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Stetson might give green light for football
DELAND – Does Stetson University have a football team in the near future?
Stetson president Wendy B. Libby certainly sounded optimistic in an e-mail she sent to the Hatters’ community of faculty, staff and students Thursday night.
“We are excited about the future of Stetson and the addition of both football and (women’s) lacrosse to our campus and the community,” the e-mail concluded. “These programs will make a significant contribution to the achievement of the strategic priorities of our University and DeLand. Go Hatters!”
University officials have been exploring the possibility of bringing back Hatters football for more than one year. They’ve been working behind the scenes to raise funds to start an NCAA Division I non-scholarship program (using the Ivy League model) and may be just inches away from reaching the goal line.
A proposal will come before the DeLand City Commission at 5:15 p.m. Monday at DeLand City Hall that would result in a $5.6 million improvement and revitalization plan for the Earl Brown Park complex, including $2.2 million that would be put into Spec Martin Memorial Stadium.
Stetson would partner with DeLand for Spec Martin’s improvements similar to the way Melching Field at Conrad Park was funded. Stetson would contribute an average of $73,000 per year for 20 years – or $1.46 million total – to pay off debt associated with the Spec Martin improvements.
“It would definitely have a significant positive impact on our ability to bring football back and seek membership in the Pioneer Football League,” Stetson athletics director Jeff Altier said Thursday. “If it is a go … the facility improvements would make a huge difference in our direction and our decisions.”
Spec Martin, which also is the home of DeLand High School football, will undergo such capital improvements – if the plan is approved – as a new 3,500-square-foot press box, 300 premium seats, a 2,200-square-foot training and locker room, upgrades to the existing locker rooms, a new scoreboard, lighting and sound system.
The commission is being asked to support the project now in part because of a timetable for Stetson to be admitted into the Pioneer Football League for the fall of 2013. Joining the PFL is an integral part of the plan because the league is made up almost entirely of private schools that play other sports at the scholarship-funded Division I level. While the football-only league covers many parts of the country, there are natural regional rivalries with Mercer (Ga.), Jacksonville and Davidson (N.C.).
Another factor affecting the timing is if Stetson wants to be on the gridiron in 2013, it needs to get a head coach in place this spring to start the recruiting process. The 2012 fall would be set aside for practice heading into the first season the following year, Altier said.
Stetson could make a formal announcement concerning the resurrection of its football program as early as Monday night.
“Stetson had a window of opportunity to meet and move ahead, but it’s a little bit of a chicken-and-egg thing,” DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar said Thursday night. “They need to know they have a place to play.”
Apgar said stadium improvements fall in line with the city’s goals of revitalizing the Earl Brown Park complex. He pointed to the successful partnership the city and Stetson have enjoyed with Melching Field at Conrad Park as an example of past cooperation between the city and university.
“It certainly creates opportunities to bring in other sporting events, too,” Apgar said.
Libby, in her statement to the Stetson community, noted numerous objectives could be met with the addition of football and women’s lacrosse. The university has set goals of increasing student enrollment to 3,000 by 2016, attracting more students from outside Florida, making campus life more vibrant, improving student retention and enhancing alumni activities.
Apgar noted studies show a college football program would enhance the quality of life in DeLand, as well as provide an economic boost to the community.
Altier called it a “win-win” for the city and university.
“We have such a long success record with partnerships with the city of DeLand,” Altier said. “It goes all the way back to the 1880s when the university was founded. We would just be thrilled to work together to reintroduce football, and this (proposal) is a pivotal piece of that.”
Stetson has not yet reached its funding goals for the program, but is ready to move ahead nonetheless.
“Although there are still funds that need to be raised, both the administration and the Board of Trustees support moving ahead with the project,” Libby’s statement said.
The Hatters last fielded a football team in 1956. From 1901 through the ‘56 season, Stetson compiled a 155-127-27 record.
By SEAN KERNAN, The Daytona Beach News-Journal