Now that Georgia Southern is in transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the program’s athletic director keeps hearing the same question.
Tom Kleinlein took over the job full-time in January, and at least twice a week since then, he’s been answering that question at speaking engagements across the state and beyond.
“I’m sure that everybody in this room has an opinion on that — right, wrong or indifferent,” Kleinlein said at the Downtown Statesboro Rotary Club’s weekly breakfast meeting Thursday morning. “That was not a move for ego. That was not a move because two people sat in a room and decided they want their names recognized. That was a move for survival.”
The main motivator, Kleinlein said, is revenue to better serve GSU’s student-athletes — revenue not available to programs at the Football Championship Subdivision level.
“We played the University of Georgia and got paid $300,000 (in 2012),” Kleinlein said. “Coach (Jeff Monken) had 11 guys, they had 11 guys and the rules were the same for us as they were for the University of Buffalo when they played (UGA the same season). Only difference was, when Buffalo played them, they got paid $900,000.”
The Eagles are scheduled to play Georgia Tech, Navy and North Carolina State in 2014. The payout from those three games, Kleinlein said, is $1.9 million.
Kleinlein stayed with the theme of survival, adding that what the program is leaving behind — the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) — has lost many of its strongest programs over the last decade. Not only are Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, also bound for the Sun Belt, leaving, but Elon is decamping for the Colonial Athletic Association. Those programs are going to be replaced by startup Mercer, a restarted East Tennessee State and Virginia Military Institute.
The top of the division, Kleinlein added, is becoming equally diluted.
“Right now it’s (James Madison), Delaware, Montana and probably two or three other schools —that’s it in FCS football,” he said.
Kleinlein understands that Georgia Southern football, winner of an unprecedented six FCS national championships, is a program steeped in tradition, and that’s why many fans are apprehensive about the change.
He also knows it’s his job to make sure the athletic department grows with the rest of the university and to help make Georgia Southern a nationally-recognized institution.
“I want to grow us, keep driving that revenue, and keep hold of those traditions that make us who we are,” Kleinlein said.
Georgia Southern will play its final SoCon schedule in 2013 and won’t be eligible for the conference championship or the FCS playoffs because of the added scholarships necessary to compete at the FBS level.
The season kicks off against Savannah State on Aug. 31 at 6 p.m.