SBJ/August 20-26, 2012/In Depth

Five schools get football programs under way

When the Lindenwood University-Belleville football team takes the field Sept. 1, its unique maroon-and-gray striped field will likely garner most of the media coverage. The first-year team is one of five new college football teams set to debut this season, joining 28 new programs that have begun play since 2008.

Annual data compiled by the National Football Foundation shows that the growth will continue; 17 more programs are set to launch between 2013 and 2015. The group began tracking college football patterns in 2009, the year Northeastern University in Boston and Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y., dropped decades-old football programs, citing low returns on high costs.

Lindenwood University’s maroon-and-gray striped field has generated plenty of buzz.
Photo by: Lindenwood University
“There didn’t seem to be a correct balance in the reporting, because any time a school has to discontinue their football program, they always do it for good reasons,” said NFF President and CEO Steve Hatchell. “But the fact is, college football continues to grow, and with that growth comes a lot more higher-education opportunities for young men to go to college, play football and get a degree. Most of the guys at the lower-level schools know they are not going to the NFL — they are playing because they like to play. And for a young man to get a scholarship to go to college, that’s a blessing, a real blessing.”

This year’s additions are Division III Misericordia University (Dallas, Pa.) and four NAIA schools: Lindenwood University-Belleville (Belleville, Ill.), Point University (West Point, Ga.), Bluefield College (Bluefield, Va.), and Wayland Baptist University (Plainview, Texas). Additionally, more than $69 million was spent on stadium construction at facilities below Division I for 2012.

Next fall’s rookie crop includes the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Mercer University, which will each play in a new stadium, and Stetson University, which will play in an extensively upgraded facility. All three will compete at the Football Championship Subdivision level, although Charlotte will move up to FBS status for the 2015 season.

The growth results in a steady stream of business to facility vendors, especially to schools that want to make a splash.

Lindenwood’s EnviroTurf, for example, will be one of only four college fields in the country to be a color other than
green, and the only one in the NAIA. The day the turf was revealed last month, it was No. 1 on Yahoo’s trending sports stories.

And when Lamar (Texas) University restarted its football program in 2010, the school’s $30 million stadium renovation included a 1,258-square-foot Daktronics end zone scoreboard, more than 100 square feet larger than an end zone board the company installed for the University of Louisville just a few months earlier.

“LED pricing has dropped substantially over the last five years,” said Daktronics’ product marketing manager, Marty Brown, who has been with the company since 1997. “This is good for second-tier schools.”

NCAA data released last year show that with a median annual expense of just under $4 million, it costs less than half as much to operate a Division II football program as it does an FCS program. The operating cost is about $10.1 million for programs in the FCS, according to the report.

But Hatchell, who was the first commissioner of the Big 12 Conference and whose college football résumé includes serving as the executive director of the FedEx Orange Bowl, said college presidents below the FBS and FCS levels are not expecting a direct revenue gain simply because they add football.

For example, Hatchell said, for many schools that have faced years of declining enrollment among men, adding football provides an immediate boost. The U.S. Department of Education projects that by 2019, women will account for 59 percent of total undergraduate enrollment and 61 percent of total post-baccalaureate enrollment at the nation’s colleges and universities. And the gap is even greater among minorities.

In addition, getting alumni to return to campus for organized events during parents weekends and homecomings gives school development offices an opportunity to connect with potential donors in a social setting.

But the benefit of adding a football program most often cited by college administrators, Hatchell said, is that it adds a sense of community on campus and among the alumni.

“Football is such a unifying element to a school. Students and faculty come back in the fall and football starts right away, and once a week everyone is together for one cause,” Hatchell said. “It doesn’t have to be a huge program where every week the goal is to play for the national championship, but it’s a nice way to connect the whole community.”

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