EKU football part of alliance planning move to Football Bowl Subdivision

Ryan C. Hermens/rhermens@herald-leader.com

Eastern Kentucky University is on a path to stepping up in class.

A report by ESPN on Friday suggested the Colonels are part of an alliance of teams making arrangements to move from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The report, citing sources, did not detail a specific timetable for such a move, noting that a “formal transition process” would be required before a move up in divisions.

The article by Pete Thamel said the process would begin with the nine remaining members of the Atlantic Sun and the Western Athletic Conference forming a football-only conference in time for the 2024 season. The report said Eastern Kentucky would be joined in the alliance by fellow Atlantic Sun participants Austin Peay, Central Arkansas and North Alabama along with WAC schools Abilene Christian, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton State and Utah Tech. Under the plan, a 10th school, UT Rio Grande Valley, would join in 2025.

A statement released by EKU Athletics later Friday confirmed the report:

“As reported by ESPN today, EKU is actively working toward a move to FBS football along with the other football-playing institutions within the ASUN and WAC. EKU’s main objective has been and will continue to be providing the best possible situation and opportunities for our student-athletes, programs, and university community.”

Eastern Kentucky just completed its second season in the Atlantic Sun — after a move from the Ohio Valley Conference — during which it qualified for the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2014. The Colonels fell to Gardner-Webb, 52-41, and finished their season 7-5. EKU’s 2022 season included two games against FBS competition: The Colonels lost 42-34 at Eastern Michigan in their season opener, then defeated Bowling Green 59-57 in seven overtimes the following week.

A move up in divisions by EKU would give the state of Kentucky four FBS schools: Kentucky, Louisville, Western Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky.

“We had a good year. We met some goals, did some things that we needed to do to help bring this program back to where we needed it to be, but we need to continue to climb,” Coach Walt Wells said after the playoff defeat. “I think the program took some strides.”

EKU’s third-year head coach said at the time the program displayed room for growth.

“I think the overall expectation of the program. To be an elite program, you’ve got to think that way, you’ve got to recruit that way, you’ve got to coach that way, you’ve got to have that mindset day in and day out,” Wells said. “I think that that’s something we’ve got to continue to climb. … To be a nationally top four, five, six team, we’ve got to take the next step in recruiting and in development.”