Rivalry with Western Carolina in jeopardy
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
The Mountaineers play their final game as members of the Southern Conference Saturday when they host longtime rival Western Carolina. The teams will meet for the 78th time with Appalachian State holding a 58-18-1 advantage.
The Mountaineers will be leaving the SoCon and joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. The teams aren't expected to play in 2014, which breaks a series that goes back to 1932. The teams did not play between 1941-45 during World War II.
It is the only game Appalachian State plays where more than a victory is at stake. The teams will play for the Old Mountain Jug for at least one more time. App State holds a decisive 30-7 edge in the overall Jug series, and a 26-2 edge over the Catamounts since 1985 after Western Carolina won four straight times.
With all that tradition, it would seem easy to keep the series going, despite the Mountaineers moving to a new conference. That isn't the case, however, since the Sun Belt is an FBS conference, while the SoCon is in the FCS.
FBS schools generally play one FCS program at the most during a single season. Those games often come with large guarantee money that the FBS gives to the FCS team so that the FBS program can host a home game.
The amount varies, which is where Appalachian State could be in trouble. The Mountaineers cannot afford to give out the type of guarantees that a Southeastern Conference or an Atlantic Coast Conference program can offer, which could keep Western Carolina away from Kidd Brewer Stadium.
"That's probably the biggest hurdle as far as us playing Appalachian in the future," Western Carolina coach Mark Speir, a former App State assistant coach, said. "We have to play money games. This year, we played three FBS teams and we play two next year. For our budgets, those games brought in close to $1.2 million. We can go play Auburn for a half-million and the question is can App be in a position to pay those kinds of dollars. Conventional wisdom says no,"
Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield said he'd like to keep playing Western Carolina if possible. He said scheduling could be difficult since college football schedules are made years in advance.
"I hope we'll be able to play them," Satterfield said. "The schedules are done way in the future, but we will probably play one FCS opponent, so we could put Western on it. Maybe not on a yearly basis, but maybe every other year."
Speir said other factors could play into keeping the rivalry going. The Big 10 is discouraging its members from scheduling FCS teams. The Mountaineers play at Michigan in 2014, but got a bigger payout for being a member of the FBS than a member of the FCS.
Speir said that the decision on which FBS team often comes down to which game raises the most money for the Western Carolina athletic program, taking the guarantee sum and considering the travel costs that go with it.
Western Carolina played games against FBS teams three times this season. The Catamounts played at Middle Tennessee on Aug. 29, at Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 and at Auburn on Oct. 12.
"If the five major conference are breaking off and they decided not to play FCS teams, now that App is considered a mid-major, that's who we're going to have to play," Speir said. "I'd like to play App because there is no hopping on an airplane and spending half the money you're playing for. It all boils down to when playing an FBS team, you want to go and make as much money as possible. If there is a $250,000 difference from playing App State compared to playing Auburn, then we're going to play Auburn."