Though football is now a reality, Williams’ job is far from complete.
Over the next few weeks and months, he will try to complete the new program’s 2015 and ’16 schedules, find a conference for the Owls to play and figure out how to fill Fifth Third Bank Stadium on game days.
“The response from the community has been overwhelming,” Williams said this week, nearly two years to the day after he was hired to replace the retired Dave Waples. “It’s been a great ride, but there is so much more that has to be done. We’re really just beginning.”
The first thing Williams wants to get done is the 2015 schedule, which he wants to have complete by July 1. He said he and recently hired coach Brian Bohannon would “be meeting this week on the scheduling aspect.”
“We want to try to get the schedule done this spring,” Williams added, “and the sooner the better.”
One thing Williams and Bohannon already agree on when searching for opponents is that it would be better to start slowly and build into playing the higher levels of competition. In other words, Owls fans should not expect to see any big powerhouses on the schedule any time soon.
“I don’t see us playing Football Bowl Subdivision/BCS schools,” Williams said. “Maybe 2017, ’18 or ’19, we will be in a better place to pursue something like that, but we need to get this up and running first.”
Georgia State, which began playing three seasons ago, played Alabama in the final game of its inaugural 2010 season and lost 63-7. The Panthers, who received $435,000 to play the Crimson Tide, went 6-5 that first season, but it’s only gone 4-18 since.
“We want to establish a winning culture,” Bohannon said. “We have to give (the players) the best chance to be successful. Winning is contagious, but so is losing.”
If Williams is successful in getting the kind of schedule he wants, then the Owls will play teams closer to home, like Mercer, Stetson and Jacksonville. Those schools compete with Kennesaw State in the Atlantic Sun Conference in all other sports, but their football teams are members of the Pioneer League, a non-scholarship Football Championship Subdivision conference.
Instead of a team like Alabama, Williams said Georgia Southern, where Bohannon worked as an assistant under Paul Johnson, would be considered as a possible measuring stick-type game.
“I think that would be an intriguing matchup,” he said.
Williams would like to complete the 2016 schedule by the beginning of November, but a lot of that will be determined by if the Owls will be competing in a conference or as an independent. He will soon meet with university president Dan Papp to explore their conference options.
For Williams, the ideal situation would be for the A-Sun to begin playing scholarship football. He has often said the A-Sun is where he would prefer the Owls to stay, but that is unlikely.
The recent announcement that Georgia Southern and Appalachian State would be joining the FBS-level Sun Belt Conference opened an opportunity for Kennesaw State to join the Southern Conference. But the Big South, Ohio Valley and Colonial (which will soon lose Georgia State to the Sun Belt) may also be options.
If the Owls are to begin play in a new conference in 2016, the decision of which one would likely have to come by the end of this year. Kennesaw State would have to give the A-Sun two years’ advance notice of its intention to leave or pay a $250,000 exit penalty.
Williams said there were a couple of other things that he hopes to get accomplished this summer. By Aug. 1, he would like to have his other anchor sponsors in place. The additional $3 million to $4 million that the sponsorships would generate over a 10-year period would allow the university to make improvements to Fifth Third Bank Stadium and prepare it for football.
By Sept. 1, Williams said he would like to have all the suites at the stadium spoken for through the university’s letter of intent program for season tickets. To this point, Williams said the letter of intent program, designed to secure tickets for the first two or three years of the Owls’ football program, is off to a good start.
“The average letter of intent is for three to four season tickets,” he said. “There are a lot of people showing interest.”
Considering the stadium currently seats 8,300, and the fact that Williams said 35 to 40 percent of it will be guaranteed for the student body, he expects tickets to become a hard thing to come by sooner than later.