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FGCU athletics: Board of Trustees chair admits adding football 'insurmountable task' right now
The chairman of the Florida Gulf Coast University Board of Trustees has had a bit of time to digest the football feasibility study numbers that were distributed during the Jan. 18 meeting.
And he finds them impossible to swallow.
At least for now.
“Well, I don’t see how the finances work,” Scott Lutgert said a week after the presentation. “I think it’s an insurmountable task to get the finances to work at this time.
“However, at some time in the future, it will work.”
Carr Sports Associates, Inc., led by former University of Florida athletic director Bill Carr, presented the study that illustrated it would cost FGCU well in excess of $100 million to begin a scholarship Football Championship Subdivision (formerly l-AA) program, the only logical match for FGCU, which doesn’t and likely would not soon meet the criteria for Division I-A football.
Then the program would operate at a loss of about $4.8 million per year. In addition, because of Title IX (the NCAA’s gender-equity laws), FGCU, which is not interested in non-scholarship programs like those at fellow Atlantic Sun schools Jacksonville and Campbell, would have to add 110 female scholarships to offset 90 football ones. The annual increase for that alone (not counting the cost to kickstart 2-3 more women’s programs in order to add the scholarships) would be $5.9 million.
That doesn’t seem plausible for a 10-year-old athletics department that operates on a $7.1 annual budget, has only recently gotten full insurance coverage for all its full-time coaches, and has yet to fill up 4,500-seat Alico Arena for a sporting event.
“It’s very expensive, and I don’t see how with the budget constraints and stuff like that that we can afford football now,” Lutgert said. “I think football is something that will happen at the university, but it’s going to happen down the road when the population of the student body is bigger and we have more athletics fees.”
Fellow Atlantic Sun member Kennesaw State recently decided to go forward with a FCS scholarship program, and in November, the 20,000-plus student body voted for a $100 per semester football fee to ensure it happens. The fees will be assessed no earlier than the fall of 2012, but KSU could field a team as early as 2014.
At its June meeting, the Board of Trustees could approve an increase in the FGCU student athletic fee from $15.79 to $16.54 per credit hour for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Based on an average of 24 credit hours per student each year, that would mean a student would be paying $396.96 a year. Each year, the athletic department can make a proposal to a student athletic fee committee, and that is then presented to the Board of Trustees for approval. The Board previously approved a 25-cent increase that went into effect for the 2010-11 fiscal year.
Jacksonville and Campbell, both A-Sun schools with enrollments under 4,000, play FCS non-scholarship football, and the A-Sun’s Mercer (a private school with a 4,531 population) decided in November to go forward with its plan to also field an FCS non-scholarship team. JU and Campbell compete in the Pioneer League. Mercer likely will do the same.
The Carr Sports Associates study covered only scholarship football. There are several reasons FGCU is not interested in the other route: It is not going to spend tens and tens of millions of dollars to buy land and build a facility for non-scholarship football. There are only three non-scholarship leagues, and one of those is the Ivy League, and the few schools that do play non-scholarship football are much smaller.
In its 14th year, FGCU has grown from 2,580 students to approximately 12,000. About 78 percent of FGCU’s athletics funding comes from allocated revenues driven primarily by student fees. In the next five years, Carr expects FGCU’s athletics operating budget to increase to $9.4 million, and for it to finally be balanced. That’s without going forward with football.
Construction of a 15,000-seat stadium, two practice fields, parking and support service facilities would be around $90 million. And that doesn’t include the cost of the 100 acres FGCU would have to purchase to house football. FGCU’s 760-acre campus “which is almost half jurisdictional wetland,” the report stated, does not have room for football.
President Wilson Bradshaw, who admitted the numbers are daunting, will make a call on whether to pursue football, presenting his opinion to the Board of Trustees. That could come as soon as the next meeting on April 19. But it’s more likely that he simply will discuss it with the Trustees at that time.
Before that, Bradshaw will talk over the matter with his cabinet of Susan Evans, chief of staff and university spokesperson, general counsel Vee Leonard, vice president for advancement Steve Magiera, vice president of student affairs Mike Rollo, vice president for services and finance Joe Sheppard, and vice president for academic affairs Ron Toll.
Evans said Tuesday that Bradshaw still is “digesting the information” and has nothing to add at this point. Lutgert also hasn’t gone through the entire 178-page report.
Bradshaw told the Daily News after the report was presented, “Keep in mind, as Mr. Carr said, we’re only 12,000 students. It’s very difficult for a student body that size to support the kind of numbers that we saw. I have to look at the details of that.”
Lutgert, who said he hasn’t discussed the study with other Trustees due to Sunshine Laws that forbid it, said he knew the numbers would be daunting. But even he was a bit taken back by the Carr presentation.
“I knew those numbers would be high, but I wasn’t exactly sure the qualification of them and exactly how high they’d be,” he said. “They are significant numbers.”
FGCU athletic director Ken Kavanagh has declined to give an opinion on the report, preferring to wait until Bradshaw makes announces a decision.
But Lutgert was frank. If FGCU decides to field a football program, it would be years in the making.
Although the first step – the deliberations years during which FGCU would research the feasibility, hold forums and make a marketing assessment – has somewhat begun, it likely will continue, in some form, for several more years. It’s conceivable, though unlikely, that Bradshaw could decide to recommend going forward to the Trustees on April 19 or not far after. If the Trustees agreed, the year-long implementation phase – designing facilities, checking into conference options, earnest fund-raising, etc. – would begin.
Chances are, that’s a really long way off.
“Right now, it probably won’t work,” Lutgert said. “It’s probably 5-10 years down the road – 5-10 years down the road to make the decision to start doing it … that puts it at 10-15 years down the road.”
FGCU athletics: Board of Trustees chair admits adding football ‘insurmountable task’ right now
By DANA CALDWELL, The Naples Daily News