I never knew that the University of Texas at Arlington had ever had football, but they did, up until 1985. Now they're talking about reviving it, and this Star Telegram article details the story. A couple of bits to comment on:
The initiative began with a UTA Student Congress referendum that proposed a $2 per semester hour increase in the Student Athletic Fee. This spring, UTA's student body passed the measure by a 2-to-1 margin in the largest student-voter turnout ever for a one-day vote at UTA.
The fee increase is expected to bring in an extra $1.25 million per school year. Josh Warren, UTA's former student body president who kickstarted the athletic fee increase to help fund sports expansion, called that a conservative estimate.
The student leaders were well-spoken and well-informed. Rather than brush off the Student Congress, UTA President Jim Spaniolo, who is also pursuing a mid-sized Special Events Center that could be used for concerts and basketball, became serious. In August, UTA hired Chuck Neinas of Neinas Sports Services, a sports consultant firm based in Boulder, Colo., and paid him $23,000 to conduct a sports-expansion feasibility study.
Though it might sound strange, Warren, who did most of the research and wrote much of the initiative to increase the Student Athletic Fee, isn't a raving football fanatic. When Warren looked at the U.S. News & World Report's annual list of the country's best colleges and universities, he noticed that schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Cal-Berkeley and Stanford didn't sacrifice academics for football.
Warren and his student-leader peers set out to increase student pride, fill a vacant fall social calendar and give graduates a reason to make donations to their alma mater and return to campus from time to time. The student leaders wanted a more traditional college experience. Their goal is to create "Mavericks 4 Life."
The return of football, in their estimation, achieves all of that.
"It seemed like we were missing something, a certain atmosphere," said Warren, who is ribbed by friends that say UTA stands for UT-Almost. "When I talked to alumni, I got the same feeling. They weren't coming back to campus."
UTA Athletic Alumni Association president Brian Happel was a kicker for the Mavericks in the early 1980s, and he and his group were approached before the athletic fee increase was put up for vote.
"You have students that aren't experiencing what their high school classmates are experiencing in college," Happel said. "They've come here and see what they're missing. They feel shorted compared to their high school classmates. I think a football program would help draw students to campus, and I think it will help retain students and help graduates give back to the university."
I also find the student-led referendum to be interesting. There's a parallel to our city referenda on stadium building, but it feels to me like the students were more open about what they were asking their colleagues to spend on. Sure, there's still the idea that they'll make money back on this, in the form of increased alumni giving, but I get the overall impression that they really were looking for an experience and not an investment. I hope they get what they think they're paying for.
More on the money angle:
If and when UTA brings back football, the university can't expect to make money from the program -- definitely not at first, and probably not ever. Of the six [Division I-AA Southland Conference] schools that have football programs, only McNeese State made a profit in the 2002-03 academic year. And McNeese State, which led the SLC in average attendance at 16,414 per game, barely did that.
Of the 10 Division I-A football programs in Texas, only five -- SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech -- showed a profit in 2002-03. The football programs at Baylor, Houston, North Texas, Rice and UT-El Paso were in the red.