Southwestern University will reinstate football and add women’s lacrosse to its roster of NCAA Division III intercollegiate sports, thanks to $6 million in gifts from two former student-athletes.

Joe Seeber, a 1963 graduate who played basketball while he was at Southwestern, has pledged $5 million to launch the new programs and San Antonio businessman Red McCombs, who also attended Southwestern and played football, has pledged $1 million. Joanne and Brent Austin of Houston also have made a gift to support the new programs.

“As the oldest University in Texas, we realize the importance many people place on football,” said President Jake B. Schrum. “There are many bright young men who want to play football in college who find NCAA Division III appealing. It is important for us to be back in the game.  Additionally, Southwestern was on the forefront when we added men’s lacrosse as a varsity sport. It naturally follows that women’s lacrosse would also become a varsity sport at Southwestern. Both Mr. Seeber and Dr. McCombs were varsity athletes at Southwestern and their generosity is representative of the culmination of their love of amateur athletics and their commitment to Southwestern. We are deeply grateful to them and to all who have joined this effort.”

The new Southwestern football team will play its first game in the fall of 2013. The new women’s lacrosse team will begin competition in the spring of 2014.

Glada Munt, director of intercollegiate athletics at Southwestern, said adding intercollegiate football and women’s lacrosse will bring Southwestern’s complement of athletic teams to 20, on par with the university’s peers in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) and the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS). The addition of both programs is expected to strengthen student recruiting, with football attracting, conservatively, 60 to 80 male students and lacrosse adding 20 female student-athletes. This will help Southwestern reach its goal of having  1,500 students by 2015.

Birmingham-Southern University added football in 2008 and now has more than 100 players on its roster. Texas Lutheran University reinstated football in 1998 and had 153 students report for practice this fall. Hendrix College has announced plans to bring back football in 2013.

According to the National Football Foundation, eight new college football teams took the field for the 2011 season and 16 more programs are set to launch between 2012 and 2014.

Southwestern previously played intercollegiate football from 1908 to 1951 and was a charter member of the Southwest Conference. The Southwestern  football team gained national attention during World War II when Southwestern was home to a Navy V-12 program. With the help of players from schools such as UT, Baylor, SMU and TCU, Southwestern went 9-1 during the 1943-44 season and defeated the University of New Mexico in the Sun Bowl in January 1944. The Pirates won the Sun Bowl for a second consecutive year the following season. 

Southwestern will join the University of Dallas as the only two universities in Texas to offer varsity lacrosse for women. In 2010, it became the first university in Texas to offer varsity lacrosse for men. Southwestern added varsity softball for women in 2008-2009.

Southwestern plans to use land it owns on the east side of its campus to build facilities to support the new programs, including two new practice fields, a 15,000 square-foot field house, and a new track to support the university’s track and cross-country programs. The university also plans to upgrade the existing locker rooms in the Corbin J. Robertson Center for field sports.

Jerry Brody, vice president for student life at Southwestern, noted that the NCAA Division III Philosophy Statement says Division III athletics places “special importance on the impact of athletics on the participants rather than on the spectators.” However, he noted that if developed correctly, football will be an asset to campus life.

“Football will add an additional social opportunity for students and provide another reason to stay on campus on weekends,” Brody said. “It also will provide another vehicle for students, parents and alumni to come together during parent and homecoming weekends.”

Brody said he expects football will boost alumni support and engagement with the university and also help boost its visibility.

Southwestern plans to play its home football games at the new Georgetown stadium complex.

“I’ve already learned of two local companies that want to sponsor our football team,” he said.  

Munt said economics is one reason so many small universities have added football recently.

“Once fully functioning, Southwestern football not only should be able to sustain itself financially, it should generate a surplus that could be used for other university priorities,” she said.

Munt noted that the GPAs of student-athletes at Southwestern are comparable to the rest of the student population and graduation rates are consistently 7 percent higher than other students. She attributes the latter statistic to the fact that athletes want to stay in school to play their sport and the support athletes receive from their coaches.

Munt said that within a week after football was announced, she had received inquiries from four prospective football players. She also had received applications from 20 prospective football coaches and expects that number will go into the hundreds. Munt has appointed volleyball coach Hannah Long, who comes from a family of football coaches, to chair the campuswide search committee for the new coach.

The gifts to support the new athletics programs will be counted toward Southwestern’s Thinking Ahead campaign, which seeks to raise $150 million and now stands at $123 million in gifts and pledges. McCombs has previously given $1 million to the campaign to support Southwestern’s academic program.

Seeber said the motivation for his gift came from the two years he spent as president of The Association of Southwestern University Alumni, during which time he traveled across the country talking to alumni about their experiences at Southwestern.

“There are many places you can get an education, but not many places transform lives the way Southwestern does,” Seeber said. “This isn’t about football - it’s about transforming lives.”