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Colleges Continue to Add Football Teams
Five schools set to launch in 2012 with 17 more new programs in the works.
The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) highlighted today that new college football teams are set to take the field for the first time this season, joining 28 new programs that have begun play since 2008 and 17 more programs set to launch between 2013 and 2015 including 10 NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision squads.
“It’s exciting to see the launch of these programs because they are giving high school 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 50 institutions listed below, 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 trend stretches back for decades. Since 1978 when the NCAA changed its method for tracking attendance figures, the number of schools playing NCAA football has steadily increased by 154 schools.
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.
The schools have added programs at all levels of play in every region of the country, experiencing successes that run the gamut. Their achievements include notching impressive attendance figures; attracting increased enrollment; garnering national publicity; expanding their donor bases; earning playoff berths; and receiving invitations to join conferences at the next level.
For example, the University of Texas at San Antonio, which launched its program last year as a Football Championship Subdivision independent program, attracted 56,743 fans to its opener against Northeastern State (Okla.) at the Alamodome. The Roadrunners continued to post high attendance marks throughout the season, topping 25,000 spectators in all six home games and attracting an average of 35,521 per game. UTSA’s 35,521-per game attendance would have led the Football Championship Subdivision, and the 213,126 total attendance mark would have also led FCS by nearly 15,000 fans. Moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2012, they will play in the WAC for one year before accepting an invitation to join Conference USA in 2013. The Roadrunners’ 35,521 home attendance average would have also led the WAC and ranked second in Conference USA last year.
Georgia State, which launched its program in 2010 at the FCS level and will begin play in the FBS Sun Belt Conference in 2013, has seen annual donations to its Panther Athletic Club Annual Fund grow steadily from $32,000 and 230 supporters in the 2009 to a projected $600,000 and 1,200 individuals this fiscal year. The Panthers program has received unprecedented national publicity for the school, including the front cover of ESPN the Magazine and a national televised game against Alabama. The team’s home contests in the Georgia Dome have averaged 15,600 fans during the past two seasons, including 30,237 for the inaugural game.
Old Dominion, which joined the Colonial Athletic Association for its inaugural season one year prior to Georgia State, posted a 10-3 record in 2011, placing second in the Colonial Athletic Association and reaching the second round of the FCS playoffs in the program’s first year of playoff eligibility. The Monarchs drew an average attendance of 19,818 fans over seven games, ranking sixth in FCS. The program was one of 12 FCS teams to draw an average of 100 percent or more of stadium capacity throughout the 2011 season. They have accepted an invitation to compete in Conference USA beginning in 2013 at the FBS level.
South Alabama, which fielded a club team in 2009 and will compete in the FBS Sun Belt Conference this year, has boasted average attendance for the past three years of more than 18,000 fans, exceeding the minimum FBS attendance requirement by more than 17 percent. Jaguar season ticket sales have also been robust with more than 8,400 sold each year, ranking the school second in the Sun Belt Conference. School officials also mention football as a factor in increased enrollment, which has expanded from 13,090 in 2006 to more than 15,000 this past year.
Lamar University, which brought back its football program in 2010 after a 21-year hiatus, led the Southland Conference in average attendance this past year, drawing 14,443 fans per game and ranking them 17th in the FCS. Like South Alabama, school administrators also cite the Cardinals football program as a major contributor to the significant rise in enrollment, which surpassed 14,021 this past fall. The size of the student body has steadily grown from an enrollment of 9,906 since 2006 when talk of football began in earnest on the Beaumont campus.
Campbell University, which re-launched its football program in 2008 and plays in the Pioneer Football League at the FCS level, has seen applications to the school nearly quadruple from 3,259 in 2007 to 12,000 applicants in 2011. Administrators at the school, which accepts around 1,100 students each year, credit football for playing a significant role in the increase.
“The return of college football to Campbell University has energized the entire campus community,” said Campbell Athletics Director Bob Roller. “We have enjoyed tremendous support from our students, alumni and the surrounding counties. As we add lights to our stadium for this coming season, we expect to draw additional fan support. It was absolutely the correct move by our administration to make this decision.”
NCAA Division II included squads from The University of New Haven (Conn.) and Colorado State-Pueblo. NCAA Division III added St. Scholastica (Minn.)and NAIA included Robert Morris University (Ill.).
On the conference level, The Patriot League announced in February that it would allow schools to provide football scholarships starting with the 2013 class. Collectively, the seven members who play football in the conference (Bucknell University, Colgate University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, College of the Holy Cross, Lafayette College and Lehigh University) will have 420 football scholarships at their disposal after the transition. The scholarships represent a significant increase in the number of student-athletes who will have the opportunity to continue their educations while benefiting from their on-field experiences.
“The approach will allow our member schools flexibility to determine the most effective use of their financial aid resources to attract highly-qualified Division I scholar-athletes in a very competitive academic and athletic marketplace,” said Patriot League Executive Director Carolyn Schlie Femovich in a statement when the announcement was made. “The introduction of this financial aid model for football will strengthen the Patriot League’s ability to compete for outstanding student-athletes while continuing to uphold the high academic standards of the League and its member institutions.”
FCS Programs launched in 2011 were Georgia State University (Atlanta, Ga.), Lamar University (Beaumont, Texas), Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Va.) and Campbell University (Buies Creek, N.C.).
FCS Programs launching in 2013-2015 are Mercer University (Macon, Ga.), Stetson University (DeLand, Fla.), University of North Carolina at Charlotte (Charlotte, N.C.), Houston Baptist University (Houston, Texas), Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, Ga.) and University of New Orleans (New Orleans, La.).
By The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame