In recent years, a number of schools have explored moving up from Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as I-AA) to Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. The most recent team to make the move was the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers in 2009. There are four more teams slated to move up in 2012 to 2013, however. These include the University of South Alabama Jaguars, University of Massachusetts “UMass” Minutemen, and the Texas State University – San Marcos Bobcats. A fourth program, the University of Texas – San Antonio Roadrunners, is a startup program without any FCS history that is going directly into FBS.
There are a number of candidates to move-up from FCS to FBS. Knowing who will be the next to move up requires a thorough examination of the college football scenery. There is an arms race going on among major college football programs which has led to conference expansion in major conferences like the PAC-12 and Big Ten in addition as huge TV rights deals with conferences in addition as individual university networks like the Longhorn Network and BYUtv. Budgets have soared and it has become increasingly expensive to build and function top notch facilities and provide the best tools for the 85 scholarship football players to compete at the highest level.
While less prestigious conferences like the Mountain West, Mid American Conference, and Conference USA have found it more difficult to keep up financially with the big boys, they will likely assistance in the fact that college football is so popular right now that major TV networks like ESPN and Fox are searching for any kind of college football programming they can get, and these conferences are in a position to provide the networks with a reasonable return on a smaller investment. Schools like the University of Montana are likely looking at these TV deals and thinking, while we like the playoff format in FCS, could we potentially assistance from the money and TV exposure that come along with playing in a mid-major FBS conference?
Villanova is actively considering moving from FCS to FBS. Already being a member of the Big East Conference for all other sports, they would be in the enviable position of closest being a member of an Automatic Qualifier (AQ) conference. Besides the aforementioned University of Montana Grizzlies, other schools that have been most frequently mentioned include the Montana State University Bobcats, Lamar University Cardinals, University of California – Davis Aggies, Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs, and Appalachian State Mountaineers. All these schools, with the exception of Appalachian State, are likely candidates for the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) which has been decimated by the defections of Boise State University, University of Hawaii -Manoa, California State University – Fresno, and University of Nevada – Reno. Appalachian State would be a strong candidate for the Sun Belt or possibly already Conference USA. One other program to keep your eye on is the University of North Carolina – Charlotte. They are starting an FCS program in 2013 and might be a program to move up quickly.