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25 July 2007
Crowe Sees Finer Points in a Move to Div. I-A

By Al Muskewitz
Star Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s been a little more than a week now since policymakers approved the formation of a committee to look into the possibility of Jacksonville State moving up in football class, and the only significant move of the meter so far appears to be the coach’s change of heart.

When the school’s board of trustees approved the committee, JSU coach Jack Crowe said he was “reluctant” to embrace the idea. But after giving it some thought, he’s starting to come around.

If it’s ultimately a good thing for Jacksonville State — and he says he thinks those investigating the issue will find that it is — he’s all for it.

“I don’t mind telling you my first instinct was one of resistance because we’re not where we need to be where we’re at,” Crowe said Tuesday, away from the dais of the Ohio Valley Conference Football Media Day at LP Field. “The first thing you say is, ‘Oooh, wait a minute. Let’s get good at where we’re at.’

“But I do know that sometimes part of getting better where you’re at is having a more extended vision of things. I know Troy made a decision to do it in 1996 and from 1997 ... to 2000, maybe 2001, is when they got good. I think it can propel us to be better where we’re at.”

Of course, it will take a lot of research — and an opening in a conference — before the Gamecocks can take the plunge. But in doing the study, school officials say they think they can at least be in a position to move if a spot does become available.

In the meantime, JSU’s exploratory committee, with help from the OVC office, is engrossed in the process of gathering all the pertinent financial information needed to make what OVC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher called this past week a “sound and educated” decision on the issue.

That part of the process continued this week.

“We’re all kind of whistling until we get that data and they can look at it,” Steinbrecher said Tuesday. “The key issues you need to look at is direct institutional support versus earned income, and that’s a critical component, a critical component for what we’re doing now, and it becomes even more so when you jump to that next level because the costs are going up.”

Crowe said that if he has the financial model right, “it doesn’t make any sense not to do it.” He has seen figures indicating schools making the jump bring in 6-to-8 times their start-up cost — certainly enough to pave the way for perhaps a new baseball or softball facility.

Those heading JSU’s effort say they think the Gamecocks are close to meeting the NCAA’s requirements for making the move. Crowe challenges the pessimists who don’t feel it can happen.

“If somebody says we can’t do that, well, they need to quit talking, because we can do that,” he said. “If all they want to be is a naysayer, I’d say ‘What experience do you bring to that?’

“A lot of people with opinions who don’t have any background are giving them. We’re so much better positioned than Troy was when they did this ... We’ve got better marketing and revenue-generating opportunities than they’ve got. There’s no argument. There’s nothing fiscally unsound about this. But there is risk.

“Is it the best thing for me? Probably not. Is it the best thing for Jacksonville State University? I think they’re going to find the facts and it’s going to be pretty danged obvious.”

And the idea of JSU looking to play at the next level didn’t “just happen.” It might have been introduced in a somewhat surprise fashion this past week, but it has been in the athletic department’s strategic plan from the start.

Of course, not every team that looks to make the jump follows through with it. Texas State, a former JSU rival in the Southland Conference, and Florida A&M both considered it, then ultimately stayed put.

“Even if we don’t go, it’ll make us more aware of where we’re at,” Crowe said. “I don’t see there’s any downside to having this out there, personally.”

New Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown said he would have never imagined the Gamecocks playing with the game’s elite programs when he was an assistant at JSU, but times were different back then.

He has seen it work. He took UAB from nearly no scholarships to Division I in a year and four years to get to 85 required by the upper level.

“That’s kind of the norm right now, not the exception; there’s been a lot do it,” Brown said. “Most of the Sun Belt is that. I think you can do it.”

The Gamecocks have at least until Oct. 15 to figure out if they can.

About Al Muskewitz

Al Muskewitz covers golf and Jacksonville State University sports teams for the Star.

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