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FGCU: Kickoff's coming - Someday
Florida Gulf Coast University introduced new athletic director Ken Kavanagh on Thursday.
It didn’t take long for Kavanagh to face the “F” question - football at FGCU.
“It’s an institutional decision,” Kavanagh said. “Any time you’re talking sports menu, whether it’s to add bowling, ice hockey or football, you have to understand the resource commitment that you need and gender equity aspects. But most importantly, what does the university want? It’s really no different than adding a new major on the academic side or adding a new facility in terms of the resources that would have to be allocated - manpower as well as financial ones. I haven’t had those discussions. Unless the university brings it to my attention, I’ve got other things to worry about.”
Although finishing his first year as FGCU’s president, Wilson Bradshaw is an old pro at fielding the question.
“Everywhere I go and talk to people in this community throughout the region, there seems to be keen interest in football here,” said Bradshaw, defining “everywhere” as everything from business and civic organizations to “the man on the street, the people shopping in Target.”
“I hear it from all over the region,” he said. “The inquiries are cordial and lighthearted, but the interest is certainly unmistakable.”
In interviewing six finalists in April for the AD job, Bradshaw said thoughts on the future of football at FGCU were neither a deal-breaker nor a deal-maker. But it was far from unimportant.
“I wasn’t looking for someone to say, ‘I’ll get you to football,’ and that would be my top choice. It’s certainly a conversation I had with each of them,” Bradshaw said. “Each of the candidates (understood) that when they come in, we’re going to have to sit down together with the leadership of the institution and talk in great detail how we chart a path to (Division I) football.”
Opened in 1997, FGCU began its sports programs in 2000 and has a made a rapid ascension to the highest level of collegiate competition - NCAA Division I - with considerable success for many of its 14 teams.
Florida already has seven D-I teams and three more I-AA programs, ranging from high-profile Florida, Florida State and Miami to lesser-known I-A newcomers Florida Atlantic and Florida International.
As young as FGCU is, though, and as many obstacles exist to adding top-level college football, supporters say it’s a matter of if, and not when, the Eagles join the mix.
“I believe FGCU will see football in its future. I can’t say it’s going to be in the next three or four years,” said Bradshaw, acknowledging support for football from the university’s 13-member board of trustees as well.
“Certainly there are members of the board who are also excited about football. I’m excited about football, but there are certain realities that we all have to understand. We have a lot on our plate the next couple, three years.”
The laundry list of items that must be in place to add Division I football are long, the costs great.
Support from alumni, boosters, students and the community, development of adequate facilities — primarily that sticky little problem of a stadium - and making sure the addition of an 85-scholarship football team is balanced with the addition of potentially three women’s sports to ensure compliance with gender-equity requirements are at the top of the list. And none of it comes cheap.
Estimates are that it could cost as much as $100 million to add Division I football - the only kind FGCU can have because it already competes at that level. Roughly half that cost is for a new stadium, for which FGCU has no designated land.
It could be another $5 million to operate football annually in early years and reach as much as $10 million should the program grow down the road.
By comparison, FGCU’s current athletics budget for its 14 sports is about $6 million.
Supporters believe the financial and fan support ultimately exists in Southwest Florida, but not given the current economic climate, FGCU’s modest enrollment of about 10,000, its limited alumni base and ongoing efforts to make sure its 14 existing sports have facilities and funding.
“Obviously, we all think that eventually (football’s) probably in their future,” said Diana Willis, who, with husband Scott, has been a financial supporter of FGCU athletics since the program’s inception through their Jason’s Deli restaurants in Southwest Florida. “It’s an astronomical financial burden. We don’t want to take away from the success of the other sports programs we are beginning to see. We’ve got to get a little bigger, or a lot bigger.”
Former FGCU athletic director Carl McAloose, who guided the program from inception until he resigned last year, believes FGCU needs an enrollment of about 20,000 students -from whom student fees contribute a critical portion of athletics financing -to make football viable.
With FGCU still ramping up staff and budgets to support its move two years ago from Division II to Division I and with two years still to go in its NCAA-mandated “transitional period,” many believe football at the school is still about 10 years away.
“You don’t want to add a sport like football and (hurt) the other sports that you’ve worked so hard to bring up to a nationally competitive level,” said McAloose, who now operates his own consulting firm. “I’ve seen that too often at other schools, where the majority of the money goes to football and the other budgets are cut.”
Bradshaw said one of the priorities for Kavanagh, who begins work at FGCU on June 15, will be exploring the option of doing a football feasibility study in the coming years, in part to outline specific costs.
“You wouldn’t want to implement a plan until you do a feasibility study,” Bradshaw said. “The downside of feasibility studies is they can unduly raise expectations.”
In his travels from one football-minded community group to another, Bradshaw said some boosters, alumni, fans and others understand that they will have to pick up much of the tab to launch football.
But many have little doubt that the sport is eventually coming to FGCU.
“Depending on the group, I’m not sure they’re fully aware of the cost to bring Division I football to FGCU,” Bradshaw said. “Their excitement is very genuine, but here at the university, we have to keep our feet firmly on the ground and understand exactly what it means for our institution.”
BY SETH SOFFIAN • email@example.com • May 26, 2009