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Reviving football at UTA

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.”

Having gone to a Division III school at a time when their athletics mostly sucked, I’d agree with the assertion that there’s something missing. I had no idea what college football was like for many people until 1988, the fall after I graduated, and got to attend games at Notre Dame and Texas A&M as a member of the MOB. I managed to have a pretty darned good time in college anyway, but that’s a powerful lure. I can certainly see how a school like UT-A could feel like they’re at a competitive disadvantage for students without a football program.

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.

Does anyone believe that SMU has made a profit on football in any year since the demise of the Southwest Conference? If Baylor can’t make money as the remora of the Big XII, ain’t no way SMU is making money in the WAC. It’s barely credible that TCU could make money, even with their regular bowl appearances of late.

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  1. William Hughes says:

    I do vaguely remember UTA having football in the early 1980s (I used read the Street and Smith annuals), and I’m not surprised that it is looking to do so again, since North Texas has made a move to I-A.

    SMU could theoretically make money in the WAC, since the Holiday Bowl revenue is shared between the schools in the conference and the school does have a strong history in the sport. This year should be even better, since Utah is in the Fiesta Bowl ($14.5 Million for the conference).

    One final thought: I always thought McNeese State was in Louisiana. I learn something new everyday.

  2. “SMU could theoretically make money in the WAC, since the Holiday Bowl revenue is shared between the schools in the conference and the school does have a strong history in the sport. This year should be even better, since Utah is in the Fiesta Bowl ($14.5 Million for the conference).”

    That’s the old WAC-16, which broke up in 1998. Utah and seven other schools left to form the Mountain West Conference. SMU, Rice, and UTEP are in the WAC (until next year, when they join Conference USA).

    “I always thought McNeese State was in Louisiana.”

    It is. The Southland Conference includes schools from Texas and Louisiana.

  3. blank says:

    I started my appointment at UTA in June, 2003, so I wasn’t here in 1985. But, my understanding is that UTA built the stadium, and then promptly cancelled the football program. Since it sounds like most of the money will come from student athletic fees, it shouldn’t hurt the academic departments. Thank goodness, we can’t afford that. However, with a slightly better arm, I could hit the goal post throwing a rock from my backyard. The west end of the field backs up to a long thin 5-acre lot owned by a 97-year-old man named Lester Boring. His lot provides a nice buffer between the backyards of several houses and the football field. One of the biggest fears in the neighborhood is that Mr. Boring’s heir will sell his land to UTA, and they will extend a parking lot up against their backyards.

  4. […] been talk about UTA reviving its football program for some time now. I haven’t seen any updates lately, but certainly a conference upgrade […]