Since 1978 when the NCAA changed its method for tracking attendance figures, the number of schools playing NCAA football (FBS, FCS, DII and DII) has steadily increased by 179 schools from 484 in 1978 to a record high of 666 in 2015, or an average increase of 4.9 schools per year. With the addition of the NAIA and independent schools playing football and the schools across all levels of play who have announced the addition of programs in the coming years, the number of colleges and universities now offering football has been increased to the all-time high 774.
In the past four seasons alone (2011-15), 36 football programs have been added at NCAA, NAIA or independent institutions. All 774 schools will be represented on the three-story helmet wall, presented by Southwest Airlines, at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
The planning and preparation of five programs will come to fruition as they begin intercollegiate play this fall:Cincinnati Christian University in Cincinnati, Ohio; Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Morthland College in West Frankfort, Ill.; the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, Texas; and theUniversity of West Florida in Pensacola, Fla.
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 66 institutions listed below, who have implemented firm plans during the past few years, coupled together with the more than 20 schools with exploratory committees, 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 70,000 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.”
The schools have added programs at all levels of play in every region of the country, experiencing successes that run the gamut. In all, the 55 programs that have added football from 2008-15 have combined for two national championships, 20 conference championships and 27 postseason appearances.
Two of the new schools that will begin play this fall, Cincinnati Christian University and Davenport University (Mich.), have started plans to construct new multi-sport stadiums and other on-campus facilities.
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.
Two of the programs that took the field for the first time in 2015, East Tennessee State University and Kennesaw State University, experienced a number of successes on and off the field during their inaugural seasons. Kennesaw State sold out all six of its home games and attracted an average of 8,820 fans per game to Fifth Third Bank Stadium, which was ranked No. 10 in the FCS in game day atmosphere by StadiumJourney.com. With a 6-5 record, the Owls also became just the third FCS program since 2008 to post a winning season in its debut year.
East Tennessee State, which relaunched its football program in 2015, saw better attendance numbers and more money from ticket sales this past season than it did during its last season back in 2003. The average attendance for the university’s six home games in 2015 was 7,128 while in 2003 it was 5,512. The team’s ticket sales in 2015 reached $418,000, more than the sales from 2001-03 combined. ETSU credited the rise to an increase in student attendance and season ticket sales.
‘To be perfectly honest, it couldn’t have gone any better from that standpoint,” ETSU athletics director Dr. Richard Sander told WJHL in Johnson City, Tenn. “When we restarted football, clearly a lot of people said ‘We’ll support you’ and I think that’s easy to say, but I think people actually got out and reached into their pockets and really did support us, so I feel really good about that.”
The return of football at ETSU has had a significant economic impact on both the school and the region. With the enrollment of approximately 400 additional students, a research study placed the overall impact of football at the university at more than $22 million a year. Both the number of contributors and the amount of money given to the school’s Excellence Fund have doubled, and ETSU officially began construction of its new $26 million football stadium at the end of 2015.
Other schools have seen long-term benefits from adding football programs. Campbell University in North Carolina has seen increases in enrollment and donations since adding football in 2008. The school regularly draws more than 5,000 fans to its games, and administrators have credited football with raising Campbell’s national profile.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), which reinstated football in 2015 just six months after the program had been shut down, continues to capitalize on its avid fan and donor base as it prepares to return to the gridiron in 2017. Donations continue to poor in for UAB’s proposed $15 million Football Operations Building. Despite not playing this season, the Blazers had the highest-ranked recruiting class in Conference USA and continue to raise their profile by scheduling games against teams like Texas A&M.
The number of football programs in the nation continues to grow, with three additional universities announcing the launch of new teams within the last five months, all at the NAIA level. In April, Indiana Wesleyan University became the latest to announce a football program with an expected start date of fall 2018. Located in Marion, Ind., Indiana Wesleyan is an evangelical Christian, liberal arts university with an enrollment of more than 3,000. Among its reasons for adding the sport, the university cited expanding its mission while increasing enrollment and diversity on campus.
“Following our study with the consulting firm they came back and recommended that we consider adding intercollegiate football,” said athletics director Mark DeMichael after the announcement. “We are here to make Indiana Wesleyan stronger and more sustainable. Adding 105-130 more students who will excel in the classroom is a great long them thing.”
Planning for a new football facility has started, and the university has initiated the search process for its first head coach. Indiana Wesleyan’s recruiting goals include the team’s first players by the fall of 2017; at least 80 players by the start of play in 2018; and a team of more than 105 by 2019.
“The single most important step in the process of building a successful program in any sport is the leadership of that sport,” said DeMichael. “The choice of choosing our first head football coach will be the most critical decision of the process.”
Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, Texas, last competed in football before the beginning of World War II. In February, the longest-serving educational institution in the city announced it would return to the field for the first time in 75 years beginning in 2017.
“This is truly an historic occasion for Texas Wesleyan,” university president Frederick G. Slabach said after the announcement. “Football will bring a new team of student-athletes who will thrive at our Texas Wesleyan campus.”
The university says its football team will provide an inexpensive, fun, family-friendly opportunity to enjoy the sport. As with many other institutions that add football, Texas Wesleyan also sees the sport as a contributing factor to raising its profile.
“The addition of football is an intentional piece of our strategic plan,” said Board of Trustees Chair Beverly Volkman Powell. “This campus needs football to enhance our student life experience and round out our athletic offerings.”
St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, N.C., a branch of Webber International University (Fla.), plans to return to the gridiron in 2017. St. Andrews, which has not had a team since the 1950s when it was Presbyterian Junior College, recognized that football can play an important part in increasing enrollment, enhancing extracurricular programs and creating new opportunities to connect the campus with the local community.
“Our football teams in the past were known for producing young men who were passionate about the sport and dedicated to earning their degrees,” said athletics director Glenn Batten. “Our players went on to become doctors, lawyers, businessmen and leaders in their communities and churches. Like all of our other sports, we will use football to shape the character of our players and prepare them for life beyond athletics.”
The addition of a football program often entails a long, calculated process that frequently begins with studies conducted by task forces. A number of schools have recently taken this early step in the process in hopes that football could become a reality on their campuses.
Although less than a year old, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, Texas, already has an enrollment of more than 28,000 students after the consolidation of the University of Texas at Brownsville and the University of Texas-Pan American. In February, the school announced the formation of a football feasibility study committee that would be chaired by former Texas head football coach Mack Brown. As a new university, the administration is in the process of shaping UTRGV’s identity and it feels football could play a part.
“This is a very important and exciting time for UTRGV,” said President Guy Bailey. “As we work on our strategic and master plans, it is important that we examine all aspects of our future. This is an ideal time for our university to explore the possibility of bringing college football to the Rio Grande Valley.”
The committee, which will consist of special advisors, faculty, staff, student leaders and community members, will work with consultants to conduct the feasibility study and present final recommendations to Bailey. By bringing in Mack Brown, UTRGV follows the lead of East Tennessee State and Kennesaw State, which brought in College Football Hall of Fame coaches Phillip Fulmer and Vince Dooley, respectively, for their guidance, leadership and credibility.
“I am thrilled and honored to have been selected to lead this committee,” said Brown. “The opportunity to build a college football program from the ground up is unique, and I’m excited to be involved in the process. I know there are many passionate football fans in the Rio Grande Valley, and I can’t think of a better place to launch a college football program.”
Wichita State University president John Bardo surprised fans in February by tweeting a photo of a Shockers football helmet, followed by another tweet saying: “Meeting with consultants today to talk about athletics. Excited for future possibilities at Wichita State.” The Division I university last played football in 1986, and the last time the school had serious talks about reinstating a team occurred in 1998. Although the process is very much in its infancy stage, Bardo sees football as one of many possibilities to enhance the university.
“Everything is on the table,” Bardo told The Wichita Eagle. “The sports we offer, facilities, conferences. This is about the university, and its ability to support the community and support our students.”
Bardo said in a letter on the university’s website that Wichita State could play at either the FBS or FCS level, both of which would help recruit students, provide meaningful on-campus experiences and alumni reasons to return to campus. Although there are costs to playing at a higher level, he said that a good football program can have a substantial impact on the community and cited the great pride that fans take in the Shockers basketball team and their success in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“I want to make sure we are addressing the interests of the people of Wichita, that includes our students and that includes the broader community,” Bardo told The Wichita Eagle. “You have to actually actively explore.”
Five Programs Launching in 2016
- Cincinnati Christian University (Cincinnati, Ohio): NAIA, Mid-South Conference – Interim President David Ray, Athletics Director Kellen Zawadzki, Head Coach David Fulcher.
- Davenport University (Grand Rapids, Mich.): NAIA, Independent (joining NCAA Division II’s Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference in 2017) – President Richard J. Pappas, Athletics Director Paul Lowden, Head Coach Lou Esposito.
- Morthland College (West Frankfort, Ill.): Association TBA, Independent – President Tim Morthland, Athletics Director Buddy Foster, Head Coach Michael Popovich.
- University of Texas of the Permian Basin (Odessa, Texas): NCAA Division II, Lone Star Conference – President W. David Watts, Athletics Director Steve Aicinena, Head Coach Justin Carrigan.
- University of West Florida (Pensacola, Fla.): NCAA Division II, Gulf South Conference – President Judith Bense, Athletics Director Dave Scott, Head Coach Pete Shinnick.
Six Programs Launching in 2017 and Beyond
(Listed chronologically and then alphabetically.)
- St. Andrews University (Laurinburg, N.C.): NAIA, Mid-South Conference (2017) – President Paul Baldasare, Athletics Director Glenn Batten, Head Coach David Harper.
- Texas Wesleyan University (Fort Worth, Texas): NAIA, Central States Football League (2017) – President Frederick Slabach, Athletics Director Steve Trachier, Head Coach Joe Prud’homme.
- University of Alabama at Birmingham (Birmingham, Ala.): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Conference USA (2017) – President Ray Watts, Athletics Director Mark Ingram, Head Coach Bill Clark.
- Clarke University (Dubuque, Iowa): NAIA, Heart of America Athletic Conference (2018) – President Joanne Burrows, Athletics Director Curt Long, Head Coach TBA.
- Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association (2018) – President David Wright, Athletics Director Mark DeMichael, Head Coach TBA.
- University of New England (Biddeford, Maine): NCAA Division III, Commonwealth Coast Conference (2018) – President Danielle Ripich, Athletics Director Jack McDonald, Head Coach Mike Lichten.
Four Programs Launched in 2015
- East Tennessee State University (Johnson City, Tenn.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southern Conference
- Finlandia University (Hancock, Mich.): NCAA Division III, Independent
- Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, Ga.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Big South Conference
- Lyon College (Batesville, Ark.): NAIA, Central States Football League
Six Programs Launched in 2014
- Arizona Christian University (Phoenix, Ariz.): NAIA, Central States Football League
- College of Idaho (Caldwell, Idaho): NAIA, Frontier Conference
- George Fox University (Newberg, Ore.): NCAA Division III, Northwest Conference
- Limestone College (Gaffney, S.C.): NCAA Division II, Independent
- Missouri Baptist University (Saint Louis, Mo.): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Southeastern University (Lakeland, Fla.): NAIA, The Sun Conference
12 Programs Launched in 2013
- Alderson Broaddus University (Philippi, W.Va.): NCAA Division II, Independent (joining Great Midwest Athletic Conference in 2017)
- Berry College (Mount Berry, Ga.): NCAA Division III, Southern Athletic Association
- Florida Tech (Melbourne, Fla.): NCAA Division II, Gulf South Conference
- Hendrix College (Conway, Ark.): NCAA Division III, Southern Athletic Association
- Houston Baptist University (Houston, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southland Conference
- Mercer University (Macon, Ga.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southern Conference
- Oklahoma Baptist University (Shawnee, Okla.): NCAA Division II, Great American Conference
- Reinhardt University (Waleska, Ga.): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Southwestern University (Georgetown, Texas): NCAA Division III, Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference
- Stetson University (DeLand, Fla.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Pioneer Football League
- University of North Carolina at Charlotte (Charlotte, N.C.): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Conference USA
- Warner University (Lake Wales, Fla.): NAIA, The Sun Conference
Five Programs Launched in 2012
- Bluefield College (Bluefield, Va.): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Lindenwood University-Belleville (Belleville,Ill.): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Misericordia University (Dallas, Pa.): NCAA Division III, Middle Atlantic Conferences
- Point University (West Point, Ga.): NAIA, The Sun Conference
- Wayland Baptist University (Plainview, Texas): NAIA, Central States Football League
Nine Programs Launched in 2011
- Ave Maria University (Ave Maria, Fla.): NAIA, The Sun Conference
- Concordia University Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, Mich.): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Ohio Mid-Western College (Sharonville, Ohio): Independent
- Presentation College (Aberdeen, S.D.): NAIA, North Star Athletic Association
- Robert Morris University (Chicago, Ill.): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Siena Heights University (Adrian, Mich.): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Stevenson University (Owings Mills, Md.): NCAA Division III, Middle Atlantic Conferences
- University of Texas at San Antonio (San Antonio, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Conference USA
- Virginia University of Lynchburg (Lynchburg, Va.): Independent
Six Programs Launched in 2010
- Georgia State University (Atlanta, Ga.): 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, Ky.): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Notre Dame College (South Euclid, Ohio): NCAA Division II, Mountain East Conference
- Pacific University (Forest Grove, Ore.): NCAA Division III, Northwest Conference
- University of South Alabama (Mobile, Ala.): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Sun Belt Conference
Five Programs Launched in 2009
- Anna Maria College (Paxton, Mass.): NCAA Division III, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference
- Castleton University (Castleton, Vt.): NCAA Division III, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference
- Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Va.): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Conference USA
- University of New Haven (West Haven, Conn.): 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, N.C.): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Pioneer Football League
- College of St. Scholastica (Duluth, Minn.): NCAA Division III, Upper Midwest Athletic Conference
- Colorado State University–Pueblo (Pueblo, Colo.): NCAA Division II, Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference
- Dordt College (Sioux Center, Iowa): NAIA, Great Plains Athletic Conference
- Grand View University (Des Moines, Iowa): NAIA, Heart of America Athletic Conference
- Kentucky Christian University (Grayson, Ky.): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Lake Erie College (Painesville, Ohio): NCAA Division II, Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
- Lincoln University (Lincoln University, Pa.): NCAA Division II, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association
About The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame
Founded in 1947 with early leadership from General Douglas MacArthur, legendary Army coach Earl “Red” Blaik and immortal journalist Grantland Rice, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame is a non-profit educational organization that runs programs designed to use the power of amateur football in developing scholarship, citizenship and athletic achievement in young people. With 120 chapters and 12,000 members nationwide, NFF programs include FootballMatters.org, the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, The William V. Campbell Trophy presented by Fidelity Investments, annual scholarships of more than $1.3 million and a series of initiatives to honor the legends of the past and inspire the leaders of the future. NFF corporate partners include Delta Air Lines, Fidelity Investments, Herff Jones, New York Athletic Club, Pasadena Tournament of Roses, PrimeSport, the Sports Business Journal, Under Armour and VICIS. Learn more at www.footballfoundation.org.