NMSU wants to stay at FBS level - Albuquerque Journal

NMSU wants to stay at FBS level

The New Mexico State University Board of Regents resolved in 2013, at the outset of Garrey Carruthers’ term as NMSU president, that Aggie football should play at the NCAA’s top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision.

Much changed since then. But that resolve has not.

Regents Chairwoman Debra Hicks said Thursday that the board will reaffirm that resolution to “stay the course” and continue to play FBS ball in 2018 and beyond – even if it means doing so as an independent, without a conference affiliation.

New Mexico State is a football-only member of the Sun Belt Conference, but that far-flung league composed mostly of schools in the Southeast is booting the Aggies and Idaho after the 2017 season.

NMSU’s other NCAA-affiliated programs compete in the Western Athletic Conference, which was its football home, as well, from 2005-12. But the WAC disbanded as a football league after 2012. NMSU played as an independent in 2013 and in the Sun Belt the past two years.

There have been suggestions that dropping down to the lower next level Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), with its programs operating more cheaply, might be the way to go after 2017. However, the recently formed 26-member Athletic Review Committee, chaired by Las Cruces general contractor Mickey Clute and charged with advising Carruthers and the board on matters related to the school’s athletic future, differs.

The committee conducted a “very thorough analysis of costs and revenues” in comparing operations of an FBS and FCS program, Hicks said. Its findings: An FCS program, though it operates with smaller football staffs and with 63 football scholarships as opposed to 85 in FBS, nonetheless would be a $2.3 million bigger hit to the athletics budget.

The reasoning, Hicks said, is that while some sources of revenue like student fees and donorships would stay flat, ticket sales and sponsorships would decrease with the Aggies playing at the FCS level. And the critical opportunity to play money games against an FBS power – the going rate for one is in the low seven figures – likely would go away. NMSU plays two such games this fall – at Southeastern Conference schools Kentucky (Sept. 17) and Texas A&M (Oct. 29).

There also has been some concern among committee members and boosters in general that if the Aggies dropped down to the FCS level, it could bring an end to the series with longtime rivals UTEP and New Mexico. “There would be less of a reason for them to do a home-and-home with us,” said Clute. The UTEP game in odd years and UNM in even years routinely has been the biggest draw at Aggie Memorial Stadium.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported recently that as many as 35 Aggie football players would transfer if the school went to FCS.

Carruthers, meanwhile, recently sent a survey to faculty and staff members soliciting their input as to what courses of action to take regarding athletics. He indicated that NMSU has been in talks with the Horizon Conference, which doesn’t sponsor football, and the Big Sky, which sponsors all of NMSU’s NCAA sports but plays FCS football.

The survey’s options:

• “NMSU should remain in the WAC for non-football sports and play independent FBS football after our agreement with the Sun Belt Conference expires in 2018.”

• “NMSU should join the Horizon Conference for non-football sports and play independent FBS football after our agreement with the Sun Belt Conference expires in 2018.”

• “NMSU should align with the Big Sky Conference, move all of our sports to this conference, and enjoy FCS football.”

• “None of the above.”

There has been speculation that if the Big 12 expands back to 12 teams, another wave of conference realignment affecting a number of schools could occur.

“We’d love to be in a conference where we could put all of our teams and that included UNM or UTEP or both,” Clute said. “That always seems to make sense to us.”

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