Campbell, Liberty, Idaho work toward 2018 change
(STATS) - Division I college football teams are preparing for the 2017 season, but three of them - Campbell, Liberty and Idaho - have eyes pointed toward 2018, when each will have a vastly different situation regarding the FCS.
Campbell's 10th season this year will be in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, but next year the Fighting Camels will move to the scholarship level and join the Big South Conference.
Liberty will be leaving the Big South after this season - and the FCS as well - as it moves up to the FBS.
Idaho will do the opposite as Liberty, dropping down from the FBS to the FCS and rejoining a Big Sky Conference where it once was a power.
At Campbell, some players in this year's recruiting class received scholarships, but they will be redshirted to make their debuts in 2018. Coach Mike Minter and his staff will stagger the scholarships over a fewer years and the team won't be near the FCS limit of 63 in 2018, but it should be close in its second season in the Big South.
Some of the more influential upperclassmen will earn scholarships in another year, which will increase the total in the program.
Campbell didn't have to move to the scholarship level to generate excitement. The Camels set multiple attendance records last season, including an average of 5,523 fans per game that exceeded Barker-Lane Stadium's 5,500-seat capacity.
"When I came to Campbell four years ago, I wanted to build Campbell into a FCS powerhouse," Minter said, "and now we get that opportunity by moving to scholarship football and a great conference in the Big South."
Liberty and Campbell will be passing in the Big South night after this season. Liberty's games will count in the conference standings during its final FCS campaign, but the Flames are ineligible for the title and a playoff bid.
With the program transitioning toward the FBS maximum of 85 scholarships, Liberty is allowed to exceed the FCS limit. Coach Turner Gill said his team's scholarships will be in the 70s.
Liberty is one of the top-drawing FCS programs and should regularly fill the 19,200-seat Williams Stadium at the FBS level.
Idaho is making the most unique move of the three. It has to shed scholarships to drop down a level, which means coach Paul Petrino is going with smaller signing classes for several years. Also, his program lost a big senior class after last year's surprising 9-4 season.
Many boosters didn't support Idaho's decision to return to the FCS and the Big Sky, where the Vandals were members from 1963-95 before rising to the FBS, but the furor has died down quickly. The rebirth of some former rivalries, and some closer ones as opposed to the Vandals playing in the Sun Belt, could increase their struggling attendance at the 16,000-seat Kibbie Dome.
There is a lot for all three teams to play for in 2017, but next year offers a new chapter for their programs.