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Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson, left, gives a Sun Belt helmet to Appalachian State University Chancellor Ken Peacock at a March 27 press conference announcing ASU's move to the Sun Belt. Anna Oakes | Watauga Democrat

Originally published: 2013-03-28 16:47:54
Last modified: 2013-03-29 11:03:57

ASU faces financial considerations

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

Appalachian State's move to the Sun Belt will no doubt be a challenge to all of the Mountaineers' teams.

It's also a challenge to the athletic department's account.

The Mountaineers face several budget considerations when making the move to the Sun Belt. Appalachian State made that decision official Wednesday when it accepted a bid into the league from commissioner Karl Benson.

Appalachian State's football team will play in the Football Bowl Subdivision when it joins the Sun Belt in 2014. The move means the Mountaineers, which gives out 63 football scholarships as a member of the Football Championship Subdivision Southern Conference, will need to give out 85 on the FBS level.

Appalachian State must maintain an average of 76 scholarships over the two transitional years. That average keeps the Mountaineers from participating in the FCS playoffs this fall since they would have more players on scholarship than the FCS opponents they would be playing, both in the playoffs and in the Southern Conference.

Appalachian State athletic director Charlie Cobb said there are ways to come up with extra scholarship players without necessarily hitting the recruiting trail in a panic.

"We're still trying to figure that out," Cobb said. "We'll get some kids on the current roster some scholarships and we may get some transfers, but we've got to get to 76."

That's only the beginning, as far as extra scholarships go. To stay within Title IX regulations, Appalachian State must fund 22 new scholarships for women's sports.

Appalachian State already has women's programs in basketball, cross-country, field hockey, golf, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field and volleyball. Women's basketball and volleyball are fully funded.

Cobb said the school has a committee that deals with gender equity looking into the subject. Cobb said the committee already has recommended women's lacrosse, which is popular in the Northeast and has started to take foot in the South.

"We've got a standing gender equity committee that's recommended that women's lacrosse be the next sport we add," Cobb said. "We already have field hockey. We're building a stadium right now. We've got a couple of scenarios in place we're trying to decide on."

Appalachian State's field hockey team plays in the NorPac Conference since the Southern Conference does not provide the sport. The problem with field hockey is that four teams -- Stanford, U.C. Davis, California and Pacific -- are on the west coast.

The other five teams in the nine-team league are Liberty, Longwood, Davidson, Radford and ASU.

Cobb said that swimming and diving is another possibility if ASU can upgrade its facility.

"We have a great pool, but we don't have a diving platform," Cobb said. "Some argue that it's impossible to have the swimming without the diving."

Cobb said it would probably take about $4-6 million to pay for the extra scholarships and extra travel expenses. All but one (Samford) of the SoCon schools are within a six-hour driving distance.

The Sun Belt has programs in Louisiana and Texas, which will require air travel.

The current athletic department budget, according to Cobb, is $16 million. ASU must also pay a $600,000 exit fee to leave the SoCon and a $1 million fee to join the Sun Belt.

The Sun Belt fee can be paid either now, during the course of three years, or be taken out of revenues that would go to the new institution.

Cobb said that the way he did not want to reach gender equity is to cut men's sports. He said that issue is unlikely to come up for at least five years during a worse case scenario.

"It's not a healthy conversation for anybody," he said. "As I've done financial projections and I've done a worse case financial projection, it would be five years down the road before we walk down that path. It's not a conversation that neither (Chancellor) Ken (Peacock) nor I want to go down."