
“Maybe we’ll play one downtown, who knows?” Lambert said.
Neither athletics director would comment on that. Appalachian will play East Carolina in the Panthers’ stadium in 2021.
There’s another way to guarantee a Charlotte-Appalachian State game every season. That would be for them to be in the same conference, a move for both that is unlikely, at least in the near future.
Charlotte’s Conference USA and Appalachian’s Sun Belt are part of the so-called Group of Five (also including the American Athletic, Mid-American and Mountain West), leagues that are a notch below the so-called Power Five (ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12).
When conferences realigned several years ago, C-USA and the Sun Belt scrambled to hang on to and find members. Charlotte ended up in C-USA in 2015, two years after it started its football program. Appalachian also moved up to the FBS from the FCS (where the Mountaineers were a perennial national power) and joined the Sun Belt in 2015.
Charlotte was a charter member of the Sun Belt in 1976, when the league did not sponsor football. The 49ers left the league in 1991 for the Metro Conference.
The overall result for C-USA and the Sun Belt was two far-flung conferences, each with teams from multiple time zones and few natural rivalries.
“Some of the conference realignment negated the possibility for rivalries and potential rivalries,” Gillin said. “Such as us against (C-USA’s) Charlotte, Marshall or (Old Dominion). Those are games our fans can drive to.”
Gillin would be in favor of revisiting how the leagues have been put together.
“There’s something about travel costs, missed class time and fewer fans buying tickets that are compelling reasons to think about it,” Gillin said. “It’s been talked about informally and I think having a bunch of people from the Sun Belt and C-USA coming together makes some sense. It’s something that hasn’t gained much traction before and I don’t know why.”
Gillin suggested the makeup of some of college football’s realigned conferences has contributed to an overall decline in college football attendance, which has dropped for four consecutive seasons.
“There won’t be a decline in attendance at Charlotte on Saturday, I’ll tell you that,” Gillin said.
2019: Aug. 31, East Tennessee State; Sept. 7, Charlotte; Sept. 21 at North Carolina; Nov. 9, at South Carolina.
2020: Sept. 5, Morgan State; Sept. 11, at Wake Forest; Sept. 19, at Wisconsin; Sept. 26, Massachusetts.
2021: Sept. 4, East Carolina (at Charlotte); Sept. 11, at Miami; Sept. 18, Elon; Sept. 25, Marshall.
2022: Sept. 3, North Carolina; Sept. 10, at Texas A&M; Sept. 17, at Marshall; Sept. 24, Akron.
2023: Sept. 9, at North Carolina; Sept. 16, East Carolina; Sept. 23, at Wyoming.
2024: Aug. 31, East Tennessee State; Sept. 7, at Clemson; Sept. 14, at East Carolina.
2025: Sept. 20, South Carolina.
2026: Sept. 5, at East Carolina.
2027: TBA, at South Carolina.
2019: Aug. 31, Gardner-Webb; Sept. 7, at Appalachian State; Sept. 14, Massachusetts; Sept. 21, at Clemson.
2020: Sept. 9, at Tennessee; Sept. 12, Norfolk State; Sept. 19, at Duke; Sept. 26, Georgia State.
2021: Sept 4, Duquesne; Sept. 11, Duke; Sept. 18, at Georgia State; Oct. 2, at Illinois.
2022: Sept. 10, Maryland, Sept. 17, at Georgia State; Sept. 24, at South Carolina.
2023: Sept. 9, at Maryland; Sept. 16, Georgia State; Sept. 23, at Indiana.
2024: Aug. 31, East Carolina; Sept. 7, at North Carolina; Sept. 28, at Indiana.
2025: Aug. 30, at East Carolina; Sept. 6, North Carolina.