When Liberty announced its move from the FCS to the FBS as an Independent in February 2017, it sent the Liberty Athletics Department into a frenzy trying to fill full 12 game FBS schedules in less than 18 months for the 2018 season and the upcoming years.
With FBS football scheduling being done many times a decade or more in advance, this was a monumental task for Liberty Athletic Director Ian McCaw and his staff. By Commencement 2017, just a few months after making the move, Liberty was able to announce its full 2018 schedule and nearly complete schedules for many of the next few seasons.
Now, just a few years later, Liberty has been able to build out virtually complete schedules as an Independent through the 2026 season with several games scheduled for years all the way through 2031.
Those plans have all changed now as Liberty accepted an invitation to Conference USA in the fall. The Flames will make the move to its first FBS conference beginning with the 2023 football season. With that move, McCaw and his staff, led by Senior Associate Athletics Director Mickey Guridy, have had to quickly change plans and move as many as eight games from each of those completed schedules to allow for eight CUSA conference games each season.
“When we made the transition from FCS to FBS, we worked on scheduling every day,” said McCaw during a virtual media session on Thursday afternoon. “We are back to working on scheduling every day, but it’s in a different way. Mickey Guridy is working diligently on adjusting our future football schedules. We’ve made a lot of progress with our 2023 schedule, which will be our first year in Conference USA. We’ve also made some adjustments to 2024.”
Some of these adjustments have made their way out as Liberty’s previously scheduled series against Miami (OH) and Virginia have both been canceled. The Flames had a home and home series with Miami, heading to Ohio in 2023 and hosting them in 2025. The four game series with the Cavaliers had Liberty heading to Charlottesville twice, including 2023 and coming to Lynchburg in 2027 and 2029.
With those moves, the Flames currently have a 10-game schedule for 2023. Of these games, several more must be moved to make room for the eight CUSA games. Here’s a look at those currently scheduled 10 games:
Sept. 2: vs Bowling Green
Sept. 9: @ Coastal Carolina
Sept. 16: @ Buffalo
Sept. 23: vs Eastern Michigan
Sept. 30: vs Old Dominion
Oct. 7: OPEN
Oct. 14: OPEN
Oct. 21: OPEN
Oct. 28: vs ETSU
Nov. 4: @ South Carolina
Nov. 11: vs UConn
Nov. 18: vs UMass
Nov. 25 @ New Mexico State
The NMSU game will remain, though the date and location should change, as the Flames and Aggies will become Conference USA brethren. Liberty will also add games against CUSA teams Jacksonville State, Sam Houston State, Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, UTEP, Florida International, and Louisiana Tech.
“What we’re going to try to get to eventually is a model where we’re playing one regional Power Five every year, a regional FCS every year, and then two Group of Five rivalry games every year,” McCaw stated. “I can’t promise we’re going to get there in 2023 or 2024 just because we have a lot of work to do going from 12 games to four games, but that’s what we’re aiming for.”
With that model, it would make sense for Liberty to try to keep the Coastal Carolina and Old Dominion games in 2023, if possible. In addition to the game against the Chanticleers in ’23, the Flames also have games scheduled against its former Big South rival in 2024, 2027, 2028, and 2029. McCaw says he’d like to keep that series on the books.
“We have several games with Coastal and that’s one we’d really like to keep,” he said. “They would fall in the category of Group of Five rival. I think those are games that make a lot of sense. We’d like to keep some of those Group of Five regional games that are appealing to fans and try to have one Power Five with a regional opponent, probably an ACC team in most cases, and then an FCS in the region, as well.”
In addition to Coastal and ODU, Liberty also has games on its future schedules against Appalachian State, Marshall, and Georgia Southern that could fall in that G5 rival category. Several ACC teams are on the future schedules, as well, with games currently scheduled against North Carolina, Wake Forest, Duke, and Virginia Tech.
With Conference USA being spread out from New Mexico to Virginia, the Flames will be making annual trips to by plane to most of its conference rivals including trips to New Mexico, Texas, and south Florida. Because of that, local trips that could be made by bus for non-conference games are most appealing for Liberty moving forward.
Liberty is also working with Dave Brown and his company, Gridiron, to help move some of these future games. The Flames worked with Brown and Gridiron early in their move to the FBS. Now, they are helping Liberty move some of its future games. Schools moving to the FBS from the FCS ranks (Jacksonville State, Sam Houston State, James Madison) will have a lot of holes in their future schedules, and Liberty could see some of its games moving to those teams’ schedules.
“I believe that is going to end up being a solution for us in a number of instances where games that are currently on our schedule will land on the schedule of one of those three teams,” McCaw said.