Kennesaw State to remain in Big South for fall 2021

The Atlantic Sun Conference announced Tuesday that three schools — Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State — will join the conference effective July 1. Those moves will not affect Kennesaw State’s status for either the spring or fall 2021 seasons, though.

The presidents and athletic directors of ASUN’s five football schools, including Kennesaw State, gathered Tuesday at the downtown Embassy Suites near the College Football Hall of Fame to announce the conference expansion -- and several other items of interest. The ASUN is based in Atlanta, having moved its headquarters from Macon to a location one mile east of Truist Park in 2019.

The ASUN will partner with the Western Athletic Conference in fall 2021, commissioner Ted Gumbart announced. Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State will compete alongside Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, Abilene Christian and Lamar for an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. Those four Texas schools are transitioning to the WAC.

ASUN members Kennesaw State and North Alabama will stay in the Big South as associate members for one more fall season. Gumbart said the ASUN is “supremely confident” it will have more than five schools playing football in fall 2022. A conference must have six teams to be eligible for an automatic bid to the playoffs.

“We’ve got to make some major shifts in college sports right now relative to our business strategy,” Kennesaw State athletic director Milton Overton said. “This regionalized approach gives us an opportunity to position ourselves for long-term financial sustainability.”

In the past year, Kennesaw State’s enrollment increased by 9% to more than 41,000 students. It’s now the second largest university in Georgia.

The university’s recent growth coincided with the successful birth of its football program. Since starting play in 2015, the Owls are 48-15 and have won two Big South championships.

“We’re settled. We’re ready. We know who we are now,” Kennesaw State president Pamela Whitten said. “Now it’s time to make some traditions in football. We see the inclusion of these schools as really an important part of who we will become moving forward. We want that competition.”

Sports other than football at Kennesaw State have competed in the ASUN since 2005.

Even when Kennesaw State and North Alabama leave the Big South, the partnership between the two conferences will continue in 2022. They are in initial talks for an event called the ASUN-Big South Challenge where teams would compete on the final day of the regular season. Matchups would be determined in the middle of the season.

In another announcement, the ASUN said it is working to schedule a multiple-game series called the “United Atlanta Classic” that would begin either this year or the next. The conference is trying to create an entity that would work with mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Atlanta Sports Council to establish the game. No details about the game have been decided, the league said.

The next big item on Gumbart’s agenda is to attract at least one more school that plays football. Greg Seitz, athletic director at Jacksonville State, said the conference has to make sure any new schools value football the same as its current members.

Trying to move the ASUN from FCS to FBS isn’t an immediate priority, Gumbart said. He’d like to see it happen one day, though.

“Everyone has aspirations,” Gumbart said. “I like to put it his way: I’ve never been to New Zealand. I aspire to go to New Zealand. But I have no plan to do it right now. It’s not on my workflow chart. But it’s definitely a place I want to go. ... I just haven’t gotten to it yet. So today, we’re celebrating the birth of a new FCS conference.”