Florida Gulf Coast University knows the field is shifting in college sports now that athletes are getting paid, and the Eagles want to stand out.
Despite the success of the FGCU basketball teams, there are fears about the future of sports at FGCU.
While the Eagles are familiar with the big stage, like Kendall Spray winning the woman’s college three-point contest this year. The Eagle’s women’s basketball, volleyball, and golf teams all went to NCAA tournaments this year.
Who could forget the memorable Dunk City men’s basketball team in 2013, becoming the first 15 seed ever to make it to the Sweet Sixteen? Defeating big-name teams Georgetown in the first round and San Diego State in the second round.
Sherwood Brown, the team captain, participated in the college slam dunk and three-point contests in 2013. Chase Fieler, also known as the mayor of Dunk City, participated in the college slam dunk contest the following year.
And there’s renewed hope for the FGCU men’s basketball team under new coach, Pat Chambers.
At FGCU, perhaps the most successful professional athlete in their history is seven-time All-Star and World Series Champion, Chris Sale. In 2010 Sale had 11 wins and zero losses posting an Earned Runs Average (ERA) of 2.01. Sale spread his wings as an Eagle, leading the NCAA in strikeouts at the end of the season. Moreover, Sale became the A-SUN pitcher of the year and the collegiate baseball player of the year.
But, as for the entire field of college athletics, WINK News spoke with FGCU President Mike Martin about what will happen given the new landscape.
“We’re moving away from what the original intention of all this was,” said Martin. “Into this enormous entertainment money generator with all kinds of interest that transcends the interest of the institutions involved.”
That money generator comes from football, at least that’s what Martin thinks. And that makes sense especially given that he was the Chancellor at LSU in 2011.
Now that he’s at FGCU he knows the university is on the outside looking in, and he fears the men’s basketball tournament will be next.
“March Madness will become much more controlled by a handful of schools,” said Martin. “And automatic qualifiers that we now get from being in the A-SUN will disappear.”
Martin explained he believes that’s because the big names will have more teams in the tournament or every division one school will have to play their way in. Either way, the chances we’ll ever see another Dunk City run are not great. As for another upset like 16-seeded UMBC defeating 1-seeded Virginia, even less likely.
“What’s our budget? Maybe 15 to 16 million a year,” said Martin. “What’s the budget at LSU? 200 million? Pretty close. Right?”
Can the fact that student-athletes making money by marketing their names, images, and likeness help FGCU stay competitive? Well, according to Martin, locally those opportunities are limited.
“We got to make sure that we continue to emphasize what we do well. I think we have good athletes and good student, student-athletes across the board. And good coaches and a good philosophy about this being student-athlete oriented…” said Martin. “Find a level that we can compete. Create excitement on campus. Opportunities for student-athletes to gain something in the process.”
FGCU plays the A-SUN conference, and while they’ve seen some expansion in the last couple of years, they may need to do a bit more. Recently Eastern Kentucky was added to the A-SUN and even more recently Central Arkansas joined the conference a year ago. The conference will also add Austin Peay in Clarksville, Tennessee later this season.
Martin explained that has added more travel expenses and more time away from campus for student-athletes.