For nearly three decades, the Eagles were at the top of their class, winning 10 Southern Conference titles in 22 years in the league. They won four national championships as an Independent.
Head Coach Willie Fritz points out, “I think Georgia Southern fans are excited. I haven’t heard of anyone who wasn’t.” Coach Fritz continues, “Sure, there’s a sense of the unknown, but our goal is to have the same success Georgia Southern had at the FCS level.”
“It’s all about expanding the profile of the university,” Eagles Athletic Director, Tom Kleinlein explains. “Our university out-grew the Southern Conference.”
The move costs money. The school paid a $600,000 exit fee to leave the Southern Conference and a $1 million entry fee to join the Sun Belt. Southern’s athletic budget (recently proposed and passed) will grow to $16 million for the 2014-15 year — an increase of nearly $4 million.
The additional 22 scholarships for football had to be matched for female sports programs to stay in compliance with Title IX — a federal law that provides equal opportunities for men and women. The Eagles started a women’s rifle program (six scholarships) and added another 16 scholarships to the women’s track and field and swimming programs. In 2015, Southern will begin competing in women’s golf. Some of the additional monies will be made up through increased revenues from upcoming games. Kleinlein said 2014 football ticket sales have already surpassed last season’s 5,400 and are expected to reach 6,000 when the Eagles open their home slate against Savannah State on Sept. 6.
Fans and students have shown their support. Boosters contributed $10 million for the construction of the new football operations building which is nearly completed. The football staff is only weeks away from moving in. Students agreed to an increase in activity fees of $75 a semester for the move to FBS and $25 for the refurbishing of Paulson Stadium, which now has a second deck on the north side of the stadium and 6,300 more seats overall. The conference will provide more revenue streams for its members through bowl payouts. Kleinlein projected Southern will make about $500,000 from the league in 2014-2015 (the Eagles’ transition year) and $1-2 million in 2015-16 when the Eagles become full members.