Eastern Kentucky University could be an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision member as soon as 2016.
Benson said no final decision has been made yet regarding such an application. EKU would have to receive an invitation from an FBS conference in order to make the move. Benson and athletic director Mark Sandy have said that the Mid-American and Sun Belt conferences would be the best fits for the Colonels, who are charter members of the Ohio Valley Conference.
“If this is something we’re going to do and we get the invite, I would see us moving as expeditiously as we can,” said Benson, who was hired from Southern Utah and took over as president in August. “I don’t know if I can put a time on it right now. This is a decision that’s imminent.”
EKU could become the fourth FBS program in the state, joining the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky University. WKU chose to jump to the FBS in November 2006, and the Hilltoppers became bowl-eligible members of the Sun Belt in 2009.
Benson said that conference realignment is one reason EKU is exploring the FBS. He also acknowledged that the Colonels have paid attention to what WKU has done recently. The Hilltoppers just completed an 8-4 regular season and are bowl-eligible for the third straight season. They will be leaving the Sun Belt for Conference USA next summer.
EKU and WKU used to meet regularly in the “Battleof theBluegrass,” but a rivalry that dated to 1914 ended with the Hilltoppers’ move to the FBS. The football teams last met in 2008. If EKU joins the FBS, it would provide an opportunity to resume the series.
“Our biggest crowds in the history of our football program have been when we’ve played Western Kentucky,” Benson said. “I’d love nothing more than to see us do a home-and-home. That’s healthy for the commonwealth and healthy for our institutions.”
In the FBS, the scholarship limit would increase from 63 to 85. Previously, Sandy said Roy Kidd Stadium probably would need some renovations but would retain its capacity of 20,000. The school would have to almost double its annual football budget of $3 million.
Right now, Benson said EKU is considering only the Sun Belt and the MAC.
In 2014 the football-playing Sun Belt schools will be Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, Idaho, New Mexico State, South Alabama, Texas State, Troy, Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe. The Sun Belt has two bowl tie-ins: the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl in Louisiana.
“The Sun Belt is looking for an Eastern team,” Benson said. “I’ve also heard they’re looking at other schools. ... We’re not the only one out there.”
The MAC’s football schools are Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green State, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Massachusetts, Miami of Ohio, Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo and Western Michigan. However, there are questions about what will happen to UMass, which is not a full-time MAC member — the Minutemen still play basketball in the Atlantic 10.
In 2014 the MAC will have four bowl tie-ins: the GoDaddy Bowl, the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise and the Boca Raton Bowl in Florida.