Athletics

Game Changer

By Mitzi Bible, June 1, 2017
Athletics

Game Changer

By Mitzi Bible, June 1, 2017

Flames head to the top level of college football

Click to enlarge schedule of future Flames FBS opponents.

“Feb. 16, 2017, will go down as one of the most exciting moments in Liberty University history.”

That’s how Liberty Flames Sports Network (LFSN) Announcer Alan York started his report from Williams Stadium Tower following a press conference to announce Flames Football’s move to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

Liberty President Jerry Falwell was notified of the move just a few hours before. The news was so big that it couldn’t be kept a secret for long. He soon found himself in front of TV cameras, along with Director of Athletics Ian McCaw and Head Football Coach Turner Gill, announcing that the Flames were indeed “FBS Bound.”

The excitement carried over to the team room in the Williams Football Operations Center, where the three celebrated the news with players.

“It spread like wildfire,” said Flames running back Frankie Hickson, a rising sophomore, in an LFSN interview. “As a team, as a family, it’s a dream come true for every single one of us who puts a helmet on, and for coaches, too. It’s a great opportunity for us, knowing for the longest time that Liberty had everything that we needed, we just needed the grace of God to get there, and we finally are here.”

Sports media nationwide were reporting on Liberty’s “surprise jump” and “bold move.” It wasn’t long before billboards around the city were sporting Flames Football players in shiny uniforms and the words “FBS Bound” in giant letters.

Jerry Falwell, Sr. and Jerry Falwell, Jr. watch a Liberty football game in 1974.

Jerry Falwell Sr. and Jerry Falwell Jr. watch a Liberty football game in 1974.

The news was a true game changer for Liberty Athletics — and for the university as a whole. As Falwell shared at the press conference, it was the fulfillment of a vision cast over 45 years ago by his father, the late Jerry Falwell Sr., Liberty’s founder (and an avid football fan) who dreamed of seeing Liberty achieve the highest levels of academic and athletic success. President Falwell showed the crowd a framed picture of himself with his father on the sidelines at one of Liberty’s first football games. He was 12 years old at the time, but he was already a part of something bigger than even a child could imagine.

Liberty played its first season of football in 1973 and quickly climbed the collegiate athletics ranks, moving from the NCCAA level (National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association) to full NCAA Division I status in 1988. Liberty’s football program joined the Big South Conference in 2002 and has won eight conference titles (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016). Liberty made its first-ever NCAA FCS Playoff appearance in 2014, where the Flames advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

Over the last year, while Liberty continued to focus on strengthening its athletics program and making major improvements to facilities (see Page 36), attorneys were working behind the scenes to request a waiver from the NCAA, which currently requires that all schools receive an invitation from an FBS football-sponsored conference to join the top ranks. The chance for Liberty to become the first school since 2011 (when the requirement was instituted) to receive a waiver and compete as an independent program boiled down to Liberty’s ability to demonstrate its readiness to begin the two-year reclassification process for the FBS.

“Even before we had a campus, we had all the major team sports, and that shows how committed we were from the very beginning to taking Liberty to the top levels of the NCAA,” Falwell said. “This is the culmination of 45 years of effort, of prayer, and of hard work.”

Falwell credited attorney Dennis Coleman and his colleagues at Ropes & Gray in Boston, who spent many long hours helping to share Liberty’s story — and praying for the outcome.

“Our attorneys and I both agreed that we intend to use this new status for God’s glory in everything we do,” Falwell said.

He also expressed gratitude to the NCAA for allowing Liberty to make its case and for understanding its unique position.

For Coach Gill, the move is a challenge accepted. The door is opened, he said, to recruit more players who can compete at the highest level of collegiate football.

“It’s great for Liberty University to now have that national scope — not just from a football perspective, but also for its academics, its student environment, and its faith-based perspective — for evangelical Christians,” Gill said during an interview with Liberty’s “Game On” sports television show in April.

As far as this coming season, when Liberty will be ineligible for playoffs, “We’re going to play a winning game, there’s no question about that,” Gill said. “I’m a competitor, everyone on the staff is a competitor, and we’re out here to win as many football games as we can and do all of them the right way.”

The transition also comes with scheduling challenges. With plans to play four FBS opponents at home in 2018 and five at home in 2019, it’s a “tall task,” Gill said, to try to get other teams to adjust their schedules which, for football, are usually set at least three years in advance. “Now we’re trying to shake up people’s schedules and have them come play us.”

But McCaw said the process is going “extremely well.”

“We’ll be bringing some excellent opponents to Williams Stadium, including a couple of Power Five schools,” he said. “From a fan standpoint, people can obviously renew their season tickets right now and reserve season tickets for 2018, which is exciting.” (Call 434-582-SEAT to order tickets.)

McCaw said fans have even more to be excited about in the future, as plans are being made to enhance Williams Stadium.

“We’re studying additional seating, premium seating, and fan amenities to really create a great game-day experience for our fans as we move to FBS.”


Season by Season

2017:

  • Begin the two-year FBS reclassification process
  • Compete as an FCS independent program

2018:

  • Compete as an FBS independent program
  • Play four FBS home games

2019:

  • Become the 18th private FBS institution in the country
  • Eligible for bowl game
  • Must play at least five FBS opponents at home

No stranger to FBS

Liberty University recorded its first win over an FBS opponent in 1989 (Eastern Michigan) and has remained competitive against other FBS teams since then, posting three wins over FBS opponents since 2010: Ball State (2010), Appalachian State (2014), and Georgia State (2015).

Liberty has faced the following FBS opponents in the last 10 years: North Carolina, Old Dominion, West Virginia, NC State, Wake Forest, Appalachian State, Ball State, Georgia State, Kent State, and Toledo.


Save the Date

While future season schedules are still being confirmed, Liberty is set to play these FBS foes:

2017:

SEPT. 2 » Baylor University
McLane Stadium, Waco, Texas
View the complete 2017 schedule at LibertyFlames.com/Football

2018:

SEPT. 1 » Old Dominion University
Williams Stadium
SEPT. 8 » Army (United States Military Academy)
Michie Stadium, West Point, N.Y.
SEPT. 22 » University of North Texas
Williams Stadium
SEPT. 29 » University of New Mexico
University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.
OCT. 6 » New Mexico State
Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces, N.M.
OCT. 13 » Troy University
Williams Stadium
NOV. 3 » UMass (University of Massachusetts)
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
NOV. 10 » University of Virginia  
Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
NOV. 17 » Auburn University
Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
NOV. 24 » New Mexico State
Williams Stadium

2019:

AUG. 31 » Syracuse University
Williams Stadium
SEPT. 14 » University at Buffalo
Williams Stadium
SEPT. 28 » University of New Mexico
Williams Stadium
OCT. 5 » New Mexico State
Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces, N.M.
OCT. 26 » Rutgers University
High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.
NOV. 9 » Brigham Young University
Lavell Edwards Stadium, Provo, Utah
NOV. 23 » University of Virginia  
Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
NOV. 30 » New Mexico State
Williams Stadium

2020:

Sept. 5 » Virginia Tech
Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.

2021:

OCT. 9 » University of North Texas
Apogee Stadium, Denton, Texas
NOV. 13 » Ole Miss (University of Mississippi)
Vaught–Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.
NOV. 27 » Army (United States Military Academy)
Williams Stadium

2022:

SEPT. 17 » Wake Forest University
BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, N.C.
OCT. 22 » Brigham Young University
Williams Stadium

2023:

SEPT. 16 » University at Buffalo
University at Buffalo Stadium, Getzville, N.Y.

2025:

AUG. 30 » Wake Forest University
Williams Stadium
SEPT. 20 » Army (United States Military Academy)
Michie Stadium, West Point, N.Y.

2026:

SEPT. (TBD) » Wake Forest University
BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, N.C.
NOV. 28 » Army (United States Military Academy)
Williams Stadium

2027:

SEPT. 11 » University of Virginia
Williams Stadium

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