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Liberty University making surprise jump up to FBS football in 2019

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The Flames have been a solid FCS program for several years now.

NCAA Football: Liberty at Southern Methodist Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Liberty University is moving up football subdivisions within the NCAA’s Division I, from the FCS to the FBS, the school is announcing Thursday. The Flames will not be joining a conference, and will join as independent members.

The Flames represent a private, Christian university in Lynchburg, Va. and have won shares of seven Big South titles since 2007. Former Buffalo and Kansas head coach Turner Gill is 35-25 at Liberty. Big South conference rival Coastal Carolina just joined the FBS’s Sun Belt for the 2017 season.

On paper, Liberty’s long appeared to be an interesting candidate for a mid-major FBS conference. The school is not without controversy, however.

Most recently, president Jerry Falwell Jr. announced the hire of Ian McCaw, formerly the athletic director at Baylor during its sexual assault scandal. Falwell said McCaw “fits perfectly.” Baylor opens its 2017 season against Liberty in Waco.

Falwell, speaking during a press conference on Thursday afternoon, said that Liberty applied for the FBS waiver after it appeared that conference realignment died down.

“We recognized, I guess it was last year, that the realignment of a few years ago had pretty much stopped.” Falwell said. “And when the Big 12 decided not to add two additional teams, that’s when we decided that the realignment was not going to occur again for the foreseeable future, so that’s when we requested the waiver from the NCAA.”

As far as other sports go, Falwell said that the intention is for the rest of the school’s sports to remain in the Big South conference.

Falwell also said Liberty’s status as a private religious institution, much like BYU and Notre Dame, made the likelihood to get an invitation from a conference appear slim, further prompting the decision for the Flames to apply as an independent FBS program.

Liberty has been talking about making this move for some time, but it’s still a surprise. In 2011, Falwell unveiled the results of the program’s "FBS Feasibility Study."

Since Coach (Danny) Rocco's departure, we have spoken with many potential head coach candidates before offering the position to Turner Gill, yesterday.

Liberty greatly values its membership in the Big South Conference, but given the unexpected turn of events, we believe the time is right to conduct this study. Due to the changes we have all seen in the college football landscape, we need to thoroughly evaluate the future of Liberty University football.

During our discussions with these head coaching candidates, it quickly became clear to us that the future of Liberty's football program was their primary concern. The candidates were particularly interested in whether Liberty had plans to move to the Football Bowl Subdivision level (FBS) at some point. In order to determine what course Liberty should pursue for its football program, including when Liberty should attempt to move to the FBS level, Liberty has commissioned an FBS Feasibility Study by Carr Sports Associates. The study should be completed in February or March.

Liberty football’s Williams Stadium has a capacity of 19,200, and it underwent major renovations in 2010.

Liberty University Athletics

Falwell added during the press conference Thursday that there are plans in place to add an additional 6,000 seats.

Liberty’s athletic department features 20 NCAA Division I athletic programs, including 20 teams that are fully funded with scholarships.