The NCAA has approved Liberty University’s request to move its football program up to the FBS level.
After submitting a waiver to make the jump in January, the school announced Thursday that it will begin its two-year reclassification process this year before starting play as a full-time, bowl eligible FBS independent program in 2019.
“Starting with the 2017-18 academic year, Liberty’s football program will begin the two-year FBS reclassification process. Liberty will compete as an FBS independent during the 2018 season, which includes having three FBS home games,” the school said in a release. “The football program will be bowl eligible starting with the 2019 season and will be required to play at least five home FBS opponents.”
Without an FBS conference affiliation (though Liberty “recently tried unsuccessfully to gain membership to the Sun Belt,” per ESPN), Liberty said it presented “substantial information demonstrating its readiness” to the NCAA to make its case for approval to jump up a level.
The NCAA academic and membership affairs staff approved the request after seeking feedback from the NCAA Division I Strategic Vision and Planning Committee, the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee and the NCAA office of legal affairs.
The NCAA waiver approval was based upon Liberty providing substantial information demonstrating its readiness to begin the reclassification process, Liberty’s ability to follow current FBS institutions who have demonstrated viability without a conference affiliation and the university’s ability to satisfy FBS requirements.
Liberty, a Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, that was founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell, has been a member of the Big South since 2002 and has won a share of seven conference championships, including two outright. The school hired former Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill as head coach in 2012 after Gill had stints as head coach at Buffalo and Kansas. Gill has a 35-25 record in five seasons leading the Flames.
“Today is truly historic for Liberty University. This university aspired to compete at the highest levels of NCAA competition and began working toward that dream and vision from the day of its founding in 1971. We are deeply grateful to NCAA leadership and staff for considering this request and for acknowledging Liberty’s readiness and the appropriateness of Liberty now moving to FBS football status as an independent,” school president Jerry Falwell Jr. said in a statement.
In November, Liberty hired Ian McCaw, the exiled former Baylor athletic director who resigned amid the school’s sexual assault scandal, as its AD. Coincidentally, Liberty opens its 2017 season on Sept. 2 at Baylor in Waco.
“This is a very exciting day for Liberty Athletics and our football program. We are grateful for President Falwell’s vision and leadership in spearheading Liberty’s move to FBS football,” McCaw said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our upward trajectory of success and meeting the level of competition in FBS.”
FBS BOUND! ???????? pic.twitter.com/11jJHILIck
— Liberty Football (@LibertyFootball) February 16, 2017
Liberty will play the 2017 season as a member of the Big South. The conference said it was aware of the school’s efforts to move up to the FBS.
“The Big South Conference is aware of the NCAA’s approval in granting Liberty University a waiver to move its football program to the Football Bowl Subdivision as an independent,” commissioner Kyle Kallander said in a statement. “While logistics of such a move are still to be determined, Big South Football remains in great health with the addition of Campbell University in 2018 and the University of North Alabama in 2019. Big South Football has shown tremendous growth and success in its short history, and we look forward to even brighter days ahead.”
Liberty joins the likes of Notre Dame, Army, BYU and UMass as independent FBS programs. Two other programs, New Mexico State and Idaho, spent one season as an independent before landing in the Sun Belt Conference. However, the Sun Belt opted not to renew the two schools’ football-only memberships once they expire after the 2017 campaign.
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