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Northern Iowa Athletics Director Troy Dannen is exploring whether his football program's success in the Football Championship Subdivision could translate to a permanent move into the sport's highest division.
UNI consistently has performed among the nation's best an FCS member, formerly known as Division I-AA. With changes in the Football Bowl Subdivision's postseason structure, coupled with an infusion of money, Dannen sees a commonality with his school and mid-major programs that annually compete for bowl slots.
"To try to look at the environment five years from now and how do you make sure you're best positioned in five years," Dannen said. "A school like Northern Iowa and a lot of schools in the top end of FCS football, I feel, are going to be more aligned philosophically, ideologically, and be aligned more financially with the schools that are in those below-the-line conferences. We're all growing toward each other and all of us are growing away from the Big Ten, Big 12 and those above-the-line institutions."
But Dannen cautions that he's still gathering information and said "there is nothing imminent." He can't make a decision until Northern Iowa hires a new president to replace the retiring Ben Allen. But he wants the program to be ready to jump if the move is necessary.
"I want to explore and make sure that if that's the best scenario for UNI, the most optimal scenario financially, does it meet with our institutional goals and objectives, that we're getting into a position to make that move," Dannen said.
UNI is one of the nation's top FCS programs and has ranked in the top 25 for 94 consecutive weeks. The Panthers own a 9-22 record against FBS opponents since 1985 and has nearly beaten Iowa, Wisconsin and Iowa State since 2009.
But there's more to UNI making a move than just on-field competition. The Panthers would earn significantly more revenue from playing at major opponents, such as Iowa or Wisconsin. Iowa will pay UNI $500,000 and Wisconsin will pay the school $450,000 for their two games this year. A move upward could double that income. Iowa, for instance, paid Arkansas State $800,000 for a game in 2009.
Dannen also believes other FBS schools could earn up to $1 million based on the new four-team playoff. He will not, however, jeopardize his school's status with the Missouri Valley Conference, which houses all of UNI's sports except football. The football program currently resides in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, a different entity.
"I see no scenario where I could advocate for impacting our Missouri Valley Conference standing in any sport," he said.
Dannen has examined how the move to FBS has affected other former FCS programs like Boise State, Marshall and Texas-San Antonio.