NCAA.com coverage: Eastern Washington scored two touchdowns in a miraculous fourth quarter to capture the FCS Championship title with a 20-19 win against Delaware. Read more »
By Greg Johnson
FRISCO, Tex. – Before Eastern Washington pulled off a 20-19 come-from-behind victory over Delaware in the Division I Football Championship game last Friday night, Football Championship Subdivision commissioners, athletics directors and senior NCAA national office staff met for six hours to discuss the present and future of the sport.
Participants included NCAA President Mark Emmert, who addressed the summit as the keynote speaker during a luncheon.
The FCS Summit, organized by the Southland Conference, attracted more than 140 stakeholders to discuss:
One meeting was hardly enough time to find solutions to the full plate of issues, but it was a start.
“I had no idea this many people would attend when we began to talk about a summit,” said Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett. “It’s an acknowledgement that we needed to meet. We have some complex issues to deal with.”
Chairman of Division I football Jim O'day, left, presents Eastern Washington Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin with the championship trophy after winning the Division l FCS Football Championship held at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, TX. Eastern Washington defeated Delaware 20-19 for the national title. Donna McWilliam/NCAA Photos
Among them is the date of the championship game, which this year was January 7, the latest ever for the final. The delay was due in part to this year’s expansion of the bracket to 20 teams.
While the expansion provided more access to the championship, it also added a week to the tournament. The semifinals were December 17 and 18, which previously was the weekend for the championship game.
The Division I Football Committee decided to move the final back three weeks to January 7. Television partner ESPN, which broadcast 11 games throughout the tournament, cautioned against such a gap when fans had been conditioned to weekly intervals.
To complicate matters, the Cotton Bowl also moved its game to January 7. This year’s matchup between Texas A&M and LSU drew around nine million viewers.
But coaches from FCS Championship teams Eastern Washington and Delaware felt positively about the extra time, saying it gave their players a chance to be healthier for the biggest game of the season. It also gave fans time to make travel arrangements, which contributed to a robust attendance of 13,027.
The prevailing sentiment among summit participants, in fact, was that the additional access from the recent expansion trumped the challenges it may have produced. Some attendees supported additional expansion, perhaps to a 24-team field, in the future.
Much of the discussion at the summit revolved around the branding identity of the FCS. Some stakeholders worry especially about FCS schools migrating to the Football Bowl Subdivision, a move that is often precipitated by alumni and boosters simply viewing the FBS level as more prestigious or lucrative.
Eastern Washington Eagles offensive linesman Russell Turpin (74) and quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell (9) take the field before the start the Division I Football Championship against Delaware Fightin Blue Hens held at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, TX. Eastern Washington defeated Delaware 20-19 for the national title. Brandon Wade/NCAA Photos
Georgia State Athletics Director Cheryl Levick, whose Panthers went 6-5 in their inaugural season at the FCS level this year, said she’s already fielding questions from eager constituents about possibly moving to the FBS level.
Many of the summit participants said they would support a branding and marketing campaign to emphasize the positives of competing in the FCS.
During his keynote address, NCAA President Emmert told attendees to remember their mission.
“We want to make sure you are successful in this endeavor for self-evident reasons,” he said. “FCS football serves as a rational approach. You provide great opportunities for student-athletes to compete at a high level.”
Emmert said he is aware of the challenges facing football at the FCS level and that he knows simple solutions are hard to find. But he reassured the summit attendees that the national office will assist in any way to enhance the experience.
“We didn’t walk out of here with a lot of immediate answers,” Burnett said after the summit concluded. “But this is a first step. Our football programs mean so much to our institutions and how they define themselves. We have to be engaged. If it looks like it isn’t important to us, how can we expect others to think it is important?”
Burnett said he hopes FCS school presidents and coaches become more involved. Some of the attendees, in fact, recommended another summit next year, and possibly another large gathering at the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Convention in June.
“It sounds like people are interested in doing something like this again,” Burnett said. “A lot of our conversations end up needing to be continued. A key for us is Dr. Emmert’s engagement and interest. Everyone was impressed with that. There are around 120 schools dealing with this important issue.”