An open letter to Georgia Southern University President Brooks Keel:
Dear Dr. Keel,
Don’t buy into all the hype about FBS football.
Georgia Southern is many wonderful things, but a budding BCS power it isn’t — and won’t be in most of our lifetimes, if ever.
And there’s nothing at all wrong with that.
I suspect that runs contrary to what you’re hearing from many who think nothing matters if it isn’t thoroughly covered and smothered on ESPN.
It’s silly, really, but there’s little to be done with folks who confuse hype for substance, something that’s so not-GSU.
After all, Georgia Southern long has been the kind of program that, like its architect Erk Russell, is long on hard work and “want to” and short on airs or pomposity — a blue-collar program in every sense of the word.
It was “runts try harder,” “TEAM me” and “GATA.”
Sure, the school has made great strides since football was restarted in 1981. Much has changed and we’re told there’s more to come, all to better position GSU to compete in the future.
Some think that means a trip to FBS is lurking once an NCAA moratorium on such moves is lifted in a few years. They point to a past that they believe guarantees success in the future.
The past is, of course, quite a story.
Apart from the three-year experiment from 2006-09 in which the Eagles abandoned the style of play that made the program nearly unique, six-time national champion Georgia Southern has been one of FCS football’s most storied, well, stories.
But don’t kid yourself into thinking the Eagles are ready to step into the top echelon of college football.
Not the part that matters, anyway.
While Georgia Southern quickly could compete with the Troys, Florida Internationals, Marshalls and other second-tier FBS programs, most former I-AA powers, the Eagles are a far cry from catching up to the big boys where it matters the most: The wallet.
Georgia’s annual athletic department budget is usually more than $70 million. Georgia Tech’s is more than $50 million. By contrast, Georgia Southern’s is about $10 million.
That’s not shabby, but it isn’t exactly going to get you a seat at the most exclusive clubs in football.
By the time GSU gets its budget to $20 million, Georgia will be at $100 million. The haves always will have more.
And if the experiences of schools such as Troy or Marshall are any indication, moving to FBS won’t put the Eagles much closer to competing with BCS powers.
Indeed, those schools arguably are less relevant on the national football scene now than they were as top-level schools in FCS.
At least the latter can compete for a championship and aren’t looked at as lower division programs masquerading as D-1. The best a Middle Tennessee or Troy realistically can hope for in our lifetimes is a shot at meaningless bowl games.
That might change in a hundred years. It might not.
In another decade or two, the Eagles may be in a better position to make a run at the FBS, especially if the region’s economic growth resumes. There’s also the possibility of big changes to college football as more scrutiny of the BCS comes into play.
In the meantime, it looks as if the Eagles are returning to the place they’ve been for most of the past three decades — back to the top of FCS.
That’s a lot better place to be than the Sun Belt or Conference USA.
Whitten is a GSU grad. He writes about sports for the Coastal Courier and Bryan County News.