Make room for one more Football Bowl Subdivision program. The Liberty Flames are moving up from the FCS to the FBS, and they will not need a conference to join as they do so.
Liberty announced the NCAA approved a waiver request for FBS reclassification. A waiver request was submitted to the NCAA in January. Liberty will now begin a two-year reclassification transition and will be a full FBS program starting in the 2019 season, at which time they will be considered eligible for a postseason bowl berth if they meet the minimum number of wins. They will also be required to host five FBS opponents, which should not be too difficult to accomplish.
“This is a very exciting day for Liberty Athletics and our football program,” said Director of Athletics Ian McCaw (who was previously at Baylor as the scandal during the recent scandal news was breaking). “We are grateful for President Falwell’s vision and leadership in spearheading Liberty’s move to FBS football. We look forward to continuing our upward trajectory of success and meeting the level of competition in FBS.”
— Liberty Flames (@LibertyFlames) February 16, 2017
As far as programs making the move up to the FBS are concerned, Liberty appears to be in a better position than many that have made the move in recent years with a strong alumni base to support the program. It also brings Turner Gill back to the FBS. Gill last coached in the FBS as the head coach at Kansas in 2010 and 2011 after a successful four-year run with Buffalo prior to that, where he was MAC coach of the year in 2007. He has been the head coach of the Flames since 2012, leading the program to three consecutive Big South championships in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Future conference options figure to be Conference USA or the Sun Belt Conference, unless the program can convince the American Athletic Conference to give them a hard look in the next few years. Not having a conference home will not be easy, as UMass, Idaho and New Mexico State will demonstrate, but Liberty is hopeful the alumni support for the program will carry it for the long haul in a similar way BYU has experienced with its following. Liberty does have a loyal foundation to fall back on, which should help make this transition a little bit smoother than other programs have seen, but the Flames will still go through plenty of growing pains along the way as well.
As for the 2017 season, Liberty will open the season on the road against Baylor.