College Football Realignment Rumors: Could Youngstown State Join the MAC?

    The FBS has expanded multiple times in recent waves of college football realignment, could Youngstown State be next to boost the numbers?

    The FBS is expanding faster than my waistline following Christmas dinner. In the 2024 college football campaign, there will be 134 teams, with the Kennesaw State Owls moving up from the FCS to play in Conference USA. The following season, the Delaware Blue Hens and Missouri State Bears will join the fray, bolstering the numbers to 136 outfits competing in the FBS.

    Could the Youngstown State Penguins be the next team on the move?

    Is Youngstown State A Key Player in Future College Football Realignment?

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    Naturally, the question hanging over the sport regarding conference realignment is, who comes next? There are multiple conferences with an odd number of teams competing either this season (ACC) or from 2025 (MAC), and that creates some scheduling complexities. While the ACC may have an even field due to departures, the MAC provides an intriguing proposition.

    With the UMass Minutemen returning to the fold in 2025, there will be 13 teams in the Mid-American Conference a year from now. As a result, the conference is seen as the natural landing spot for either a remaining independent outfit (and that’s not Notre Dame) or for a team making the FCS-to-FBS leap. In the latter circumstance, Youngstown State makes remarkable sense.

    Although the administration behind the Penguins football program has soured towards a climb up to the FBS in recent years, it’s not such a long time ago that college football realignment had them investigating a move from the FCS level. While it may have abated, there has been a historical appetite to seek an FBS slot. Hunger is something that can quickly return.

    Geographically, the MAC makes sense. Ironically, the conference stagnated in membership, which was seen as a major stumbling block the last time Youngstown State evaluated a move to the FBS. Speaking in 2016, Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Ron Strollo addressed the MAC when discussing the future of Penguins football.

    “Obviously you look at geographies first,” Strollo discussed the evaluation process, “but the MAC’s membership hasn’t changed in quite a long time. They weren’t affected by all the conference changes that happened the past three or four years — they’re a pretty stable group.”

    Well, that isn’t the case now. Additionally, being located in Ohio removes one of the typical issues facing FCS converts to the FBS. Especially as conference realignment takes hold, travel costs can prove prohibitive, but the MAC’s solid foundations in the Ohio area would minimize those financial considerations.

    KEEP READING: 2024 MAC Season Predictions

    From a pure footballing perspective, Youngstown State has been a consistent challenger in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, competing with powerhouses like North Dakota State. The Penguins have proved an alluring landing spot for current FBS players in the transfer portal, with 10 of their 14 2024 cycle transfer cohort coming from the top tier of the sport.

    Furthermore, the program has proven successful against the latest team to make the move to the FBS. Youngstown State currently plays in the MVFC that Missouri State leaves behind, and the Penguins have a 13-6 head-to-head advantage over their conference foe — including a 44-28 victory last fall.

    The Penguins have also played FBS programs close as an FCS outfit, even beating Pittsburgh in 2012. Between football, geographical, and financial considerations, there may not be a better team to join the FBS ranks. For Youngstown State, there may not be a better time to do it.

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