Shaping Our Future

Campus Experience and Residence Life

Position Paper

It’s fall in Texas. The season conjures up images of powerful football players, large, colorful marching bands, cheerleaders, tailgate parties, and huge stadiums filled with thousands of impassioned fans. It is a spectacular production. It is not, however, a description of NCAA Division III football. NCAA Division III athletics places “special importance on the impact of athletics on the participants rather than on the spectators...” 1

The NCAA Division III Philosophy Statement makes the distinction clear. “Colleges and Universities in NCAA Division IIII place highest priority on the overall quality of the educational experience and on the successful completion of all students’ academic programs. They seek to establish and maintain an environment in which a student-athlete’s athletic activities are conducted as an integral part of the student-athlete’s educational experience, and in which coaches play a significant role as educators...” 2

This is certainly true at Southwestern University, where student-athletes have a long tradition of comparable grades and higher graduation rates than non-student-athletes.

Today, it seems that many NCAA Division IAA football programs are big business operations attracting hefty television contracts and head coaches who earn more than university presidents. In reality, however, only a small percentage of Division IAA university football programs make a considerable profit. The vast majority of Division 1AA football programs struggle to break even. “In fact, only two percent reported operating surpluses in the 2008 fiscal year”. 3 Once again, Division III is different. Without offering athletic scholarships and paying reasonable coaches’ salaries, “small colleges find that adding football can result in positive net revenue”. 4 As Stetson University President Wendy B. Libby stated, “non-scholarship [football] can generate a positive net revenue stream that you can use for the institution’s highest priorities”. 5

That information is certainly consistent with Southwestern University’s experience with all other varsity sports. During the 2010-2011 academic year, Southwestern’s varsity sports generated over a $3,459,000 surplus net tuition revenue. This figure was obtained by taking the combined net tuition revenue (after aid) collected from SU’s varsity athletes and subtracting operating costs, as well as salaries and benefit costs of all employees within the athletic department. Even allowing for building and field maintenance and utility costs, it is clear that athletics at Southwestern generates considerable money, which contributes to the University’s expenses outside of the athletics program. This paradigm will continue as long as student-athletes come to Southwestern in part because of the opportunity to participate in their sport, and as long as they are not taking the place of other qualified students who would be here without the sport.

As Daniel De Vise writes in his Washington Post article, Small Colleges Find That Adding Football Pays Off In A Lot Of Green And More 6 economics is indeed one reason so many small universities have added football recently. A conservative cost/revenue analysis of football at Southwestern showed football generating a surplus of over half a million dollars annually, after the program is fully operational and any debt from starting the program is paid.

This model only addressed revenue obtained from student-athletes who would be football players. It is conceivable that additional non-football players who might have ruled out Southwestern because of the lack of a football program might enroll. Lastly, even non-scholarship football has the potential to help maintain both alumni interest and donations. I can attest to this personally as I go online each weekend to track my alma maters’ fate on the gridiron.

Gender balance is another reason often cited for launching a university football program. A fully operational program at Southwestern should add approximately 100 male student-athletes to Southwestern University’s enrollment.

Currently, Trinity University (Texas), Austin College, Williams College, Bowdoin College and Millsaps College all list 99 players on their varsity roster. TLU has 153, Pacific University- 138, Stevenson- 130, Birmingham Southern and Alfred University have over 100 players each. The addition of 100 males would change an enrollment of 1,250 students that was 37% male to an enrollment of 1,350 students that would be 42% male.

Proponents of football at Southwestern may look to Austin or Belton and conclude that a football program would revolutionize campus life. It will not. The university to the south is a Division I powerhouse that has almost nothing in common with Southwestern’s Division III program. While our neighbor to the north achieved extraordinarily rapid success with its Division III program, it is highly unlikely that Southwestern would be able to or even want to emulate them. Southwestern is a very different university with a very different student profile, and would most likely have a very different financial commitment to a football program.

As evidenced from the results of national student satisfaction surveys (American College Testing, Educational Benchmark Incorporated), Southwestern already provides a vibrant, thriving academic and student life experience.

That is not to say that football would not add to campus life, because it would. At minimum, it would add an additional social opportunity for students. It would provide another reason to stay on campus on weekends. It would also provide a vehicle for students, parents, and alumni to come together during parent and homecoming weekends, something that has been missing on previous occasions. And yes, to some degree football will increase campus spirit. Having spent four years at a selective, private four-year institution that had, at the time, a football team that struggled to win one or two games a year, I can attest that even a losing football team for many engenders positive campus spirit. Much like the Pirate Bike Program, football is not central to our mission and is not the solution to current challenges, but developed correctly it will be an asset to campus life.

Are there risks? Most assuredly. Compromising academic standards, diverting donor gifts to football that might have gone to academic programs or badly needed facility enhancements for other athletic programs, insufficient funding, excessive debt, and inadequate facilities are all potential pitfalls.

The key to addressing each of these concerns is discipline and vigilance. Regarding academics, Harvard, Stanford, Williams, and Bowdoin all have varsity football teams and few, I think, would question their academic quality. We simply cannot bow to possible pressure to accept a gifted athlete who does not meet our academic standards.

Diverting gifts from academics, scholarships, etc. to football is highly unlikely. As said earlier, once fully functioning, Southwestern football not only should be able to sustain itself financially, it should generate a surplus which could be used for other University priorities. The donors who choose to give to cover the initial start-up costs of a football program will most likely be motivated to give only for that purpose. However, bringing them into the Southwestern benefactor group for football might eventually lead to gifts for other purposes.

The other potential problems, insufficient funding, accumulating excessive debt, and inadequate facilities will require due diligence from the administration and governing board. If the University exercises prudence and patience, there is every reason to believe that a football program at Southwestern University would enhance campus life, bolster finances allowing for augmentation of other budget lines, improve the gender balance, and increase enrollment.

A varsity football team would also offer a terrific experience for a hundred new Southwestern University students. Remember first and foremost, Division III athletics is about the student-athlete. Excerpts from Sean Sorsin’s article that appeared in the Cornellian, Cornell College’s student newspaper, entitled Why We Play Division III Athletics7 add some insight:

  • It’s not about getting a scholarship, getting drafted, or making Sports Center. It’s a deep need in us that comes from the heart.
  • We need to practice, to play, to lift, to hustle, to sweat. We do it all for our teammates and for the student in our calculus class that we don’t even know.
  • We don’t lift weights with a future Olympic wrestler; we lift with a future doctor.
  • It’s a bigger part of us than our friends and family can understand.
  • Sometimes we play for 2,000 fans; sometimes 25. But we still play hard. You cheer for us because you know us. You know more than just our names. Like all of you, we are students first.
  • We don’t sign autographs. But we do sign graduate school applications, MCAT exams, and student body petitions.
  • When we miss a kick or strike out, we don’t let down an entire state, but the hurt is at first the same.
  • We train hard, lift, throw, run, kick, tackle, shoot, dribble, and lift some more, and in the morning we go to class. And in that class, we are nothing more than students.
  • It’s about pride in ourselves and in our school.

Jerry Brody
Vice President for Student Life
Southwestern University

Endnotes

  1. “NCAA Division III Philosophy Statement” (Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference: 2011)
  2. Ibid
  3. “At What Price Football?” (The Chronicle of Higher Education: 2010)
  4. “Small Colleges Find the Adding Football Pays off in a Lot of Green” (Washington Post: 2010)
  5. “Colleges Continue to Add Football Teams” (The National Football Foundation: 2011)
  6. Sorsin, Sean. "Why We Play Division III Athletics." (Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference: 1999)
  7. “TLU Football Checks-In 153 for Start of Preseason Camp” (Texans Lutheran University: 2011)

Bibliography

"Colleges Continue to Add Football Teams." The National Football Foundation. 22 June 2011. Web. 6 Oct. 2011. .

"NCAA Division III Philosophy Statement." SCAC Sports. Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. Web. 6 Oct. 2011. .

Sander, Libby. "At What Price Football? - Athletics - The Chronicle of Higher Education." The Chronicle of Higher Education. Web. 06 Oct. 2011. .

Sorsin, Sean. "Why We Play Division III Athletics." SCAC Sports. Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. 3 Dec. 1999. Web. 6 Oct. 2011. .

"Texas Lutheran University - TLU Football Checks-in 153 for Start of Preseason Camp." Texas Lutheran University. 10 Aug. 2011. Web. 06 Oct. 2011. .

Vise, Daniel De. "Small Colleges Find That Adding Football Pays off in a Lot of Green, and More." The Washington Post: National, World & D.C. Area News. Web. 06 Oct. 2011. .

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