Reporter: Justin Feldkamp
Liberty University has intentions to leave the Big South Conference and move from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision. How soon will that take place? At a news conference Monday afternoon, Liberty said they cannot say it will be the near future but it will be in the future.
Liberty has already generated excitement for its football program but imagine what it would be like with a team from the Big Ten or the ACC facing the Flames. University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. said he remembered a sermon his father had in 1974. "One day we were going to play Southern Cal, Notre Dame, I forget what other schools he mentioned, maybe Alabama in football and back then it just seemed like a pipe dream," he recollected.
Over time that has changed. "There's really been no school more prepared for its major athletics initiative than Liberty 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 six months, a has looked at every aspect of Liberty's athletic department. "From Title IX, financial, facilities, operating procedures, personnel, salaries, scholarships, every aspect, policies and procedures of how you do business as a Division One program. You have to look at your compliance program, the strength and conditioning program marketing and promotion, radio and television, business office operations, game management of events."
Athletics director Jeff Barber added, "Of all the schools that do a feasibility study, it's about 50-50 those that say 'yes' and the other 50 say 'no.'"
Liberty also made it clear they would prefer not to have just its football team leave for a new conference.
Jeff Barber said, "We are looking to move our entire sports program into an FBS conference. The rule is you have to have eight schools play in all sports to be an FBS conference, certainly our intention and our goal is to 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 of right now they are open to joining one of the other five FBS conferences - the MAC, Sunbelt, Conference USA, Mountain West or WAC. "Liberty is a university that is national, national in scope, national in its destiny I believe and because of that we're not limiting ourselves to a geographic region of Virginia, Pennsylvania, whatever, North Carolina. We're willing and really would like to be in a national conference that would span all 50 states," Barber said.
Liberty may be ready to make a move but now they have to wait for an invitation from a conference but they "will now sit on their hands" during the waiting process. Barber said, "We're fully funded in all 20 sports. We can't get any better there. Our facilities are growing at a rapid pace and we have a plan in place to get all of our facilities to a very significant FBS level. The only thing we can do now is to just continue to win, continue to get better, win championships, get in the NCAA Tournaments and advance through the playoffs."
When that invitation comes, Falwell said the school is willing to make the decision within 48 hours, something other FCS level schools could not do.
When asked what the conference move would mean to athletics, Barber said, "It'll be a big step for us in the recruiting area expands exponentially. It'll be bigger for us from the exposure standpoint. The infrastructure that we have in place and the things that we have in place right now, we're very very close [to the FBS level] and we don't have a lot of growth to go in that area."
Where Liberty could improve is mainly with its football stadium. It currently has 19,000 seats. Falwell mentioned at the news conference that it is not confirmed but it is planned to add an upper deck seating surface to the visitor side of the stadium, which would increase the seating capacity to 25,000. That construction would begin following the upcoming 2012 season.
New football coach Turner Gill would not be the head coach at Liberty if the program was undoubtedly destined to remain an FCS level school. "He wanted to be in a program that was growing and moving into that level and so it was definitely a big part of our interview process with him," Barber said.
During Barber's time at Liberty, he has hired Jim Toman and Dale Layer, two coaches who have had previous experience at the FBS level. "They'll be a big part of us moving up. They know what it takes to succeed and compete at that level.
The move would take the Flames away from the Big South Conference but Liberty's desire to make the move has been known amongst other conference officials for quite some time. "I sent a text message to all the football athletic directors of the Big South letting them know that we were going to make the announcement. The response from them was congratulations, you guys are worthy. We wish you the best," Barber said.