A New Direction
NEW ATHLETICS DIRECTOR TOM KLEINLEIN IS MOVING THE EAGLES TOWARD THE FUTURE
If there is one virtue woven into the blue and white fabric of the Eagle Nation, it is patience. For years, there has been talk about whether Georgia Southern should, or could, make the leap to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level. The chatter reached a crescendo and became reality on Wednesday, March 27. Georgia Southern finally had the much anticipated invitation to move up. The Eagles are the newest members of the Sun Belt Conference.
“What an amazing journey this is going to be,” said Georgia Southern Athletics Director Tom Kleinlein. “Not only is this a great opportunity for our Athletics Department, but our University, too. Our program is built on the right ideas and right values, and we have the right vision. As we move into the Sun Belt, Georgia Southern’s potential is limitless.”
After his hiring last November, Kleinlein quickly became the man in the middle of the campaign for the FBS invitation. He made it clear Georgia Southern was going to embark on a great journey to take this school and its 15 men’s and women’s Division I teams to a national level. “I see us as a nationally recognized research university with us in the Sun Belt playing for a conference championship,” said Kleinlein.
There has been conference chaos in the last few months. While the moves created an opening for Georgia Southern, it is going to take money to get where the Eagles want to go. The Athletics Department is on a campaign to double its donor base over the next 18 months. Facility changes are coming, too. Six thousand seats will be added to Allen E. Paulson Stadium and ground will be broken in April for the new football operations center at the east end of the field.
Kleinlein knows a thing or two about big-time college athletics. After stops at Wake Forest University, Rutgers and Arizona State University, the deputy athletics director at Kent State University saw potential in Georgia Southern’s future. “I want people to remember our humble beginnings and what we were, but at the same time, I don’t want people to think about us that way anymore,” said Kleinlein. “I want people to look at us as ‘they’ve got a lot of good things going on.’ We want people to start using words and phrases like ‘innovative,’ ‘on the move’ and ‘on the rise,’ and stop using words like ‘nice,’ ‘small’ and ‘little college.’ I want this to be a place that is a destination. People have to want to come here, not end up here.”
Georgia Southern will play the 2013 football schedule as is but will not be eligible for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The Eagles will begin playing Sun Belt Conference games in 2014 but will not be bowl eligible until 2015.
With the FBS destination now known, it is now time for more planning and more preparation for what the athletics director calls the relentless pursuit of academic and athletic excellence. After all this time, the patience has paid off. Eagle Nation and Our House have to get ready for moving day.
– Casey Jones
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