Georgia State Exploring FBS Opportunities

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ATLANTA, Ga. - Georgia State doesn’t need tradition to eventually succeed on college football’s highest levels, according to Russell Wright, the managing director of Collegiate Consulting, the Atlanta-based company that conducted an FBS feasibility study for the university. Though the Panthers have played football as an FCS-level team for the past two years, including 3-8 last year, he said they have two things going for them: the university is based in Atlanta, the ninth-largest market in the country, and it has such a large student enrollment. Because the university has more than 30,000 students, more than $16 million of its $22 million in the revenues listed in the report come from student fees. He said that financial support is an important plus, outweighing the barbs of those who have asked why Georgia State would conduct the study so soon after starting football. Athletic director Cheryl Levick has declined to comment on the study.

“The quality of competition doesn’t matter at all,” he said. “The market drives it more than the on-the-field product.”

Collegiate Consulting has produced almost 300 reports for colleges of various levels, from Dalton State and Georgia Highlands, schools that were starting sports, to Montana and Appalachian State, schools with established football programs. Wright said those reports usually fall into one of two categories: planning, including strategic planning, operational reviews and feasibility studies, and ticket sales.

Wright received a Masters degree in Sports Administration from Georgia State in 1996. He said neither that educational relationship nor his company’s geographic location caused the report to be written with rose-colored ink.

“When I was there it was pre-Lefty [Driesell],” he said, explaining some of the reasons for his objectivity. “If we don’t tell the brutal truth then we aren’t doing our jobs. That hurts our credibility.”

Wright’s company seems to like what Georgia State is doing.

As noted, he said the university is well-positioned should it receive an invitation to join another conference. The Panthers are currently members of the Colonial Athletic Association. They will begin their first football season as an official member later this year.

The report notes that the Sun Belt, a conference based in the South, would be a natural fit because Georgia State’s revenues, expenses, staff sizes and salaries are comparable. Sun Belt incoming commissioner Karl Benson has said his conference may expand, but would prefer schools currently playing FBS (formerly Division I-A) football. Wright said Atlanta’s market size and Georgia State’s potential for growth could alter the decision-making process of expansion.

The report also included how Georgia State compares to schools in Conference USA and the Big East, considered one of the power conferences in college sports.

Conference USA and the Big East don’t seem like legitimate opportunities for Georgia State for a variety of reasons, according to the report.

Wright cautioned that should Georgia State receive an invitation from a conference such as the Sun Belt, it needs to approach its decision as if its next home will be its last. Some Georgia State fans have posted on this blog that the Sun Belt could be treated as a place-holder while revenues and facilities are improved until a more prestigious conference issues an invitation.

“They have to go in with the mindset of a long-term home,” he said, pointing out that the conferences have leverage with exit fees for leaving (the CAA’s is a minimum of $500,000). The NCAA also won’t allow schools to leave FCS unless they have already received an invitation from a FBS conference. “They had better be ready to commit.”

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