The stadium is located off a busy thoroughfare in Normal, Ill., and you can’t argue the location of the Illinois State football facility. It’s about to undergo a much-needed $25 million facelift that will bring it up to Missouri Valley Football Conference standards. As of now, it is the Bison Sports Arena/Western Hall/IUPUI Jungle of the MFVC: a dump.
So when ISU President Al Bowman said in a story by Randy Reinhardt of the Pantagraph newspaper that the school remains committed to seeking Football Bowl Subdivision status someday, it raised a few eyebrows. Bowman called it a “long, long range vision” for the university. Let me further clarify what he probably meant: it’s a long, long, long, long range vision for the school.
There’s nothing wrong with vision. Some NDSU fans had the same reaction when the school announced it was seeking Division I status. But the athletic department also knew in research that it could raise the necessary funding to be above the bottom level of Division I funding. Therein lies the key for ISU: if it someday wants FBS status, you need to have the funding above the bottom level of the division if you want to be successful. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars. We’re also talking this: would affiliation in the MAC, Sun Belt or Conference USA be enough to draw 30,000-plus or whatever fan base is needed at the FBS level?
Or else you will be Western Kentucky, all over again. The Hilltoppers were a stength of Valley football a decade ago, but decided FBS would best fit them. Their program has been nothing short of a disaster. It’s OK to dream someday of the FBS concept, but you better have the funds in place to win or the $25 million ISU is putting into its stadium now will look like chump change to an athletic director trying to balance the books.
As for NDSU someday thinking FBS, never say never but you can forget about it for at least a couple of decades anyway.