By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on November 1, 2022
The Jackson State Tigers represent Jackson State University (JSU) in college football at the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level as a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).
JSU head coach Deion Sanders has raised the profile of the Tigers in a profound way, as evidenced by the July 2022 Sports Illustrated cover story on Sanders and his Tigers.
Today, the Tigers are the hottest and most talked about football program in America. The Tigers have shown us that they are ready for Prime Time football in the FCS. But, are they ready for big-time football and big-money in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS)?
I think so. I believe the Tigers can be to Black America what Notre Dame is to Catholic America.
FBS Versus FCS
In its July 14, 2022 online edition, Cam Merritt of SportsRec laid out the NCAA’s Division I college football requirements. JSU is poised to meet or exceed all of the requirements necessary to compete in the FBS category where the biggest money in college football is generated.
Division I is the top level of sports competition in the NCAA. Not all Division I colleges and universities maintain football programs, but those that do are divided into two subdivisions -- the FBS and FCS, where JSU plays.
The FBS is home to Division 1-A football programs -- the ones that regularly play on national TV for big paydays. Smaller colleges and universities play in the FCS, which is the home of HBCUs and other Division I-AA football programs.
To field a football team in either subdivision, a college or university must fulfill a number of NCAA requirements. SportsRec recapped them for us in both subdivisions.
How many FBS or Division 1-A football teams are there?
First, there are 131 schools in FBS, which are spread among 10 conferences (i.e., the American Athletic Conference or AAC, Atlantic Coast Conference or ACC, Big 12 Conference or Big 12, Big Ten Conference or Big Ten, Conference USA or C-USA, Mid-American Conference or MAC, Mountain West Conference or MWC, Pac-12 Conference or Pac-12, and Southeastern Conference or SEC).
To compete in FBS, a college or university must compete in at least 16 varsity sports, including football.
Of those 16, at least six must be men's sports and at least eight must be women's sports.
For FCS, a college or university must compete in at least 14 sports, with at least six men's sports and seven women's sports.
If a college or university sponsors more sports than the minimum, it must follow NCAA guidelines to ensure equity between men's and women's opportunities.
JSU can easily meet the small increase in the number of sports required to move to from FCS to FBS status.
Scheduling of Games
An FBS team must schedule at least 60 percent of its games against other FBS teams; however, one game against an FCS team can count toward this requirement if the FCS school uses 90 percent of its available football scholarships.
An FBS team also must have five home games against FBS teams every year. One game at a neutral site can count as a "home" game in this respect.
In FCS, a college or university must schedule at least 50 percent of its games against Division I teams from either subdivision.
This allows FCS schools to schedule more games against teams in the NCAA's lower ranks, Divisions II and III. There is no home-game requirement in FCS.
JSU can meet this FBS requirement, as well.
Game Day Attendance
To maintain FBS status, a school must average 15,000 in paid or actual attendance a game at least once every two seasons.
The NCAA used to require Division I-A schools to have a stadium with a minimum capacity of 30,000, but that rule was scrapped in 2004. FCS has no attendance requirements.
JSU is already meeting this requirement.
To maximize the revenues generated from its football program, JSU needs an on-campus stadium. Fortunately, there are private sector resources available to assist JSU in designing, building, financing, and commissioning a state-of -the-art football stadium on its campus for an FBS program.
To remain in Division I, a school must grant at least 50 percent of the maximum number of scholarships the NCAA allows in each sport.
Alternatively, it can issue an NCAA-prescribed minimum dollar amount of aid to athletes, with at least half going to women's sports.
Or it can offer at least 25 men's and 25 women's scholarships in sports besides football and basketball (or 35 of each if the school doesn't play basketball).
FCS schools like JSU must meet only the criteria listed above.
FBS schools have additional requirements. For example, they must provide 90 percent of the maximum allowable football scholarships and offer at least 200 scholarships or at least $4 million in total athletic scholarships across all sports.
With its widespread national visibility and new-found ability to attract big-time corporate donors, this requirement is doable for JSU.
Will JSU Make Its Way to the Big-Time Football Money?
Making it to the big-money in U.S. college football programs requires a "can do" attitude on the part of HBCUs. In general, HBCUs have not been inclined to leave the comfort zone of FCS football. They continue to languish in small-minded thinking, inferiority complexes, and a defeatist attitude as they struggle to fund their football programs out of their general operating budgets.
Meanwhile, their HWCB counterparts have made this move without hesitation or reservation. In Alabama, Troy State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) made the move from FCS to FBS without ever looking back on their institutional decisions. In 2019, UAB convinced the City of Birmingham to pay $90 million toward the $188 million required to build a new 42,000-seat stadium for Blazers football.
JSU seems to be more motivated to reach dominance in football than the other HBCUs with FCS football programs. JSU hired Deion Sanders as its head football coach. Sanders does not think small. He projects a confident, winning attitude, and view of college football that goes far beyond the limited mindset of many HBCU administrators and governing boards.
If anyone can lead an HBCU to the Promised Land of FBS and its big-time money, it is Deion Sanders.