In Top 25 voting, different feelings toward Liberty

The Liberty University Football team takes on Baylor University on September 2, 2017. (Photo by Joel Coleman)

(STATS) – Not too many FCS teams could beat Baylor, even if the Bears are having a down season.

Liberty did.

Not too many FCS teams could win at national power Jacksonville State.

Liberty thinks it can Saturday.

The Baylor win alone suggests Liberty is among the top FCS teams, but the Flames have followed that up with home victories over Morehead State and Indiana State to move to 3-0 for the first time since 2008.

The FCS world isn’t necessarily reveling over the success. In fact, Saturday’s game at Jacksonville State, where the No. 5 Gamecocks (1-1) host the No. 16 Flames, isn’t drawing the usual interest of an intersectional Top 25 matchup.

Liberty is playing its final season on the FCS level, transitioning toward FBS reclassification next year, and has fallen into a gray area with people outside Lynchburg, Virginia. To some, the Flames don’t seem FCS even if they aren’t quite FBS yet.

The Flames have won 10 Big South titles and their games count in the conference standings this year, but they aren’t eligible for either the league title or an FCS playoff appearance. They have gone over the FCS limit of 63 scholarships to move closer to what they will be allowed on the FBS level – a maximum of 85. Still, the Big South includes them in statistics and seasonal awards.

Voters in the STATS FCS Top 25 are allowed to include Liberty on their ballots, but not all do. This week, the Flames drew votes from about 72 percent of the ballots cast, a number that would surely be higher if they weren’t in a transition season.

“The decision to keep Liberty off my ballot is an easy one,” an Eastern voter said. “If a program opts to leave the FCS, and is not even eligible for its own conference preseason poll and championship trophy, let alone the NCAA postseason, why would I waste a spot in the poll that another deserving team can earn?”

Conversely, a Southwestern voter who has been including Liberty and gave the Flames a No. 7 vote this past week said, “While I am of the opinion that once a school has made the decision to leave FCS they should not be included in our poll, I also don’t believe the kids should be punished for the university’s decision. It has always been my practice to at least consider those schools in the first year of the transition simply because the players on that team were recruited as an FCS school. My decision to consider those schools for the Top 25 poll has always ended at the conclusion of that first year.”

The different feelings toward Liberty’s situation are not new. The sticking point with some voters is Liberty going over the FCS scholarship limit. However, many FCS schools operate at different scholarship levels, although it’s their choosing or their respective league’s maximum.

A divided feeling among voters was evident in 2013 as traditional powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern – which combined to win nine FCS national titles – transitioned toward the FBS level. Their games counted in the Southern Conference standings, but they weren’t eligible for the title or the playoffs.

Coastal Carolina also faced a divided feeling last year during its final FCS season before a move up to the FBS.