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Georgia State, Lamar Amongst New Football Programs in 2010
DALLAS, May 6, 2010 - The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) highlighted today that six new college football teams are set to take the field for the first time this season with 10 more programs set to launch between 2011 and 2013. The NFF reached out to top officials at several of the schools to capture their thoughts on football’s impact on their campus life, including Georgia State, the University of South Alabama, Lamar University, and the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“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.”
Programs Launching in 2010
* 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 Billy Tubbs, Head Coach Ray Woodard
* Pacific University (Forest Grove, Ore.): NCAA Division III, Northwest Conference (2010): President Lesley M. Hallick, Athletics Director Ken Schumann, Head Coach Keith Buckley
* 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 Susan Hlavacek, Head Coach
Programs Launching in 2011-2013
* University of Texas at San Antonio (San Antonio, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Independent (2011-2012 as an FCS independent, hopefully joining an FBS conference in 2013) – President Ricardo Romo, Athletics Director Lynn Hickey, Head Coach Larry Coker.
* University of North Carolina at Charlotte (Charlotte, N.C.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Conference TBD (2013) – Chancellor Philip L. Dubois, Athletics Director Judy Rose, Head Coach TBA
* LeMoyne-Owen College (Memphis, Tenn.): NCAA Division II, Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (2011) - President Johnnie B. Watson, Athletics Director William Anderson, Head Coach TBA
* Ave Maria University (Ave Maria, Fla.): NAIA, Sun Conference (2011): Chancellor Thomas Monaghan; Ave Maria Athletics Director Brian Scanlan; Head Coach Barry Fagan.
* Concordia University (Ann Arbor, Mich.): NAIA, Mid-State Conference (2011) – Acting President Charles A. Winterstein, Athletics Director Ben Limback, Head Coach Nathan Robbins
* Finlandia University (Hancock, Mich.): NCAA Division III (2012) - President Philip Johnson, Athletics Director Chris Salani, Head Coach TBA
* George Fox University (Newberg, Ore.): NCAA Division III, Northwest Conference (2013) – President Robin Baker, Athletics Director Craig Taylor; Head Coach TBA.
* Presentation College (Aberdeen, S.D.): NCAA Division III, Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (2011) - President Lorraine Hale, Athletics Director Rick Kline, Head Coach Andy Carr
* Stevenson University (Owings Mills, Md.): NCAA Division III, Capital Athletic Conference (Developmental in 2010, NCAA Division III in 2011) - President Kevin J. Manning, Athletics Director Brett Adams, Head Coach Ed Hottle.
* Wayland Baptist University (Plainview, Texas): NAIA, Central States Football League (2012) – President Dr. Paul Armes, Athletics Director Dr. Greg Feris, Head Coach TBA.
Programs Launched in 2009
* Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Va.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Colonial Athletic Association – President John R. Broderick, Athletics Director Jim Jarrett Head Coach Bobby Wilder.
* 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
* 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 Rich Alercio.
Myriad of Factors
Many factors come into play when launching a football program, including financial forecasts, facilities requirements, potential fan base, commitment from the administration, staffing needs, finding a conference, establishing an academic support system, feasibility studies and a myriad of other variables that help determine if it’s the right fit for a particular school.
Georgia State, which will play its first game in history Sept. 2 against Shorter College (Ga.), is capitalizing on its 100,000 alumni base in the Atlanta metro area and the state’s renowned passion for college football to meet its goal of filling the lower level of the Georgia Dome. Georgia State Athletics Director Cheryl Levick, who worked with football programs while an administrator at Maryland and Stanford, said building the program from scratch has been a little bit of heaven and a dream job for an athletics director. She added it has been extra special to work with Bill Curry, who has been hired to coach the team and previously built a blue chip reputation as the head coach at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky.
“The reason for adding football really goes back to what the students wanted on campus,” said Levick, citing overwhelming approval by the 30,000 members of the student-body to increase fees by $85 per student each semester. “It was a vote that they approved for an additional fee to ensure that there was football and a marching band, and I really do believe that the students and the Georgia State community wanted to have a full college experience, which included having a football program.”
The process to launch a football program at Georgia State began under the watch of former Georgia State President Carl Patton and former athletics director Mary McElroy. When Levick arrived on the scene, there was one coach, one player, and one helmet. The program had no practice facility, no locker room, no equipment and no jerseys. With the first kickoff 17 months away, they had to find a temporary weight room, sports medicine area and practice facilities, creating a whirlwind of 12 to 15 hour days. Now with the second class of recruits signed and her administration team firmly in place, Levick is focused on the process of building permanent facilities, ticket sales, and a long-term marketing plan. No detail has been overlooked. Even Pounce, the school mascot, got a facelift to give the Panthers a more ferocious look.
The addition of football at Georgia State is part of a broader vision by its current president, Mark Becker, to transform a school formerly known as commuter school in downtown Atlanta into a top-notch academic institution with a total campus experience. In addition to the football and marching band programs, he is adding more campus dorms, a brand new dining hall, more green space, and a Greek residential area.
“President Becker really wants Georgia State to be known as a national research institution in the heart of Atlanta,” said Levnick. “We have the research institution accreditation, and we feel the academic part of it is there, but we need to do a better job of getting the message out to the community, potential students, student-athletes, and fans, so he really wants the students here to have a full college campus experience… and football is a part of it.”
Playing the National Champions
Scheduling creates an interesting dilemma for a new schools, and Coach Curry consulted with several former coaches and athletics directors who had been involved with new programs for advice, including Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger, former South Florida coach Jim Leavitt, and former Marshall coach Jack Lengyel. Their collective advice centered on finding two or three games that will be really hard; two or three that will be really even; and then one or two games in the monster category.
Georgia State has lined up South Alabama, Old Dominion and Lamar, all new programs that fall in the level playing field category. The surprise comes in the monster category where Georgia State finds itself slotted against defending national champion Alabama. Curry, who coached the Crimson Tide from 1987-89, received a phone call about a year ago from his former trainer in Tuscaloosa, Bill McDonald, who is now the director of sports medicine at Alabama. McDonald was offering Curry a chance at the game.
“I said, ‘Wow that would be a heck of feather in our cap. How about 2013?,’” Curry recalled. “He said, ‘No 2010,’ and I said, ‘That’s crazy. Do you think I am nuts?’ He said, ‘November 20, 2010 that’s all we got. Take it or leave it. Do you want to make your program? Do you want to get a great buzz for your program? Do you want to make all this money for your program? I know you need all those things.’ And then he sort of insinuated that I might be scared.’”
McDonald had gotten Curry’s dander up, and a conference call ensued with Curry, Becker and Levick to determine if it was the right thing to do for the young program. The decision has produced plenty of publicity and even attracted new recruits who, in Curry’s words, “wanted to join a program that has decided to take on the big boys early,” but before the game got scheduled Curry had to address one question for President Becker. He wanted to know Curry’s plans for his speech in the locker room after the game if things did not go well. Curry said he had the perfect speech that would call all of his life experiences, including playing at Georgia Tech for Hall of Fame Coach Bobby Dodd and appearing in two Pro Bowls and three Super Bowls during a 10-year NFL career with the Packers, Colts, Oilers and Rams.
“When I reported to the Green Bay Packers in 1965, considered to be the greatest football team of all-time by many, I was an undersized center, and there was a middle linebacker named Ray Nitschke, who broke my facemask and my nose and knocked me out of the first play of the first day,” said Curry.
“I had to get up off the ground and make a decision, am I going to hit this guy again or am I going to go home. That’s the story that I am going to tell them. We’re going to hit them again, again and again until we can play with them. So, whoever the opponent is, we’re going to hit them with all our might and play with all our hearts, and we’re going to get better every time. We need all these types of experiences if we’re going to be the best we can be. So, going to go play Alabama in Tuscaloosa is a big part of the process.”
Curry, who admits returning to Tuscaloosa will produce a nostalgic moment from him personally, says that the fact that he is a former coach of the Crimson Tide is “utterly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things” for his players. More important he cites with pride is the cumulative 2.7 GPA of his 71 players who have set a goal for themselves of hitting a 3.0 GPA mark.
“There are bunch of walk-ons who would not be going to college except for this,” Curry said. “They came here because they wanted to walk-on to the football team. There are others who came out of the student body who had terrible grades, who now have excellent grades because we forced them to go to class and we make them study.”
Filling a Texas-Sized Void
San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the country, lacks both an NCAA Division I program and a professional football team. The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) has moved to fill the void, hiring head coach Larry Coker, who won a national championship in 2001 at Miami (Fla.). Coker calls the situation in San Antonio the “perfect storm,” citing a litany of positives in the area as UTSA prepares to field a team in 2011.
The city provides access to the natural Texas high school recruiting base and under-utilized Alamo Dome. The UTSA administration has thrown its full support behind the effort, and the 30,000 members of the student body voted twice overwhelmingly to support the effort. The two student referendums both received more than 60 percent, and when fully in place by 2015 the new fees will add $13-15 million per year to the athletics budget. The funds will be used to move all of the school’s 17 sports to a more competitive level with the goal of UTSA being able to accept an offer from a conference in the future to play Football Bowl Subdivision football.
“We have a lot of work to do, but we have a lot of positives and the vision has been really easy to sell. People really believe in it,” Coker said. “You very seldom have the opportunity to start or originate anything, and to me to be here to accept this opportunity is huge.”
UTSA has scheduled games with FBS opponents Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, and Kansas State and expanded its recruiting efforts this year with seven fulltime coaches versus three last year. They also hosted a camp at the Alamo Dome that attracted 600 kids with three of the top athletes at the camp signing with UTSA. Coker said it was impressive the number of kids that wanted to come and be a part of it.
“I really underestimated the caliber of kids that we were able to attract especially in the first year,” said Coker. “It’s not a whole class of Miami-type players, but I guarantee you that we have attracted people that could play any place that I have ever been, Miami, Ohio State, any of those places.”
Lynne Hickey, the athletics director at UTSA, said the process did not happen overnight, and the school spent the better part of seven years making sure a NCAA Division I football program would be a strategic fit for the university. The comprehensive plan started with reviewing the needs of the campus and ascertaining the level of support from the city, and many smaller steps followed.
“With the growth of our university academically and with the strategic plan in place that we are working towards becoming a tier one research institution, we needed this campus life to bring our alumni back and would attract students, faculty and staff, and to better engage the city of San Antonio and all of South Texas with our campus,” Hickey said. “The purpose of coming to college is to get a degree and to learn but students on a campus want to have campus life and want to have pride in the traditions of the school… I don’t know how you try to develop a huge academic university that does not also have engaging campus life.”
Community outreach is a key component for UTSA. The only public four-year college in the city, many of its students come from families that never had anybody attend college, and founded only forty years ago, the school lacks a vibrant alumni base that can make large donations. Hickey sees community outreach as a win-win for both school and the community, increasing enrollment as well as donations.
“We are in a city that needs to vastly improve high school graduation rates and attendance to college,” said Hickey. “We really want to help build a platform at UTSA that really gives us an opportunity to reach out to the community and to have a positive impact on youth. If we can develop venues and events where kids will be exposed to college life and they want to become a part of it, and they realize it’s possible, then we have done an important part of building a major university.”
The Returning of 2,000 Students
Lamar University, which will compete in the Southland Conference, will play its first game since 1989 on September 4 against McNeese State. Lamar Athletics Director Billy Tubbs has spent the past eight years developing the plan to bring the sport back, rectifying the mistake of the school’s administration in the late 1980s to eliminate the sport.
“Football is almost a religion in Texas and a lot of the country, and when we dropped football we lost 2,000 students,” said Lamar Athletics Director Billy Tubbs. “You know football adds a lot to your university that people don’t take into consideration, so there was a lot of disappointment over it, and it should have never been dropped because we had some great traditions in football.”
Tubbs cites the student referendum for an increase in student fees to fund a $30 million bond to renovate the football stadium and locker rooms as an example of the excitement behind the sport’s return at the school.
“We put it before a student vote, and they’re going to bear the brunt of bringing football back, and the vote was just totally overwhelming that they wanted football,” said Tubbs. “They voted to spend more money. Anytime you vote to spend more money. That’s pretty convincing.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Lamar at the start of the program was lacking a football expert on campus, and it took a significant amount of time to develop a sound plan. Tubbs said it has been a long and challenging road, but bringing football back has been the right call. The school has seen a surge in enrollment and is on track to reach a projected 2,000 additional students, which Tubbs adds will bring more funding because state money is distributed to public schools based on enrollment.
“We are going into this and we’re doing it right. We’re doing it first class. Anybody can start a program,” Tubbs said. “The key for us is to we want to start a program that will be successful so we have taken a lot of time and effort to be successful to win and be competitive and win conference championships. If you’re going to do it, you got it do it right. And doing it that way, it will enhance the whole campus.”
Where to Find a Crowd
Passion for football runs deep in the South, and the state of Alabama plays a key role in that fervor, already boasting an impressive list of Football Bowl Subdivision schools that includes the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Auburn Tigers, the UAB Blazers and the Troy Trojans. One might have thought that there might not be enough fans to go around for another Division I program, but the South Alabama Jaguars are proving the adage that either pork on the barbeque or pigskins on the gridiron will attract a huge crowd in the South.
The Jaguars, playing in Mobile and joining the Sun Belt Conference, averaged 20,000 fans per game during their 2009 provisional season against prep schools and junior colleges. The team’s first game alone attracted 28,000 fans against Hargrave Military Academy, a prep school in Virginia. Season tickets sales have been impressive too with more than 8,000 sold last year.
“We went head-to-head at times with very visible and popular schools in the Southeastern Conference [with our game times],” said Dr. Joel Erdmann, the athletics director at South Alabama. “And our fans turned out and supported the Jaguars. The great thing about the program is the university and many constituent groups within the university worked very hard at creating and nurturing the whole traditional college football experience.”
Erdmann said everything centered on the game, but special efforts were made to highlight all of the other elements that create a vibrant football environment, including tailgating, hospitality opportunities for donors and business groups, the marching band, the cheerleaders, the dance team, the mascot, and all of the elements involved in the product of college football.
“It just made a long-lasting impression on our fans,” Erdmann said. “When they came out and watched the first game, it looked, tasted and felt like college football, so a lot of people can be very proud of that.”
South Alabama is set to play all four-year colleges in 2010 with a mixture of schools from the Football Championship Subdivision, including Georgia State and Lamar, Division II and the NAIA, and in 2011 the Jaguars are set to play Kent State and NC State.
“The reason to bring football to South Alabama is based on a sincere good for the university, and there was a sense of something missing,” said Erdmann. “The university has grown not only in enrollment but in stature. The academic side has solidified and grown through the great leadership of the administration. Student life has been energized. The infrastructure has been strong and improving, and there just seemed to be a missing piece and that was football.”
The Value of Scholarships
Schools with established programs are also expanding by adding football scholarships. Fordham, which plays in the Patriot League, and Stony Brook, which plays in the Big South Conference, are two examples. Fordham has not had football scholarships since 1954 when the school eliminated the sport. A decade later the students brought the game back as a club sport, and it has gradually progressed to become a Division I Football Championship Subdivision program.
Following its recent success in making other sports highly competitive by converting intuitional aid into athletic scholarships, Fordham signed its first class of 15 scholarship football players this past spring en route to 60 scholarships at the end of a four-year period. In addition to the scheduling of games with UConn, Army and Navy, the return of the scholarships has created tremendous excitement at the school and with its alumni base, according to Fordham Athletics Director Frank McLaughlin.
“We’re taking the same amount of institutional aid and moving it over to pure athletic scholarships,” said McLaughlin. “We spent a lot less money on recruiting, and we spent a lot less money being on the road than the old system this past year… It’s financially more effective for us, and it allows us to elevate our student-athletes both academically and athletically. It’s not increased costs. It’s a reallocation and being a lot more effective with our limited resources.”
Stony Brook started increasing its number of scholarships in 2008. The Seawolves had previously competed in the Northeast Conference, which only allows 23 scholarships per school. Stony Brook, which had built a new stadium in 2001, wanted to raise the profile of its program, and a decision was made to transition to a conference that allowed 63 scholarships, the maximum permitted at the FCS level. The Seawolves started adding scholarships and linked up with the Big South Conference. In 2009, the first full year with 63 scholarships, the Seaswolves won the conference championship. Now with the process completed, they will be eligible for the Big South Conference’s playoff berth at the end of the 2010 season.
“We made football one of our priorities for the obvious reasons of the exposure you get, and it allows you access to various conference affiliations long-term. My job as athletics director is to set us up for the next forty years not the next four years,” said Stony Brook Athletics Director Jim Fiore. “Our image and brand as a university has improved. The pride within the campus community and student body has improved. We get terrific support from the community. It’s just been an overall good move for us. As conferences shake out, we’re in a good position for the long haul to be in a good spot to link with institutions of our academic ilk.”
The change has allowed Stony Brook to schedule games with Boston College, South Florida, and Army, and Fiore hopes that the Seawolves will continue to raise their athletic profile to match schools with similar academic standards such as New Hampshire, Maine, UMass, Rhode Island, Rutgers, Connecticut and Delaware.
Coupled with the five programs started last year, the new additions will create a total of 21 schools establishing new teams in the span of five years. The 16 colleges in the process of launching football programs will boost the overall ranks of four-year institutions carrying the sport to 728 schools. The current divisional breakdown includes: 120 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision programs; 125 Division I Football Championship Subdivision programs; 151 Division II programs; 240 Division III programs; and 92 NAIA programs.