Former University of Richmond defensive back Omar Banks leads the way as Campbell University makes something out of nearly nothing this football season. Banks, the Camels’ second-year athletics director, shepherds a young FCS program eager to raise brand awareness.
The pandemic supplied a platform.
On Friday night, the Camels play at Coastal Carolina on ESPN. Campbell, which belongs to the Big South Conference, opened at Georgia Southern last Saturday on ESPNU, losing 27-26. The Camels’ November visit to Wake Forest, Campbell’s first ACC opponent, will be broadcast by the ACC Network. Campbell also plays at Appalachian State to round out a four-game fall schedule against all FBS opposition.
Only one of those games, Georgia Southern, was on Campbell’s original 11-game schedule. Banks and the Camels, one of 15 FCS teams among 127 playing this fall, found attractive geographic opponents and enviable national exposure.
“There were a lot of calls going back and forth among Power Five, Group of Five and FCS schools,” Banks said of piecing together his four-game schedule. “As conferences and teams started to shut down, it just created this pool of FCS schools that remained and were still going to play.
“I couldn’t have dreamed up a better schedule for us. It all fell into place.”
According to Banks, Campbell’s admissions website reflected a page-view increase of 863 percent during last Saturday’s nationally televised game at Georgia Southern, and other comparable metrics also skyrocketed.
Though guarantees for games at FBS schools aren’t what they would have been in normal years with fans in the stands, Banks said the checks Campbell collects through this four-game season allow the program “to cover our expenses and use some of the new revenue to offset the cost of the testing that we’re doing.”
Campbell, located in Buies Creek, N.C. (25 miles south of Raleigh), played football as a junior college during 1925-50, and then discontinued the sport until 2008. This is the third scholarship team, and is coached by Mike Minter, a former star defensive back at Nebraska who went on to play for the Carolina Panthers.
The Big South announced on Aug. 12 that it was delaying football until, potentially, the spring. Schools were allowed to play as many as four fall games as independents. Campbell has a medical school, which was helpful in terms of testing and other health and safety precautions, according to Banks. School administrators and the football coaching staff spoke with the players, who arrived back on campus in mid-June.
“They were comfortable with proceeding based on the protocols we had put in place,” Banks said. “We just felt like it was a great opportunity for us to be part of the solution, as far as being able to find a pathway to returning back to safe play.”
The Camels at this stage are unlikely to pursue a spring schedule, said Banks, 46.
Banks, from Newport News (Denbigh High) and a 1996 graduate of UR (business degree), worked for IBM (project manager/data consultant) and Fidelity Investments (finance manager) before joining athletic administrations at the University of Cincinnati and Virginia Tech. Whit Babcock was his athletics director at both schools.
Campbell’s men’s basketball team has been coached since 2013 by Kevin McGeehan, a former Richmond assistant. On his staff are former Spiders players Peter Thomas and Kevin Smith.
Banks graduated from Richmond in 1996, two years before Simon Gray, who has been Niagara’s director of athletics since 2014. Also in Richmond’s Class of 1998 was Jasmonn Coleman, a former Spiders football player from Henrico High who is UR’s associate AD for development. Joe Douglas, a graduate of Lee-Davis and UR (Class of 1999), is the New York Jets general manager.
Note: Among the Camels is 6-foot-3, 315-pound redshirt junior Dre Giles, from Meadowbrook High. Giles is part of the rotation at defensive tackle.