Now, less than four years later, Georgia State is leaving the Colonial Athletic Association and the Football Championship Subdivision for the Sun Belt Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision. The three-year express route to the FBS may have been the right thing for the Panthers, but it may not be the best example for a new program like Kennesaw State to follow.
“It was a philosophical decision that each campus has to make,” Levick said. “But if they do, they better have $25 million to $30 million in the budget.”
She also said that a school has to be invited to join an FBS conference, and the timing has to be right.
With 27 months until Kennesaw State steps on the field for the first time, it would be hard to imagine any of those things falling into place. That especially holds true with the fact that president Dan Papp said that the FCS will be the right place to the Owls to play as long as he is in office.
Despite that, there are a lot of things Kennesaw State may be able to learn from Georgia State’s experience as a start-up program.
Leading up to their inaugural season in 2015, the Owls will follow a similar timeline as the Panthers did. Levick said that 27 months was plenty of time to get started, especially if a program already has a place to play, which Kennesaw State does in Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
What KSU doesn’t have is a permanent, brick-and-mortar training facility in place to house the football team. Levick and Bill Curry, the coach who led Georgia State from its inception until his retirement last fall, said that is nearly as big a deal as the program itself.
“It was critical,” Levick said. “It’s been an incredible recruiting tool. It allows us to recruit with anyone across the country.”
The Panthers’ downtown-Atlanta practice facility includes a 120-yard artificial-turf field, a 60-yard natural-turf field and a 22,000-square-foot building that houses a locker room, a sports medicine facility and a full compliment of meeting rooms. It also has ample storage space for both the football program and the Georgia State marching band.
Curry said the practice facility, which sits on 3.8 acres just beneath a MARTA train line, was pivotal when bringing recruits to campus.
“It was a huge plus because it was done right the first time,” Curry said. “Young people are so visual now, so they have to like what they see.”
Curry added that before the facility was completed, he had one rule for all his assistant coaches.
“It was just like the 1980s at Georgia Tech,” he said. “We told them, ‘Whatever you do, don’t take them in the locker room or we have no shot at signing them.’”
Kennesaw State won’t need to invest in practice fields.
There is a full-size natural practice field surrounded by a track adjacent to Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Then, if needed, there are three full-size artificial-turf fields in the KSU Sports and Recreation Park, just down Big Shanty Road from the stadium.
What Kennesaw State will need is a building.
For the time being, Kennesaw State athletic director Vaughn Williams said the football program will be housed just off campus, in a building that can accommodate coaches’ offices, meeting rooms and a locker room for practices.
“It’s short-term — three or four years,” Williams said. “Our long-term goal is to expand the Convocation Center to house football, and we’re going to have a new, state-of-the-art strength and conditioning room that all our student-athletes can use.”
While there are many things that have to be done by the time the Owls kick off in 2015, Levick said the important thing will be for Williams and coach Brian Bohannon to keep everyone educated on the process leading to kickoff, and for the fan base to enjoy the ride.
“We had a clock,” Levick said. “We had a major countdown clock leading us to opening day.
“We celebrated every milestone. We celebrated the beginning of the band, the new logo — we had so many. We celebrated joining the CAA, our first season-ticket holder and now going to the Sun Belt. We tried to include everyone — the players, students, alumni and the public. We were so busy, and we had so many announcements.”
Williams didn’t give many specifics as to what Kennesaw State’s plans will be to keep the fan base excited leading to August 2015, but he said there was a plan being constructed, with one possibility a coaches’ caravan with stops around the state.
“We’re going to do lots of things,” he said, “and we will try to wrap with other sports (events).”
Levick said football has been good for Georgia State since its program was launched, and she thinks it will be good for Kennesaw State as well.
“Football has raised our overall media exposure, the alumni are thrilled and the students are happy because it helps provide them a more well-rounded college experience,” she said. “Everything about it has been positive.
“I like what we did and how we did it. We established a life-long tradition of football at Georgia State and no one will ever get to do that again. It’s about people, kids, alumni and pride.”