JACKSONVILLE — The Jacksonville State board of trustees made its strongest statement to date regarding its commitment to moving the Gamecocks football program to the Football Bowl Subdivision if an opportunity presents itself in the future.
The school has been studying a move to the FBS since 2007, but the passing of a formal resolution by its board Monday strengthens its resolve “to explore all opportunities” to move up to college football’s highest level.
“We thought it would be good to go ahead and just pass a resolution showing the board is unanimous and resolved and still very much interested in making this move,” said Jim Folsom, chairman of the trustees’ athletics committee. “Because a lot of universities our size are actively in that mode now. We want to make sure we’re proactive and not inactive.”
The Gamecocks currently play Football Championship Subdivision in the Ohio Valley Conference, the Division I conference all of their programs are affiliated. They have 44 conference titles — two in football — since joining the league in 2003.
“And we will remain there as long as there are no options available,” Folsom said. “We do think it’s only prudent, fair and best to put everything on the board and let (the OVC) know our position and not try to keep a big secret.”
No invitation from an FBS conference appears imminent — the Sun Belt Conference is typically mentioned as the greatest possibility — but many collegiate athletics observers anticipate a beehive of realignment activity in the coming months.
Unlike the draft of the resolution, the version adopted by the board did not contain a clause resolving to improve athletic facilities, add additional staff and increase institutional funding to above the median level of an affiliate conference that will allow JSU to compete at the highest level in all sports — all measures Folsom said will be needed to be acceptable to any potential conference suitors.
Prior to the open board meeting, the school’s head coaches met with the board of trustees in a closed executive session that appeared to violate the Alabama Open Meetings Act to express their concerns relating to JSU’s overall athletics future in a closed forum. In addition to considering a move to the FBS, the school also is in the process of hiring a new athletics director to succeed retiring Oval Jaynes.
Head coaches Jack Crowe (football), James Green (basketball), Jim Case (baseball), Jana McGinnis (softball), Annette Watts (women’s basketball), James Hobbs (golf), Steve Ray (track), Julie Davis-Carlson (soccer) and Steve Bailey (tennis) were all seen leaving the meeting.
University attorney Randy Woodrow told The Star the board went into executive session because of “claims that could happen about some contract issues,” adding he filed the appropriate documentation 10 days ago.
But sources at the meeting indicated nothing the coaches talked about fell into any of the nine categories the Open Meetings Act allows for executive sessions.
“They never would have talked in an open forum like they talked in there,” the source said.
It’s the second time in 18 months the board of trustees tried to move a politically sensitive subject to executive session. It offered to allow former JSU football player Banyon Allison to discuss a proposal for putting former Gamecocks coach Bill Burgess’ name on the stadium in executive session before The Star informed it that was not permissible under the criteria for executive session.
Case and McGinnis, the two coaches who spoke for the coaches at the meeting, declined to comment on their presentation, deferring to the board. Other coaches also declined to comment.
Charlie Waldrep, legal counsel for the board of trustees, deferred questions about the executive session issue to Woodrow.
“The coaches wanted to meet as a group and … impress upon us they wanted us to hire a director that would be fair and open to them and who would hopefully pay attention to their financial needs and facilities,” Folsom said. “We’re aware of this. I think they left with a better understanding we are very much aware and care about their concerns as far as funding, facilities and individual programs.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.