The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) highlighted today that eight new college football teams are set to take the field for the first time this season with 17 more programs set to launch between 2012 and 2014.
"It's exciting to see the launch of these programs because they are giving players the opportunity of playing at different levels in regions of the country where those options did not previously exist," NFF President & CEO Steven J. Hatchell. "Football's popularity has never been greater, and the fact that so many schools are embracing it is a testament that more and more college administrators see the value of the sport to a student's overall educational experience."
Universities and colleges are adding football at all levels, and administrators have developed sound plans, ensuring the new programs address the unique financial, academic and long-term objectives of their respective schools. The 36 institutions, who have implemented firm plans during the past few years, coupled together the more than 20 schools with exploratory committees, create a clear and undeniable trend that presidents and trustees nationwide see the value of a football program as part of their overall academic mission.
The rationale for adding football varies at each institution, and all of the decision makers who helped develop a plan for launching a program explain that an in-depth study played a critical role in finding the right level of play and the proper financial balance. Small colleges may cite increasing enrollment and addressing gender imbalances while larger universities might highlight the role of football in raising the institution's profile and its ability to attract research grants. All mention creating a more vibrant on-campus community and connecting with alumni.
University of North Carolina Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois takes the long-term view for his stewardship of his relatively young institution. He knows that the university has grown rapidly since its inception in 1963 with a current student body of more than 25,000 and projections that anticipate an enrollment of 35,000 within the next 20 years.
As he pondered the question with the school's trustees about the legacy of his tenure, they realized that football should be part of their strategy to continue the school's ascent as a major university. Competing with UNC at Chapel Hill, Duke, NC State and Wake Forest, whose alumni dominate the region, Dubois sees football an important tool for eventually matching the connections of those schools to the employers in the Charlotte community.
"Your academic opportunities open up when you're perceived as an institution of significance and quality, and if you do football right you'll be able to help achieve that," Dubois said. "If you do it wrong, it can be counterproductive. So you have to be very cautious, measured and deliberate about what you're doing and how you're doing it. But I do think if the corporate leaders, the business leaders and the employers of the Charlotte region see UNC Charlotte as an institution of significance and quality, they will be more anxious to employ our students; have them as interns; and to talk to with our faculty about research projects and where we can help them."
Judy Rose, the athletics director at UNC Charlotte, enthusiastically shares Dubois vision for football, adding a concern about what would happen to the athletics department if football remained the "missing link."
"I have thought for a longtime that the landscape of intercollegiate athletics was going to change," said Rose. "My concern has been what would happen to a large public institution that did not have football. My fear has been that schools that don't have football might get left out of the mix in intercollegiate athletics all together. I would hate to have seen not having football to have become a major issue for our institution. The main reason for us to add football was to protect the rest of our athletic program."
Citing recent conference realignments, Rose said she believed that UNC Charlotte's options have been limited in the past because of the lack of a football program despite having an excellent basketball team.
"The last two conference expansions, they were not motivated by basketball, they were motivated by football," Rose said. "Why did the Big East take TCU, they are nowhere in that geographic region. It's because of football. And when Nebraska joins the Big Ten, it's because of football... This is all driven by football."
Both Dubois and Rose believe that the school has developed a sound plan, which included an extensive due diligence period that lasted more than 21 months before a decision was formally announced in 2008 to launch a football program.
"We have not approached this thinking that we'll mine large amounts of money," said Dubois. "We did our research and we know what football costs, and we know that it will have to be subsidized with student dollars and private support and ticket sales, but our long-term view is it will be a good investment to make now because it will never be less expensive whether you're talking about the construction of the capital facilities like the field house and the stadium or the actual operations of the football program."
The football program has already generated tremendous excitement on campus and in the Charlotte community. At the recent groundbreaking for the new 15,000 seat stadium more than 3,000 people turned out for the festivities. The football press conferences are by far the best attended media events held at the school with the room filled with cameras and reporters.
"I don't think that there is any question that football has significant marketing value for us," said Dubois. "That will help us over time when we're trying to place students in internships; to open job opportunities for them; trying to engage private industry in research partnerships. I am really hopeful that football will frankly be a gateway to more important things."
The Charlotte 49ers will take the field for the first time August 31, 2013 against Campbell University. They recently announced a complete 11-game schedule for 2013 with six home contests.
"Everybody is scheduling us for their homecoming game, but I keep telling them that we're going to surprise them," said Rose.
Mercer University and Stetson University both recently won approval to play in the Pioneer Football League, one of only three conferences in the country that play non-scholarship football at the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision Level. The Ivy League and the Patriot League are the other two options, but the Pioneer is the lone "football only" non-scholarship conference. The unique dynamic of non-scholarship football offers the schools in the league an opportunity to actually generate revenue.
Stetson, located in DeLand, Fla., with a current student body of 2,200, began a study in 2009 on options for exploring ways to attract more students from out of state, expand enrollment and enhance the vibrancy of campus life for its student body.
"We had a committee come back and say, we think we ought to look at football, but we should only look at a non-scholarship program because only non-scholarship can generate a positive net revenue stream that you can then use for the institution's highest priorities, which are not just athletics but includes our academic programs. Scholarship football would not do that for us," said Stetson President Wendy B. Libby.
By avoiding the cost of scholarships and actually enrolling paying student-athletes to play on their football teams, institutions might see as much a $7 million swing in their operating budget. Both Mercer and Stetson are raising money for the initial start-up costs, but their pro forma operating budgets both project an operating profit down the road.
"Our annual football operating budget will be covered by 100 students who will play football and create enough of a revenue stream from all of the revenue sources that they will not only pay for the operation of football and women's lacrosse, but will also have a net gain for the institution of roughly a million dollars," said Stetson athletics director Jeff Altier. "The non-scholarship portion of the plan gives us a revenue stream from which to operate the program."
By joining the Pioneer Football League, Mercer and Stetson find themselves competing against like-minded schools that attract a similar type of athlete who meets high academic standards and wants to continue to play football but might not be big or fast enough to play for a traditional powerhouse program.
"The financial model is very different. You're not talking about spending millions of dollars on coaching staffs and recruiting and tens of millions of dollars on facilities," said Mercer President William D. Underwood. "The reason is the focus is first and foremost on preparing young men for leadership and the young men that you're attracting are first and foremost interested in the academics of the university."
Mercer boasts a rich history on the gridiron, playing the first football game in against the University of Georgia in 1892 and continuing rivalries with the Bulldogs and Georgia Tech until 1941 when the onslaught of World War II caused the school to drop football. The school currently has 3,000 undergraduates and a total student population of 8,000 with its graduate programs.
"We are not adding football because the alumni said we need to build a 40,000 football seat stadium, and we need to be like Baylor and Wake Forest," said Mercer athletics director Jim Cole. "We are adding it because we're looking at playing football in the purest sense, non-scholarship, a throwback to the Ivy League where you're a student-athlete and you study hard and you work hard. You learn a lot from football and then you go out into the world and you're a successful person and give back to the community."
Diane Owens, who chairs the board of trustees at Mercer and has been involved with the decision to add football from its earliest stages, laments the fact that her niece choose Furman over Mercer because of Furman's football program and Mercer's lack of one. She said that adding football will enhance student life and the ability to attract academically strong athletes and non-athletes by offering them the full-student experience.
"What we have learned from people that we have talked to and studies that we have read is when you add football, you don't just add 80 football players," said Owens. "There are other students who come, like my niece, because you have football. Cheerleaders come. Band members come. And regular students come because now you have the full college experience."
Like Mercer, Stetson also had a proud football tradition. The school fielded a team from 1901 to 1956, including participation in the first organized football game in the state and a berth in the 1952 Capital One Bowl, then known as the Tangerine Bowl. However, in 1956, the president at the time found that playing scholarship football at a highly competitive level in Florida was no longer economically viable for a school of its size, ending the program. A key step in bringing the program back was an announcement from the City of DeLand that they would renovate the municipal stadium with the understanding that Stetson will fulfill a rental obligation as the primary tenant for the next 20 years.
"There are really smart people who lead our city, and they understand that the strength of the city and the strength of the university are completely tied to one another," said President Libby. "They knew from the very beginning that this was a great possibility for the City of DeLand. They knew it would be important for the merchants, the restaurants and the hotels, and it's important to the status of the university."
At both Mercer and Stetson, the decision to add football resulted from significant input from the student body, and neither school will raise student fees as part of the financial plan to field a team.
"In the South, football is king," said Cole. "Now our students can be proud of the football team and the campus life on Saturday afternoons in the fall. Instead of going home on the Friday afternoon in the fall, they are going to stay on campus for the football game."
Both Mercer and Stetson will begin play in 2013. Their schedules have yet to be announced.
Founded in 1966 as a two-year school, Kennesaw State has experienced robust growth during the past five decades. The school gradually added bachelors, master's, and then doctoral degrees, and its current student body exceeds 23,000 with projections of 30,000 in the next ten years.
However, the university only has 4,000 beds on its campus, which is just 20 minutes north of Atlanta, Ga. Hoping to shed its reputation as a commuter school and build a more vibrant campus life, Kennesaw State impaneled an exploratory committee last year to examine the possibility of adding football.
Headed by the legendary football coach and Georgia athletics director Vince Dooley, the committee did extensive work, gathering input from students, faculty, staff, business leaders, and governmental leaders. Their work produced a positive report, suggesting that the school launch a scholarship program as a Football Championship Subdivision program.
"The primary driver behind us adding football is a large level of interest from our student body and the community," said Kennesaw State President Daniel S. Papp. "Football is king in the American South and having a football team tremendously heightens the visibility of an institution and in many cases the attractiveness of an institution as well."
Papp also cited the academic benefits of having a football program.
"We think that football program adds to the overall student experience at a university. And we believe that it demonstrably helps improve retention and progression rates for students as well. Students get more involved with the institution, so the students are more likely to stay in school and are more likely to concentrate on their academics so they can stay in school."
Papp explained that a few critical steps remain before the university will officially more forward with its plan. Specifically, the university needs to raise $8 to 12 million needed to build infrastructure for the program, which Papp said they fully intend to raise. Once that money is raised, the university will then submit its final business plan to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia for ultimate approval.
"We have done the studies. So, we know the investment that it will take," said Kennesaw State athletics director Vaughn Williams. "It's about the brand and the university, so in essence it's an investment in the overall university. We're not thinking that we're going to make millions of dollars. We're looking to create an excellent program that is going to enhance everything that we do in the fiber of this university. It's bigger than football. Football is just another piece of the puzzle. We are going to raise the bar academically. And it's going to get more competitive to get into Kennesaw. "
An important step in the process came last year when the student body voted by 56 percent to increase athletics fees to support football by $100 per person each semester. The increase will annually raise approximately $5 million. Papp said the university's football budget will breakeven through a combination of the student fees, ticket sales, sponsorships and donations.
"We understand that very few institutions make money playing football. We don't want to lose money, however," said Papp. "We are going into football in a very slow and measured, well-thought-out and well-planned way. There is only one thing worse than a major university in the American South without a football team, and that's a major university in the American South with a football team that it can't afford. If we do football, we will be extremely fiscally responsible."
Kennesaw State plans to begin play in 2014 in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
University of Texas at San Antonio (San Antonio, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Western Athletics Conference (2011 as an FCS independent) - President Ricardo Romo, Athletics Director Lynn Hickey, Head Coach Larry Coker.
Ave Maria University (Ave Maria, Fla.): NAIA, Independent (2011): Chancellor Thomas S. Monaghan, Athletics Director Brian Scanlan, Head Coach Barry Fagan.
Concordia University (Ann Arbor, Mich.): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association (2011) - Interim CEO Russell L. Nichols, Athletics Director Ben Limback, Head Coach Nathan Robbins.
Presentation College (Aberdeen, S.D.): NCAA Division III, Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (2011) - President Lorraine Hale, Athletics Director Rick Kline, Head Coach Andy Carr.
Robert Morris University (Chicago, Ill.): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association (2011) - President Michael P. Viollt, Athletics Director Megan Smith Eggert, Head Coach Jared Williamson.
Siena Heights University (Adrian, MI): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association (2011) - President Sister Peg Albert, Athletic Director Fred Smith, Head Coach Jim Lyall.
Stevenson University (Owings Mills, Md.): NCAA Division III, Capital Athletic Conference (2011) - President Kevin J. Manning, Athletics Director Brett Adams, Head Coach Ed Hottle.
Virginia University of Lynchburg (Lynchburg, Va.): Independent (2011) - President Ralph Reavis, Athletics Director and Head Coach Bill Williamson.
Atlanta Christian College (East Point, Ga.): NAIA, Conference TBA (2012 and club level in 2011) - President Dean C. Collins, Athletics Director Alan Wilson, Head CoachErasmus Harvey. (Note: Atlanta Christian College is relocating to West Point, Ga. in June 2012 and changing its name to Point University.)
Bluefield College (Bluefield, Va.): NAIA, Mid-South Conference (2012 and club level in 2011) - President David Olive, Athletics Director Peter Dryer, Head Coach Mike Gravier.
Finlandia University (Hancock, Mich.): NCAA Division III, Conference TBA (2012) - President Philip Johnson, Athletics Director Chris Salani, Head Coach TBA.
LeMoyne-Owen College (Memphis, Tenn.): NCAA Division II, Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (2012) - President Johnnie B. Watson, Athletics Director William Anderson, Head Coach TBA.
Misericordia University (Dallas, Pa.): NCAA Division III, Middle Atlantic Conferences (2012) - President Michael A. MacDowell, Athletics Director Dave Martin, Head Coach Mark Ross.
Wayland Baptist University (Plainview, Texas): NAIA, Central States Football League (2012) - President Dr. Paul Armes, Athletics Director Dr. Greg Feris, Head Coach Butch Henderson.
Florida Tech (Melbourne, Fla.): NAIA, Conference TBA (2013) - President Anthony J. Catanese, Athletics Director Bill Jurgens, Jr., Head Coach Steve R. Englehart II.
George Fox University (Newberg, Ore.): NCAA Division III, Northwest Conference (2013) - President Robin Baker, Athletics Director Craig Taylor; Head Coach TBA.
Hendrix College (Conway, Ark.): NCAA Division III, new eight-team league in the Southeast (2013) - President J. Timothy Cloyd, Athletics Director Danny Powell, Head Coach TBA.
Mercer University (Macon, Ga.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Pioneer Football League (2013) - President William D. Underwood, Athletics Director Jim Cole, Head Coach Bobby Lamb.
University of North Carolina at Charlotte (Charlotte, N.C.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Independent for two years (2013) - Chancellor Philip L. Dubois, Athletics Director Judy Rose, Head Coach Brad Lambert.
Oklahoma Baptist University (Shawnee, Okla.): NAIA, Central States Football League (2013) - President David W. Whitlock, Athletics Director Robert Davenport, Head Coach TBA.
Reinhardt University (Waleska, Ga.): NAIA, Conference TBA (2013) - President J. Thomas Isherwood, Athletics Director Bill Popp, Head Coach Danny Cronic.
Stetson University (DeLand, Fla.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Pioneer Football League (2013) - President Wendy B. Libby, Athletics Director Jeff Altier, Head Coach TBA.
Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, Ga.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Conference TBA (2014) - President Daniel S. Papp, Athletics Director Vaughn Williams, Head Coach TBA.
2015 or 2016
University of New Orleans (New Orleans, La.): NCAA Division II, Gulf South Conference (2015 or 2016) - Chancellor Timothy P. Ryan, Athletics Director Amy Champion, Head Coach TBA.
To Be Determined
Houston Baptist University (Houston, Texas): Anticipated NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Conference TBA (Year TBA) - President Robert B. Sloan, Jr., Athletics Director Steve Moniaci, Head Coach TBA.
University of South Alabama (Mobile, Ala.): NCAA Division I - Football Championship Subdivision, Sun Belt Conference (2010 with a full transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision anticipated in 2013): President V. Gordon Moulton, Athletics Director Joel Erdmann, Head Coach Joey Jones.
Georgia State University (Atlanta, Ga.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Colonial Athletic Association (2010) - President Mark P. Becker, Athletics Director Cheryl L. Levick, Head Coach Bill Curry.
Lamar University (Beaumont, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southland Conference (2010) - President James Simmons, Athletics Director Jason Henderson, Head Coach Ray Woodard.
Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Ky.): NAIA, Mid-South Conference (2010) - President William T. Luckey Jr., Athletics Director Willis Pooler, Head Coach Chris Oliver.
Notre Dame College (South Euclid, Ohio): NAIA, American Mideast Conference (NAIA in 2010 and year-one candidate for NCAA Division II) - President Andrew P. Roth, Athletics Director Sue Hlavacek, Head Coach Adam Howard.
Pacific University (Forest Grove, Ore.): NCAA Division III, Northwest Conference (2010): President Lesley M. Hallick, Athletics Director Ken Schumann, Head Coach Keith Buckley.
5 Programs Launched in 2009
Anna Maria College (Paxton, Mass.): NCAA Division III, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference - President Jack Calareso, Athletics Director David Shea, Head Coach Marc Klaiman.
Castleton State College (Castleton, Vt.): NCAA Division III, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference - President David Wolk, Athletics Director Deanna Tyson, Head Coach Marc Klatt.
University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio, Texas): NCAA Division II, Independent and joining the Lone Star Conference in 2010 - President Louis Agnese, Jr., Athletics Director Mark Papich, Head Coach Mike Santiago.
University of New Haven (West Haven, Conn.): NCAA Division II, Northeast-10 Conference - President Steven H. Kaplan, Athletics Director Deborah Chin, Head Coach Peter Rossomando.
Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Va.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Colonial Athletic Association - President John R. Broderick, Athletics Director Camden Wood Selig, Head Coach Bobby Wilder.