June 14, 2011

The possibility of football at Utah Valley University

mock-up via Anthony Jenkins
With the WAC set to announce plans for expansion (if any) this afternoon at 2:00 p.m MT, we wanted to share some information on the subject as we await any announcements. The key players in WAC rumors have been Seattle and Utah Valley, who both made pitches to WAC brass yesterday. Some have speculated that Utah Valley's only shot to get an invitation to the WAC is to launch a football program, since the WAC will be forging ahead with only 7 football schools starting in 2012.

We obtained a report from Peter Case detailing 2008 interviews he conducted while a student at Utah Valley. The interviews were with Athletic Director Mike Jacobsen, and with Val Hale, UVU's vice president of marketing (and former BYU athletic director). The report sheds some light on the possibilities of a football program at Utah Valley University.

The number one obstacle in starting the program would obviously be money. In addition to building a stadium, by far the largest cost, the university would have to provide 65 scholarships for football players, and buy about $350,000 in equipment to launch the program, according to Jacobsen.

However, Jacobsen said that the school has been putting away $1.5 million every year for some time as a "conference affiliation fund" that would pay for buy-in costs associated with joining a conference. The longer the savings occur, then, the more money UVU can save above what might be required to join a conference. This money could obviously go to pay for conference membership fees if UVU is invited to join a conference with no football program, but the sentiment is that the money is meant for starting football.

UVU AD Mike Jacobsen
In addition, Hale pointed out that launching a football program would have a Title IX impact, so the school may have to start a women's sport or two, which adds to the cost. Hale estimated that the budget for the athletic department would have to double to run a football program.

Another obstacle would be garnering enough support from both boosters and fans given that BYU is but a few miles up the road. Hale speculated that a strong grass-roots movement to get solid student attendance at football games would be necessary to get the program off the ground, as it might be difficult to draw fans from the community at-large on any Saturday that competes with BYU.

Jacobsen said that former Utah Valley president Bill Sederberg "didn't want [football] and fought hard to keep it out." At that time, about 20 years ago, Utah Valley was a two-year state college, and his sentiment was to avoid making Utah Valley a feeder junior college for the BYU football program.

Jacobsen expressed that the best chance the university has of starting a program is if they get a president who wants one. Since this interview was conducted, UVU named a new president in Matthew Holland, who was the man who made the pitch to WAC officials yesterday. Our own insider, DJ Beckett, reports hearing straight from President Holland's mouth that UVU could pay for football right now, and all they need is a stadium and they could start the program. (Obviously, building a stadium is a large task.)

Faculty support would be another consideration (surely this expressed at every university). Some faculty fear their departments would have to fund a football team, but Jacobsen points out that is usually just the opposite. Jacobsen said, "Statistics indicate...football programs end up contributing money to other departments."  Both Jacobsen and Hale made reference to how universities usually rely on private donations to ease some of the costs of running an athletic department. In regards to a stadium specifically, it seems unlikely they have saved anywhere near enough money for that, so any stadium construction would also likely be footed by donors and sponsors.

UVU VP of Marketing Val Hale
Hale indicated that a reality the university will have to acknowledge is that they will lose a large chunk of money to start the program and run it for a few years. Jacobsen suggested, however, that in his estimation the university would start making money on the football program after about three years.

Another factor is the location of the stadium. Both Jacobsen and Hale named the location of the new track as where a stadium would likely be built. There was also mention of land owned by UVU on the other side of the freeway, but that said land has dwindled in size as the university has sold some of it to the department of transportation.

Information provided by Jacobsen indicates that Utah Valley has definitely taken a serious look at diving into the college football pool. Things like:

  • "Studies show that there is a direct relationship between football attendance and increases of attendance at other sporting events." 
  • For every student athlete a school successfully recruits, an enrollment increase of 1.5 students results. But for every football player successfully recruited, an enrollment increase of 3 students occurs.
So what is the realistic timetable for football at Utah Valley?

"I would be surprised if it were in the next ten years," Hale said.

However, Hale did paint what he saw as the likeliest scenario for football to arrive in Orem, Utah, words that came before Expansion Crisis 2010 shook up college sports:
"Let's say, for instance, that the Big Sky Conference or the WAC were to come to us and say, ‘We want you in our conference, but in order to accept you, you have to add football.’ I think if that happened, we would add football. I think we would do it in a heartbeat to get into one of those quality conferences. I think that’s what it will take. Is that going to happen?  I don’t know."
As we said, this interview was conducted in 2008. We received this report just days ago, and our attempts for follow-up interviews were unsuccessful, likely due to the athletic department being busy preparing for the WAC meetings in Park City.

Perhaps Hale thought that if the Big Sky or WAC were to ever come calling, it would be a little further down the road, maybe when the Wolverines had built up the basketball program to the point that they were outgrowing their current conference and dominating the competition there. If he knew of the shakeup that was to come just two years later, would he have been so sure they would be able to add football "in a heartbeat" in that time frame?

While the information we have indicates Utah Valley might be more prepared to start a football program than previously thought, it's hard to see such a program succeed enough to play at the FBS level, especially right away. Teams like South Florida and Texas-San Antonio, who launched (or are launching) straight into FBS football after one year of probationary play, have obvious levels of more resources and less direct competition than UVU. With BYU just up the street, in a county steeped with generations of BYU football fans, it's difficult to envision an overwhelming support for a new football team from the community, even if student support is strong.

In that situation, then, the school may think it's ready and able to start a football program, but without community support, they might lose enough money to significantly damage the athletic department. Unless they have conducted interviews/surveys with regular community members as part of feasibility studies that assures them the support would be there, it is likely the best option to keep planning for a future in football, but grow the existing athletic programs.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Couldn't they just rent Rio Tinto for home games the first few years? I'm not sure an on-campus stadium is needed day one.

Anonymous said...

I don't see there hardly being any attendance if you have to drive 30 minutes to see a crap house team play another pretty poor team. Plus in talks that I have had with Mike and Dj, I was told one of the selling points for us to join the WAC would be that we didn't have a football program and thus we would leave a spot open with a 7 team conference for a bye week.

Brett Hein said...

If they played at Rio Tinto, students wouldn't go and nobody would be there. Rio Tinto is 35 minutes away. Off-campus stadiums are a bad idea (ask San Diego State).

szabo56 said...

I think they should have kept their hockey team and really tried to push that to NCAA Div I status, they finally had support from the school and the turnout to games at the peaks was pretty good. Look at what Penn State did with their hockey program, they're finally in Div I for 2012-2013 with the newly created Big Ten hockey conference. It's time to give some other sports in this state a chance to grow.

Anonymous said...

The hockey team was legit and Jacobsen had openly voiced concern that they were "stealing" fan base and limited resources (ticket $, donor $). The hockey team had the means to incorporate a 2000-seat hockey arena into a then-planned fieldhouse with a formal business plan to do what Penn State did but that all died along with one of the main benefactors. The "conference affiliation" surcharge hoodwinks UVU students - most are oblivious that they pay into such a fund at all. But the money that has been gleaned for the past five years totals several million and could be used to sweeten a conference bid, including the launch of a football program if that is what is needed. I think it would fail and I can't believe that Matt Holland would risk this move when UVU, while obviously the fair recipient of recent and generous funding from the Board of Regents, when educational standards need funding to bring a true "U" level of education to Utah Valley State College......

Anonymous said...

I think all we need is to make a stadium down the street in one of those big fields on Geneva road and bam.. Or even buy out lakeridge that's just around the corner and make the stadium their. I personally think we would get tons of people there even if byu is there that wouldn't affect it all that especially cuz we have a ton more students than byu and we wouldn't be crappy guaranteed we would be contenders we have q lot of talent at our school.