McNeese Football Field - scimmage

The time has come.

McNeese athletic director Bruce Hemphill and president Daryl Burckel need to get on the phone and start making calls.

It’s time for McNeese State University to make the move to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Now I’m not saying it has to be immediately. I don’t even think it should be immediately. More to the point, I don’t think it can be done immediately. There are some issues that need to be taken care of before the move can be made.

The NCAA requires a school to sponsor a minimum of 16 intercollegiate varsity sports. That includes a minimum of six all-male or mixed teams and a minimum of eight female teams. Currently, McNeese sponsors 16 teams (men’s and women’s track and field have the same rosters, but indoor and outdoor seasons count as different sports). So check that one off in favor of McNeese.

Next, the Cowboys would have to schedule and play at least 60 percent of its football contests against FBS members. They’d have to play at least five regular season home games against FBS teams. This would require McNeese leaving the Southland Conference, and without securing membership in a conference first, I doubt they’d want to do that. Just one reason why, if this does ever happen, I don’t think it would be right away.

The next requirement is one that I think will be one of the more challenging given the past few seasons: McNeese has to average at least 15,000 in actual or paid attendance for all home football contests over a rolling two-year period.

Going into the final regular season home game, McNeese is averaging 10,280.5 in attendance. Last season, they averaged 9,939. You have to go back to the 2002 and 2003 seasons to find the last time McNeese averaged at least 15,000 over a two-year period.

Next season was never going to happen with respect to making the move up. But even if that was just opinion, the attendance requirement makes that fact. In order to get to 15,000 average needed to even think about moving up for the 2020 season, McNeese would need to average about 19,180 next season. Cowboy Stadium holds 17,610 and there have already been attendance issues, so lets move this back one more year.

A possible 2021 move would allow for multiple things: marketing and building excitement in Lake Charles. And the inevitable time it will take to renovate Cowboy Stadium and the surrounding facilities to make it FBS-worthy.

McNeese also would have to provide an average of at least 90 percent of the permissible maximum number of overall football grants-in-aid per year over a rolling two-year period. Additionally, they have to annually offer a minimum of 200 athletics grantsin-aid or expend at least $4 million on grants-in-aid to student-athletes in athletics programs.

That means it’s time for Hemphill, Burckel, and the coaches to out and start fundraising even more than they already have. Moving up to the big-time isn’t cheap.

I think this should happen because it will bring back some old rivalries with new names (UL-Lafayette and UL-Monroe) if McNeese went to the Sun Belt. The Cowboys would presumably go to the West Division and the Sun Belt would need to add one more team for the East. As far as travel goes, Texas State would replace Incarnate Word, Arkansas State would replace Central Arkansas, and you’d travel an hour east to play ULL instead of an hour west to play Lamar. Troy is an old Southland foe that old Cowboy fans should have some familiarity with. Burckel played football at McNeese when ULL, ULM, and Arkansas State were on the schedule. He should know how important those games are.

Traveling to some of those places, or having those fans come to The Hole, may be a bit more fruitful than schools like UIW, Houston Baptist, and Abilene Christian. No offense to those schools, but they’re either too far, or don’t have a big enough fan base to make a true impact yet.

No more realistic shot at a national championship. But playing to make it to a bowl game hasn’t been a buzzkill to Group of Five schools for recruiting. And the chance to earn money for the football team and athletic program goes up a bunch. The Sun Belt has five bowl game tie-ins. The lowest pay-out is $250,000. The highest is $1.5 million. The average is $767,807. I’m not sure there are many, if any, chances to make that much money for one game at the FCS level.

It makes sense from a rivalry and financial standpoint. But it takes money to make money. And patience, in case someone wonders why this can’t happen by next year. And butts in the seats of Cowboy Stadium, don’t forget that. More butts means more money. More money means hello FBS.


David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at dberry@americanpress.com

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