By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
The cost of sustaining a Division I/FCS athletics program has forced Savannah State University to drop its athletics program back down to the Division II level.
SSU President Cheryl Dozier made the announcement Monday and the school issued a statement on its athletics web site to confirm what media reports said athletes were told in a meeting with Athletic Director Sterling Steward about a pending move in 2019.
"While I am extremely proud of the progress our athletes and coaches have made at the Division I level, it is not financial feasible for us to continue," Dozier said in a statement.
According to the Savannah Morning News, Steward said to media Monday that, "The fiscal issues just didn't pan out. We didn't generate enough revenue to cover our operating expenses."
After a transition period of two years in which Savannah State will remain a member of the FCS/Division I Mid-Eastern Athletics Conference (MEAC), they will leave for Division II after the 2018-2019 school year ends.
"I wish Savannah State the best in its future endeavors as they transition from Division I to Division II," said MEAC Commissioner Dennis E. Thomas in a statement. "Dr. Dozier and her leadership team are faced with and have had tough financial decisions to make. Again, I wish them the very best."
Savannah State left Division II in 1998 after being a 29-year member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC). SSU was a Division I/FCS independent until 2010 when they joined the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). The Tigers participate in FCS football and Division I for all other sports.
Currently Savannah State participates in FCS (Football Championship Series, which is the former Division I-AA) and Division I athletics for all other sports.
The SSU athletics program has a $5.1 million budget, less than half of the $11.9 million average allocated budget for FCS schools, according to a 2016 Forbes story. Division II schools which offer football have average athletic budgets of $5.3 million, according to the NCAA. FCS schools offer 63 scholarships while Division II schools give a maximum 36,
Savannah State often put their football team on the road against much more successful and larger FBS (Football Bowl Series, formerly Division I) football teams that would completely overwhelm them on the field, but would leave a nice check for them to play.
Even that turned out to be not enough.
"Without having those kinds of large donations in the millions of dollars to support athletics, it is a strain financially," Steward said, according to the Savannah Morning News.
The school said they have been discussing this move for months and have been in talks with Division II conferences in the region.
There are two conferences featuring historically black colleges and universities and are Savannah State's most likely landing spots, though school officials won't say who they are talking to.
The SIAC has had several recent changes in their membership, and may have more as schools such as finances forced Stillman College to cut football and drop down to NAIA membership. Paine College started a football program in 2015, but the school's finances forced them to drop the program after only a year. Spring Hill College joined the SIAC in 2015, but doesn't participate in football. Ten of the SIAC's 14 members participate in football.
Member schools are in Georgia (5), Alabama (3) , Ohio (1), Kentucky (1), South Carolina (2) and Tennessee (2).
The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, is made up of 12 schools, eight that are in North Carolina, three in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania.
Other non-HBCU Division II conferences in the Southeast include the South Atlantic Conference, the Sunshine State Conference, the Gulf South Conference and Conference Carolinas.