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Analysis: The NCAA separates college sports into three divisions, with Division I having the most athletic scholarships and the highest level of competition.
In college football, however, the NCAA further separates Division I competition into two more categories. Schools either compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly called Division I-A, or the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly called Division I-AA.
The Football Bowl Subdivision is meant to be the highest and most prestigious level of competition, narrowing membership to the largest football programs in the country. To qualify, each school must attract an average of 15,000 people to home football games at least once in a rolling two-year period.
San Diego State University has been playing football at Qualcomm Stadium since 1967, when it was known as San Diego Stadium. Today, SDSU averages about 24,000 people per home game, according to university estimates, exceeding the NCAA’s attendance rule for the FBS.
But what would happen if Qualcomm were torn down? Without Qualcomm, no other football stadium in the county has enough seats to meet the NCAA’s rule and SDSU could be in danger of losing its membership to the FBS. The Aztecs are the county’s only FBS team.
The Chargers also play at Qualcomm, but are now negotiating with the city to build a new stadium downtown with public subsidies. Fabiani argues that, apart from benefitting the Chargers, building the new stadium would give SDSU a large stadium to maintain its status should Qualcomm ever be demolished.
However, Fabiani’s statement goes beyond just football. He argues that the situation would affect the status of all Division I sports at SDSU. “Not just in football, but across the board,” he said.
In fact, the NCAA doesn’t tie the status of football programs to the status of other sports. Some schools with small football programs or no football program still compete in Division I contests and national championship tournaments.
To be sure, losing the FBS status would have major impacts on SDSU.
The school would be kicked out of the Mountain West Conference, which only includes FBS schools. But even then, SDSU could still find a new Division I conference that doesn’t require a FBS football program.
Just look across town.
The University of San Diego competes in separate Division I conferences for football and all other sports. The Toreros play in the Pioneer Football League as part of the Football Championship Subdivision, which doesn’t have the home game attendance rule, and the West Coast Conference for all other sports. This setup still allows the school to compete for major events, such as Division I basketball’s March Madness championship tournament.
Of course, in the event of Qualcomm’s imminent demolition, it’s also possible that SDSU could seek other alternatives to maintain its FBS status and stay in the Mountain West Conference. It could, for example, choose to build its own stadium to meet the NCAA’s attendance rule.
SDSU spokesman Greg Block said the university has not discussed any alternative to using Qualcomm because there’s no indication the stadium will be unavailable in the near future.
To be clear, the city doesn’t plan to demolish Qualcomm anytime soon. The city just signed a lease with SDSU to use the stadium for another 10 years, and the lease requires that either party give at least five years notice before breaking the contract.
We’ve called Fabiani’s statement misleading because his scenario presents only one outcome that wouldn’t automatically happen. SDSU might have to stop playing at college football’s highest level if Qualcomm were torn down, but that wouldn’t necessarily affect the status of the university’s other Division I sports.
We decided against calling the statement false because Fabiani’s scenario could happen. SDSU could get kicked out of the Mountain West Conference for losing its FBS football program and then not join another Division I conference. If that happened, and the school was forced to move to a Division II or III conference, then Fabiani’s statement would be true.
In an e-mail, Fabiani stood by his statement and questioned whether the alternative scenario we presented could actually happen.
“Is there anyone out there who knows about college athletics who says, in this day and age, with the conference lineup available to SDSU on the west coast, that such a wholesale switch of sports from one conference to another (without the football program) is feasible or likely?” he wrote.
We’re not deciding which scenario is most likely — we’re not soothsayers — but we did want to present a more complete picture of SDSU’s potential options.
If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.
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— KEEGAN KYLE