Last week the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) highlighted that football remains strong on campuses across the country as the number of four-year colleges and universities from all NCAA divisions, the NAIA and independents offering football currently stands at 774. The total number includes one college football team that will take the field for the first time this season and six additional programs that will take to the gridiron in the coming years. (Media release courtesy of the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame.)
One Program Launching in 2022
- Hilbert College (Hamburg, New York): NCAA Division III, Independent – President Michael S. Brophy, Athletics Director Tim Seil, Head Coach Jim Kubiak. First game of 2022: Saturday, Sept. 10, vs. Denison (OH).
Since 1978 when the NCAA changed its method for tracking attendance figures, the number of schools playing NCAA football (FBS, FCS, DII and DIII) has steadily increased by 181 schools from 484 in 1978 to 665 in 2021. Adding NAIA and independent schools playing football and schools launching programs in the coming years, there are now 774 four-year colleges and universities offering students an opportunity to play college football.
There are also 125 junior college football programs, 15 collegiate sprint football teams and 16 NAIA women’s flag football programs.
In the past six seasons alone (2016-21), 30 football programs have been added by NCAA, NAIA or independent institutions. All 774 schools that offer football will be represented on the three-story helmet wall at the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
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.
”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, there is plenty of room for expansion of the game at the collegiate level,” 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.
HILBERT COLLEGE (NY) KICKING OFF IN 2022
The planning and preparation at Hilbert College in Hamburg, New York, will come to fruition as it begins intercollegiate football this fall. The private college was founded in 1957 in the Catholic Franciscan tradition and boasts an enrollment of around 800 students.
In November 2021, Hilbert announced the addition of football as one of three new sports as part of the college’s plan calling for increased engagement, recruitment and retention of student-athletes. The college will be only the second NCAA Division III football program within a 30-mile radius of Buffalo, New York.
”As outlined in our strategic plan, Hilbert has always intended to grow our athletic offerings,” Hilbert College President Michael S. Brophy said during the announcement. “Given the current momentum around revitalizing our Hilbert campus and our tremendous community partners, we are energized to accelerate our planned athletics growth by one year.”
Hilbert has recently launched a capital campaign for a new NCAA Division III athletic complex, with a multipurpose artificial turf field.
The Hawks will play their football games at St. Francis High School while the campaign is on-going. The Hawks will be led by head coach Jim Kubiak, Navy’s all-time leading passer who previously served as an assistant coach at Mansfield University (PA) and in the Arena Football League. Hilbert will kick off its inaugural campaign at home on Sept. 10 against Denison (OH).
”I am both humbled and honored to have the opportunity to develop the Hilbert Football Program from the ground up,” Kubiak said. “Perhaps the most exciting aspect will be the chance to serve student-athletes in the WNY Region, fulfilling dreams of competing at the collegiate level while earning an outstanding education. It will be our mission to build a culture of championship quality and to set a standard of performance on and off the field, challenging our athletes to reach for all that they can be.”
FUTURE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PROGRAMS
Eastern University is a nationally recognized Christian university founded in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, in 1925 with a total undergraduate enrollment of around 2,000 students. The university announced the addition of an NCAA Division III football program in September 2021, with the Eagles beginning competition in 2023 as members of the Middle Atlantic Conference.
”We look forward to the many ways this will positively impact the student experience at Eastern,” said athletics director Eric McNelley after the announcement. “With the addition of football as well as cheer, dance and a pep band, students will have more opportunities to engage with our athletic department.”
Eastern signed an agreement with nearby Valley Forge Military Academy regarding the use of their football facilities, and the two institutions celebrated a groundbreaking last fall on a major overhaul of the field and the surrounding track and infrastructure. When complete, the facility will have a turf field, a resurfaced six-lane track and bleacher and press box areas for college football.
The football program at Eastern will be led by head coach Billy Crocker, who brings a wealth of experience with stints as an assistant at Albany, Villanova, Connecticut and Elon. At Villanova, Crocker served on the staff of College Football Hall of Fame coach Andy Talley and helped the Wildcats win the 2009 FCS National Championship.
”On top of the opportunity to lead a program, the unique challenge of starting the program from scratch was something that really drew me to this role,” Crocker said after being hired in December. “Very few coaches can say they were able to start a program from the ground up.”
One of the most unique college football teams will kick off for the first time in 2023 at Thomas University in Thomasville, Georgia. Announced in January, the team will compete in the NAIA’s Sun Conference and be comprised of all military service veterans.
Thomas University sees football as a transition vehicle for military veterans, as stated on its university website: “Service members learn how to function as an individual in the context of a team. Football mirrors that and it replicates the comradery of service life. Reinforcing those skills and values while veterans prepare for future careers means net zero waste.”
Thomas will fill out its roster through various ways, including its partnership with Athletes of Valor, an organization specifically dedicated to preparing active-duty service members for college athletics. Located on the Florida/Georgia line, the university is also in easy proximity to 23 major military installations.
Orlando Mitjans, a veteran assistant coach whose most recent stops include stints at The Citadel and Army, will be the program’s first head coach. He said he was drawn to the position at TU because of the unique way the program will help participants transition from military life back to civilian life through football.
”It’s an awesome opportunity to work with military men who every day put their lives on the line for us to keep us safe and to keep this country free,” he said after being hired in January. “They give me and these coaches…the opportunity to do what we enjoy. Why not give them the opportunity to experience something they enjoy during these two, three or four years that they will be with us while earning a degree? It will be an honor to coach these young military men.”
Previously featured by the NFF, Anderson University, a private university with an enrollment around 3,000 in Anderson, South Carolina, announced in October 2019 its plans to field a football team starting with the 2024 season. The Trojans will be led by head coach Bobby Lamb, and they are expected to compete at the NCAA Division II level in the South Atlantic Conference.
In May 2022, Anderson began construction of its new 45,000-square-foot Football Operations Center, which is scheduled to conclude ahead of the 2023-24 academic year. Located in the east end zone of Spero Financial Field at Melvin and Dollie Younts Stadium, the state-of-the-art facility will house coaches’ offices, locker rooms, team meeting rooms and a training and sports medicine center.
“Nothing is better than investing in people,” Coach Lamb said during the facility’s groundbreaking ceremony. “This facility will allow us to attract the finest student-athletes in the country.”
Founded in 1825, Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, is a selective, residential, national liberal arts college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The college previously fielded a football team from 1894-1941, with a brief attempted revival in the 1960s. College Football Hall of Fame coach Homer Norton headed the program in 1920s and 30s. More than 50 years later, the college announced it will bring the sport back with an expected initial season set for 2024.
”For more than 120 years, athletics has been an important part of the student experience at Centenary College,” president Christopher L. Holoman said during the announcement in November. “We haven’t played football here for quite some time, but the wait is over. Today, I am so excited and proud to announce that Centenary will be bringing college football back to Shreveport-Bossier City.”
Holoman also announced that Centenary has already received more than $1.25 million in gifts to support the re-establishment of football, and improvements will be made to Mayo Field for the facility to host the new team. Former LSU defensive lineman and Tulane assistant coach Byron Dawson, who starred in high school at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, has been hired as the team’s head coach.
”I believe that this is a great opportunity to bring college football to Shreveport-Bossier,” said Dawson after the announcement in March. “This is a unique and special moment for me: to be a head coach on the college level and to do it in the city that I love. Shreveport-Bossier needs college football and we will give our local student-athletes an option to play college football at home. To lay the foundation for a program at a great school like Centenary is exciting.”
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) has been considering adding football since at least 2016 when the university conducted a feasibility study led by College Football Hall of Fame Coach Mack Brown. A member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in the FCS, UTRGV was established in 2013 after the consolidation of the University of Texas at Brownsville and the University of Texas-Pan American, and it boasts an enrollment of more than 29,000 students.
The Vaqueros are expected to play their first football game in 2025 after the UTRGV student body approved a referendum in November 2021 that would increase the athletic fee for students by $11.25 per credit hour, up to 12 hours. The move will help pave the way for the creation of a football team, as well as spirit, marching band and women’s swimming and diving programs.
The increased student fees and the revenue it brings will be used to cover a large portion of the expenses. Other areas such as ticket sales, merchandise, sponsorships and donors are expected to cover the remainder of the costs. In February, it was announced that the UTRGV Foundation was allocating $1 million to the university to support the new programs.
“All of this is part of an extensive expansion of our campus life, more generally,” UTRGV President Guy Bailey told The Monitor. “I think what you’re going to see evolve at UTRGV is as rich a campus life as you’ll find any place like UTSA or UT Austin or any other university. This is a crucial part of that. Keeping students in the Valley is exactly what this referendum is about too.”
The university cites many benefits with the added programs, including expanding access to athletics throughout the Valley, as the football team plans to play home games at H-E-B Park in Edinburg and Sams Stadium in Brownsville with free transportation and free admission for students to home games at both campuses. Other benefits cited by UTRGV officials include nearly 500 new opportunities for student involvement, enhanced school spirit throughout the Valley, increased enrollment and a local economy boost.
”Having Division I football is going to be a game-changer for our institution,” UTRGV Vice President and Director of Athletics Chasse Conque told The Monitor. “Offering football and swimming will give us something a little special to offer to our campus community and region.”
West Virginia University Tech in Beckley, West Virginia, boasted more than 100 years of football when the program was shut down following the 2011 season. Although no specific details or timelines have been unveiled, WVU Tech President Dr. Carolyn Long announced football would be returning to the university during her annual address to campus in February.
”I’m proud to announce today that we’re going to be a part of a community-focused project,” she said during the address.
That project will include a baseball field, several all-purpose fields, an area for track and field activities and a building that will include offices, locker rooms and places for facility needs. However, the highlight of the project is a new football field, which will be converted from an existing soccer field.
The goal of the new complex is to keep residents of Beckley within the community instead of traveling elsewhere for activities. WVU Tech will apply for grants and work with state officials to fund the project so that none of the money for the field comes out of the university’s budget.
”That football field will be used to bring football back to the city,” said Long. “This is a project that is a win-win for everyone.”
NEW FOOTBALL PROGRAMS SEE SUCCESS
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 81 programs that have added football from 2008-21 have combined for four national championships, 81 conference titles and 109 postseason appearances.
In 2021, the University of Texas at San Antonio, which launched its program a decade earlier in 2011, completed the best season in its history after posting a 12-2 record and winning the Conference USA title. Elsewhere in the FBS, Georgia State, which launched in 2010, won its second-straight bowl game and posted eight victories on the season, the most in program history. UAB, which briefly stopped playing during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, has seen continued success since returning to the gridiron in 2017. The Blazers opened a brand-new stadium and capped their season with a win over No. 13 BYU in the Independence Bowl.
East Tennessee State and Kennesaw State, which both launched their programs in 2015, saw great success at the FCS level in 2021. East Tennessee State set a single-season record for wins with 11 while claiming its first outright Southern Conference title in program history and second league championship in four seasons. The Bucs finished in the top 10 of the final rankings, beat FBS school Vanderbilt during the season and reached the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs where they lost to eventual national champion North Dakota State.
Kennesaw State won its third Big South Conference title and completed its fourth season with more than 11 wins before falling to East Tennessee State in the second round of the FCS Playoffs. Also at the FCS level in 2021, Incarnate Word, which launched in 2009, won the Southland Conference title and reached the second round of the playoffs after setting a program record with 10 wins.
Notre Dame (OH), which launched its program in 2010, won its fourth consecutive conference title with an 11-2 record and reached the second round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs. After launching its program in 2009, New Haven (CT) won its first conference title since 2012 and reached the second round of the Division II Playoffs.
Anna Maria College (MA), which had never won more than two games in a season since its inaugural season in 2009, posted a 7-3 record in 2021; claimed its first conference title; and made its first appearance in the NCAA Division III Playoffs.
In the NAIA, Grand View (IA), which launched in 2008, claimed its 10th conference title and posted a 14-1 record while appearing in the NAIA national championship game. Lindsey Wilson (KY), which held its inaugural season in 2010, claimed its third-straight Mid-South Conference Bluegrass Division title and third consecutive undefeated regular season in 2021. The Blue Raiders, who reached the semifinals of the NAIA Playoffs, also saw their quarterback Cameron Dukes honored as the first NFF National Scholar-Athlete in their history.
The quarterfinals of the 2021 NAIA Playoffs included Concordia (MI) (established in 2011), which won its second consecutive league title, and Keiser (FL) (established in 2018), which won its third-straight division title. Other NAIA Playoff teams included Reinhardt (GA) (established in 2013), which claimed its sixth-straight division title, and Ottawa-Arizona (established in 2018), which won its second conference championship. Although it did not make the NAIA Playoffs, Texas Wesleyan posted a 7-3 record – its best season since restarting its program in 2017.
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.
GROWTH IN WOMEN’S FLAG FOOTBALL
The NAIA women’s flag football league, which was created in partnership with NFL FLAG, concluded its second season this past spring with 12 NAIA schools taking part. The second NAIA Women’s Flag Football Finals were hosted by the Atlanta Falcons May 12-14 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and Ottawa (KS) repeated as the national champion after defeating Thomas (GA), 24-20, in the championship game following three days of competition.
”With the Atlanta Falcons, females and flag [football] are so crucial to us because we really want to see the game grow at the grassroots level,” said Falcons community relations manager Danielle Renner.
Four more NAIA schools are expected to add women’s flag football programs in 2023, including Bethel (KS), Campbellsville (KY), Graceland (IA) and Reinhardt (GA). The goal is for more teams to join in the future.
There has also been a recent push from the NFL to introduce men’s and women’s flag football as Olympic sports by the 2028 Summer Games.
You can read more of this story at: https://footballfoundation.org/news/2022/8/2/football-remains-strong-774-colleges-and-universities-offering-football.aspx