Reporter: Justin Feldkamp
Liberty University has intentions toleave the Big South Conference and move from the Football ChampionshipSubdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision. How soon will that take place? Ata news conference Monday afternoon, Liberty said they cannot say it will be thenear future but it will be in the future.
Liberty has already generatedexcitement for its football program but imagine what it would be like with ateam from the Big Ten or the ACC facing the Flames. University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. saidhe remembered a sermon his father had in 1974. "One day we were going toplay Southern Cal, Notre Dame, I forget what other schools he mentioned, maybeAlabama in football and back then it just seemed like a pipe dream," herecollected.
Over time that has changed. "There'sreally been no school more prepared for its major athletics initiative thanLiberty and Liberty is prepared in every sense of the word for this move,"said Bill Carr, the head of the consulting group that for the past sixmonths, a has looked at every aspect of Liberty's athletic department. "From Title IX, financial, facilities,operating procedures, personnel, salaries, scholarships, every aspect, policiesand procedures of how you do business as a Division One program. You have tolook at your compliance program, the strength and conditioning program marketingand promotion, radio and television, business office operations, gamemanagement of events."
Athletics director Jeff Barber added, "Of all the schools that do afeasibility study, it's about 50-50 those that say 'yes' and the other 50 say'no.'"
Liberty also made it clear they wouldprefer not to have just its football team leave for a new conference.
Jeff Barber said, "We are looking to move our entire sportsprogram into an FBS conference. The rule is you have to have eight schools playin all sports to be an FBS conference, certainly our intention and our goal isto bring all 20 sports."
Liberty will not be joining any of the'Big 6' conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, SEC, Pac 12, Big 12) but as ofright now they are open to joining one of the other five FBS conferences - theMAC, Sunbelt, Conference USA, Mountain West or WAC. "Liberty is a university that isnational, national in scope, national in its destiny I believe and because ofthat we're not limiting ourselves to a geographic region of Virginia,Pennsylvania, whatever, North Carolina. We're willing and really would like tobe in a national conference that would span all 50 states," Barber said.
Liberty may be ready to make a movebut now they have to wait for an invitation from a conference but they "willnow sit on their hands" during the waiting process. Barber said, "We'refully funded in all 20 sports. We can't get any better there. Our facilitiesare growing at a rapid pace and we have a plan in place to get all of ourfacilities to a very significant FBS level. The only thing we can do now is tojust continue to win, continue to get better, win championships, get in theNCAA Tournaments and advance through the playoffs."
When that invitation comes, Falwellsaid the school is willing to make the decision within 48 hours, something otherFCS level schools could not do.
When asked what the conference move wouldmean to athletics, Barber said, "It'll be a big step for us in therecruiting area expands exponentially. It'll be bigger for us from the exposurestandpoint. The infrastructure that we have in place and the things that wehave in place right now, we're very very close [to the FBS level] and we don'thave a lot of growth to go in that area."
Where Liberty could improve is mainlywith its football stadium. It currently has 19,000 seats. Falwell mentioned atthe news conference that it is not confirmed but it is planned to add an upper deckseating surface to the visitor side of the stadium, which would increase theseating capacity to 25,000. That construction would begin following the upcoming 2012 season.
New football coach Turner Gillwould not be the head coach at Liberty if the program was undoubtedly destinedto remain an FCS level school. "Hewanted to be in a program that was growing and moving into that level and so itwas definitely a big part of our interview process with him," Barber said.
During Barber's time at Liberty, he has hired Jim Toman andDale Layer, two coaches who have had previous experience at the FBS level. "They'll be a big part of us moving up. Theyknow what it takes to succeed and compete at that level.
The move would take the Flames away from the Big South Conferencebut Liberty's desire to make the move has been known amongst other conferenceofficials for quite some time. "I sent a text message to all the footballathletic directors of the Big South letting them know that we were going tomake the announcement. The response from them was congratulations, you guys areworthy. We wish you the best," Barber said.