Six schools will kick off their inaugural seasons in the fall; 27 football programs have been added in the last six seasons alone including five that launched their seasons during the pandemic. (Press release courtesy of the National Football Foundation.)
IRVING, Texas (Aug. 5, 2021) – The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) highlighted today that football remains strong on campuses across the country as six college football teams will take the field for the first time this season. Adding the one additional university that will take the field in 2024, the number of schools among all NCAA divisions, the NAIA and independents offering football currently stands at 765.
Six Programs Launching in 2021
- Bluefield State College (Bluefield, West Virginia): NCAA Division II, Independent – President Robin Capehart, Athletics Director Derrick Price, Head Coach Tony Coaxum.
- Judson University (Elgin, Illinois): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association – President Gene Crume Jr., Athletics Director TBD, Head Coach Dan Paplaczyk.
- Keystone College (La Plume, Pennsylvania): NCAA Division III, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference – President Tracy Brundage, Athletics Director Ryan Novitsky, Head Coach Justin Higgins.
- Lincoln University (Oakland, California): Division and Conference TBD – President Mikhail Brodsky, Athletics Director/Head Coach Desmond Gumbs.
- Mount Marty University (Yankton, South Dakota): NAIA, Great Plains Athletic Conference – President Marcus Long, Interim Athletics Director Andy Bernatow, Head Coach John Michaletti.
- Post University (Waterbury, Connecticut): NCAA Division II, Independent – President John L. Hopkins, Athletics Director Ronnie Palmer, Head Coach Adam Schultz.
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 81 institutions listed below that have implemented firm plans during the past decade 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.
“No other sport contributes more to the vibrancy of a college campus than football, and we are very pleased to highlight those schools that have added our great game,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “University and college presidents clearly see the value of having programs on their campuses, and we applaud them for understanding the role football can play in the educational experience of all their students.”
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.
“With more than one million high school students playing football and more than 93,000 spots on college teams, there is plenty of room for expansion,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning. “Many of these colleges clearly recognize that football can play an important role in encouraging students to continue their educations by enticing them to enroll.”
According to a 2015 study of five small universities published in College Planning & Management by Virginia Wesleyan University President Dr. Scott Miller and former Carlow University (PA) President Dr. Marylouise Fennell, adding sports teams and facilities, especially football and marching bands, can fuel an enrollment boost. The study found that each of the five institutions experienced a six-year increase of 26 percent or more, with one school doubling its enrollment during that period.
The planning and preparation of six football programs will come to fruition as they begin intercollegiate play this fall: Bluefield State College in Bluefield, West Virginia; Keystone College in La Plume, Pennsylvania; Judson University in Elgin, Illinois; Lincoln University in Oakland, California; Mount Marty College in Yankton, South Dakota; and Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut.
For the first time in more than 40 years, Bluefield State College in Bluefield, West Virginia, will field a football team this fall as one of 12 new sports to its athletics department. When Bluefield State President Robin Capehart was hired in 2019, he was tasked with increasing enrollment and fundraising. He told HBCU Gameday that he wants football to “be a financial benefit to the school” and “to help build the school’s profile.”
“I firmly believe you cannot build a college on athletics,” Capehart told HBCU Gameday. “You cannot do it. You have to have a strong academic core, a strong academic base where students want to come to get that education. But you can enhance your enrollment through athletics. Especially Division II athletics.”
Led by head coach Tony Coaxum, the Big Blue will compete as an NCAA Division II independent and will play their first game at home on Saturday, Sept. 4, vs. Lawrence Tech (MI).
“Coach Coaxum and his team have done an incredible job of pulling off the near-impossible: finding the players and the opponents to make a season in less than six months,” Bluefield State Athletics Director Derrick Price said in an April release. “They know how important football is to our alumni, what it means to re-start a tradition that includes two national championships.”
Keystone College in La Plume, Pennsylvania, had planned on kicking off its inaugural season in 2020, but the team was unable to take the field after the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference canceled the season due to the pandemic. The NCAA Division III program led by coach Justin Higgins will now take the field for the first time this fall, with its inaugural game set for Saturday, Sept. 4, at Wilkes (PA). Many may remember the Keystone College pennant prominently featured in the TV series “The Office,” which was set in nearby Scranton, Pennsylvania.
In October 2018, Judson University, an evangelical Christian institution in Elgin, Illinois, announced the addition of football as the school’s 20th sport. The Eagles will kick off their inaugural season as a member of the NAIA’s Mid-States Football Association with a home game on Saturday, Sept. 4, against Taylor (IN).
“It is honestly a dream come true and I feel blessed to have the opportunity,” Dan Paplaczyk said after being hired as Judson’s head coach in March 2020. “Being a college head football coach is my dream job. It is an opportunity of a lifetime, especially getting to have such a responsibility on the ground floor of starting the program.”
Lincoln University, a small private university founded in 1919 in Oakland, California, is the most recent school to announce the addition of football, which is one of three sports that will be part of the university’s first ever athletics program. The team is expected to take the field for the first time this fall, with its division and conference affiliations still to be determined.
In April 2019, Mount Marty University, a private Benedictine institution in Yankton, South Dakota, joined the ranks of schools announcing future football programs. With just over 1,000 students enrolled, the college believes that football will bring more students to the “football-crazy town” that has been without a college team since the close of Yankton College in 1984. A member of the NAIA’s Great Plains Athletic Conference, Mount Marty will play its inaugural game at home on Saturday, Sept. 4, against Dakota Wesleyan (SD).
In December 2020, Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut, announced it was transitioning its Sprint Football team to the NCAA Division II level, and the Eagles will play as an independent this fall.
“We are excited to transition our Sprint Football program to this next level,” Post athletics director Ronnie Palmer said after the announcement. “We feel as though this move parallels the growth of the university and high caliber student-athletes we are recruiting. As we turn our focus to evolving to the NCAA Division II level, we look forward to building new relationships, rivalries, and raising the bar of Eagles football even higher while also recognizing that Sprint Football was the foundation for this move.”
In October 2019, Anderson University, a private university with an enrollment around 3,000 in Anderson, South Carolina, announced plans to field a football team for the 2024 season. The Trojans expect to compete at the NCAA Division II level in the South Atlantic Conference.
Upstate South Carolina philanthropist and friend of Anderson University, Dr. Melvin Younts, has provided $3 million as a challenge gift to raise an additional $3 million needed to field a team.
“After years of discussion, careful consideration and operating from a position of academic and financial strength, Anderson University’s Board of Trust is adding a Trojan football program as its next successful athletic team,” said Anderson University President Evans P. Whitaker. “In the past several years, Anderson has experienced exponential growth in enrollment, added innovative academic programs and enjoyed the best national and regional rankings in the history of the University...With this firm foundation, and the magnificent gift we’ve secured, the time is right to offer Trojan football to our community.”
In July, Anderson announced Bobby Lamb as the school’s first head football coach. A former standout quarterback at Furman under College Football Hall of Fame Coach Dick Sheridan, Lamb has experience as a head coach at his alma mater and at Mercer, where he helped relaunch the football team in 2013.
The schools featured in this release have added programs at every level of play and in every region of the country, experiencing successes that run the gamut. In all, the 74 programs that have added football from 2008-20 have combined for four national championships, 64 conference titles and 92 postseason appearances.
The five programs that launched during the 2020-21 season all deserve praise for persevering and making the necessary adjustments to have their student-athletes safely and successfully take the field for their inaugural seasons. Florida Memorial played three games in September 2020 while Barton (NC), Erskine (SC) and Madonna (MI) all played shortened seasons in spring 2021. Barton and Erskine opened their seasons against each other, with Erskine winning what was the first game for each college in more than 70 years. Both programs will join NCAA Division II’s South Atlantic Conference as football-only members starting with the 2022 season. Roosevelt (IL), which added football after acquiring and integrating NAIA football playing university Robert Morris (IL), posted a stellar 6-1 record in its inaugural season played this spring.
After launching the program in 2010, Coach Chris Oliver and Lindsey Wilson (KY) claimed the first national title in program history following an impressive 45-21 win over Northwestern (IA) in the 2020-21 NAIA National Championship. The 11-0 Blue Raiders, who reached the NAIA semifinals in 2019, also claimed their second consecutive Mid-South Conference Bluegrass Division title.
Elsewhere in the NAIA, Keiser (FL), which launched in 2018, won its second consecutive Mid-South Conference Sun Division title in 2020-21 and finished the season with a 9-1 record after falling to eventual national champion Lindsey Wilson (KY) in the semifinals. Reinhardt (GA), which began play in 2013, claimed its fifth consecutive Mid-South Conference Appalachian Division title in 2020-21 and finished the year 9-1 after falling to Keiser in the NAIA quarterfinals. Concordia (MI), which launched in 2011, won the Mid-States Football Association Mideast League title in 2020-21 and finished with a 6-1 record after falling to Lindsey Wilson (KY) in the NAIA quarterfinals. Grand View (IA), which began its program in 2008, won its ninth conference title and reached the NAIA quarterfinals in 2020-21 after reaching the semifinals in 2019.
At the NCAA Division II level in 2020-21, Notre Dame (OH), which launched in 2010, defeated Charleston (WV) in the first-ever Mountain East Conference championship game to secure the program’s third-straight conference title. In 2019, the team reached the Division II quarterfinals.
At the NCAA Division III level in 2020-21, Berry (GA), which launched its program in 2013, claimed its fifth straight Southern Athletic Association title after defeating Hendrix (AR), who also launched in 2013, in the conference championship game following a shortened spring season.
After launching its program in 2013, Charlotte made its first-ever bowl appearance following the 2019 season. After reaching the NCAA Division II national championship game in just its second season in 2017, West Florida went all the way to the national title in 2019 after posting a 13-2 record. At the NAIA level in 2019, the College of Idaho won the Frontier Conference and finished 11-1 after falling in the NAIA quarterfinals and Ottawa-Arizona won the Sooner Athletic Conference title in just its second year of competition.
These are just some of the impressive achievements at schools that have recently added football. Others include notching impressive attendance figures; attracting increased enrollment; garnering national publicity; expanding their donor bases; and receiving invitations to join conferences at the next level.
The addition of a football program often entails a long, calculated process that frequently begins with studies conducted by task forces. Schools are more likely to begin the football feasibility process if there is significant support from the community.
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) in Edinburg, Texas, which boasts an enrollment of more than 26,000 students after the consolidation of the University of Texas at Brownsville and the University of Texas-Pan American, continues to explore the possible addition of a football program. According to an email obtained by Texas Football in January 2021, UTRGV submitted a letter of intent to begin an FCS football program within five years, although the school’s administration minimized the commitment, “noting that the school is simply at the beginning of a long process and that there is no timeline or commitment.”
The recent push for football at UTRGV comes on the heels of the announcement that its conference, the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), is adding five new institutions and reinstating football at the FCS level beginning with the 2022 season. If the Vaqueros added football, they would compete against fellow Texas schools Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Tarleton State in the expanded conference.
A football team has long been talked about at UTRGV, and the university previously conducted a feasibility study in 2016 led by College Football Hall of Fame Coach Mack Brown.
In May 2021, Talladega College, an HBCU in Talladega, Alabama, announced it was looking into the possibility of bringing back football after an 80-year hiatus, with a feasibility study recently approved by the school’s Board of Trustees. Talladega was an HBCU football power in the early 1920s, winning a pair of Black College National Championships
“Given the success of our academic and athletic programs; the recent growth and transformation of the college; and the myriad benefits of having a football program, now may be the time to revive our team,” Talladega College president Billy C. Hawkins told CBS42. “This could be great for the college, the community and central Alabama. However, our decision will be based upon the findings of a formal feasibility study.”
For years, the small, private school has been known as the HBCU with a marching band, but no football team. But the NAIA school is in the heart of football country and clearly, a football program could bring excitement to the campus and community.
“The band would love to actually march at home games, and many students are excited about the possibility of attending football games on campus,” Shakayah Midgette, a 2021 graduate who served as student representative to the Talladega College Board of Trustees, told CBS42. “School pride has increased a great deal, and I believe a football team would help it to increase even further. Football would attract new students as well as sponsors.”
Football has also seen recent growth at the collegiate varsity level in two other areas: sprint football and women’s flag football.
Sprint football is a full-contact sport for players weighing 178 pounds or less that has the same rules as regular college football. Since 1934, intercollegiate student-athletes on the East Coast have benefited from participation in the sport, which currently is organized under the direction of the nine-member Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL).
Beginning in 2022, sprint football will come to Middle America for the first time. The addition of the separate Midwest Sprint Football League (MSFL), with its own rules and championships, will represent the largest single-year expansion of the sport in nearly 90 years. While NCAA and NAIA football emphasize strength and body weight, sprint football values speed and agility. As described by The New York Times, sprint football is known for its “quick players” and its “fast-paced style of play.”
Six private colleges and universities in the Midwest and Upper South are the charter members of the MSFL, which will begin league play in fall 2022. The charter members of the MSFL are Bellarmine University (KY), Calumet College of St. Joseph (IN), Fontbonne University (MO), Midway University (KY), Quincy University (IL) and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (IN). Five of the six MSFL charter members do not currently sponsor varsity football in NCAA or NAIA competition. The sixth, Quincy University, plays varsity football in NCAA Division II and will sponsor both teams.
“Sprint football will be new to some fans in the Midwest and Upper South, but it won’t take long for our part of the country to get excited about sprint football,” said Dr. Nancy Blattner, President of Fontbonne University and founding Chair of the MSFL Board of Governors. “Sprint offers a distinctive and fast-paced approach to playing football at the highest level. Our six member institutions are working together to provide new opportunities to student-athletes, who will take football in our four-state region in a different and inspiring direction.”
In 2020, the NAIA announced a partnership with NFL FLAG and Reigning Champs Experiences (RCX) to develop league infrastructure and operations for the first women’s flag football competition governed by a collegiate athletics association. In its first season played in the spring of 2021, 13 NAIA schools established women’s flag football programs. The NAIA’s website now shows 15 schools offering the sport.
Ten teams competed in the inaugural NAIA Women’s Flag Football Finals, which were held May 4-8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Ottawa (KS) defeated Keiser (FL), 7-6, to win the inaugural NAIA National Championship behind the leadership of head coach Liz Sowers, who hopes to see women’s flag football continue to grow.
“A lot of girls like myself played college basketball and never had the opportunity to play collegiate flag or tackle football,” Sowers told the Ottawa Herald. “These girls are here because they truly love the game...I hope other colleges will realize how big it is and jump on board. I hope high schools start to realize these are opportunities that are available.
One Program Launching in Future Seasons
- Anderson University (Anderson, South Carolina): NCAA Division II, South Atlantic Conference (2024) – President Evans P. Whitaker, Vice President for Athletics Bert Epting, Head Coach Bobby Lamb.
Five Programs Launched in 2020
- Barton College (Wilson, North Carolina): NCAA Division II, Independent
- Erskine College (Due West, South Carolina): NCAA Division II, Independent
- Florida Memorial University (Miami Gardens, Florida): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Madonna University (Livonia, Michigan): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Roosevelt University (Chicago, Illinois): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
Four Programs Launched in 2019
- Clarke University (Dubuque, Iowa): NAIA, Heart of America Athletic Conference
- Franklin Pierce University (Rindge, New Hampshire): NCAA Division II, Northeast-10 Conference
- St. Thomas University (Miami Gardens, Florida): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Wheeling University (Wheeling, West Virginia): NCAA Division II, Mountain East Conference
Seven Programs Launched in 2018
- Allen University (Columbia, South Carolina): NCAA Division II, Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
- Alvernia University (Reading, Pennsylvania): NCAA Division III, Middle Atlantic Conference
- Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Indiana): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Keiser University (West Palm Beach, Florida): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Lawrence Technological University (Southfield, Michigan): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Ottawa University-Arizona (Surprise, Arizona): NAIA, Sooner Athletic Conference
- University of New England (Biddeford, Maine): NCAA Division III, Commonwealth Coast Football
Four Programs Launched in 2017
- Dean College (Franklin, Massachusetts): NCAA Division III, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference
- St. Andrews University (Laurinburg, North Carolina): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Texas Wesleyan University (Fort Worth, Texas): NAIA, Sooner Athletic Conference
- University of Alabama at Birmingham (Birmingham, Alabama): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Conference USA
Three Programs Launched in 2016
- Davenport University (Grand Rapids, Michigan): NCAA Division II, Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
- University of Texas of the Permian Basin (Odessa, Texas): NCAA Division II, Lone Star Conference
- University of West Florida (Pensacola, Florida): NCAA Division II, Gulf South Conference
Four Programs Launched in 2015
- East Tennessee State University (Johnson City, Tennessee): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southern Conference
- Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan): NCAA Division III, Upper Midwest Athletic Conference
- Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, Georgia): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Big South Conference
- Lyon College (Batesville, Arkansas): NAIA, Sooner Athletic Conference
Six Programs Launched in 2014
- Arizona Christian University (Glendale, Arizona): NAIA, Sooner Athletic Conference
- College of Idaho (Caldwell, Idaho): NAIA, Frontier Conference
- George Fox University (Newberg, Oregon): NCAA Division III, Northwest Conference
- Limestone University (Gaffney, South Carolina): NCAA Division II, South Atlantic Conference
- Missouri Baptist University (St. Louis, Missouri): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Southeastern University (Lakeland, Florida): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
11 Programs Launched in 2013
- Alderson Broaddus University (Philippi, West Virginia): NCAA Division II, Mountain East Conference
- Berry College (Mount Berry, Georgia): NCAA Division III, Southern Athletic Association
- Hendrix College (Conway, Arkansas): NCAA Division III, Southern Athletic Association
- Houston Baptist University (Houston, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southland Conference
- Mercer University (Macon, Georgia): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southern Conference
- Oklahoma Baptist University (Shawnee, Oklahoma): NCAA Division II, Great American Conference
- Reinhardt University (Waleska, Georgia): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Southwestern University (Georgetown, Texas): NCAA Division III, American Southwest Conference
- Stetson University (DeLand, Florida): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Pioneer Football League
- University of North Carolina at Charlotte (Charlotte, North Carolina): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Conference USA
- Warner University (Lake Wales, Florida): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
Four Programs Launched in 2012
- Bluefield College (Bluefield, Virginia): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Misericordia University (Dallas, Pennsylvania): NCAA Division III, Middle Atlantic Conference
- Point University (West Point, Georgia): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Wayland Baptist University (Plainview, Texas): NAIA, Sooner Athletic Conference
Seven Programs Launched in 2011
- Ave Maria University (Ave Maria, Florida): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Concordia University Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, Michigan): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Presentation College (Aberdeen, South Dakota): NAIA, North Star Athletic Association
- Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Stevenson University (Owings Mills, Maryland): NCAA Division III, Middle Atlantic Conference
- University of Texas at San Antonio (San Antonio, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Conference USA
- Virginia University of Lynchburg (Lynchburg, Virginia): National Christian College Athletic Association
Six Programs Launched in 2010
- Georgia State University (Atlanta, Georgia): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Sun Belt Conference
- Lamar University (Beaumont, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southland Conference
- Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Kentucky): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Notre Dame College (South Euclid, Ohio): NCAA Division II, Mountain East Conference
- Pacific University (Forest Grove, Oregon): NCAA Division III, Northwest Conference
- University of South Alabama (Mobile, Alabama): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Sun Belt Conference
Five Programs Launched in 2009
- Anna Maria College (Paxton, Massachusetts): NCAA Division III, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference
- Castleton University (Castleton, Vermont): NCAA Division III, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference
- Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Virginia): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Conference USA
- University of New Haven (West Haven, Connecticut): NCAA Division II, Northeast-10 Conference
- University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southland Conference
Eight Programs Launched in 2008
- Campbell University (Buies Creek, North Carolina): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Big South Conference
- College of St. Scholastica (Duluth, Minnesota): NCAA Division III, Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
- Colorado State University-Pueblo (Pueblo, Colorado): NCAA Division II, Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference
- Dordt University (Sioux Center, Iowa): NAIA, Great Plains Athletic Conference
- Grand View University (Des Moines, Iowa): NAIA, Heart of America Athletic Conference
- Kentucky Christian University (Grayson, Kentucky): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Lake Erie College (Painesville, Ohio): NCAA Division II, Great Midwest Athletic Conference
- Lincoln University (Lincoln University, Pennsylvania): NCAA Division II, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association