Last month we wrote about the record numbers of colleges and universites across the nation racing to add football programs. In case you missed it the first time around, 12 new football programs will launch this year; from 2008-16, a total of 56 schools from 25 states will begin or re-start playing football.
Now, thanks to USA Today’s Dan Wolken, we know why one school, and others like it, are so eager to get into the game.
“I wish we’d done it years ago,” Charlotte athletics director Judy Rose said. “My whole reason for wanting football was more for security and protection for the rest of our athletic program. I kind of thought what has happened was going to happen.
“We’ve had a very strong athletic program here, but without football you’re not viewed as a total athletic program.”
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte was founded in 1946, and the 49ers’ athletics program launched in 1965. Competing first as an NAIA school and then as an independent, Charlotte moved from the Sun Belt to the Metro Conference to Conference USA, where they stayed until 2005 until national upheaval landed them in the Atlantic 10. In 2010, the school made the decision to add football and, in 2012, the school got the call to come back to Conference USA, bringing its brand new football program along for the ride. The rest of the 49ers’ teams will begin Conference USA play this fall, while the football program (which plays its first game on Aug. 31) will wait until 2015.
Unlike most other new football programs who want to play their way up to the big time, Charlotte is jumping in to the deep end with both feet. Of course, unlike most other new football programs, Charlotte has some major resources to support its debut into major college football.
For starters, it comes from an athletics department that has been a Division I member for more than 35 years. The 49ers’ men’s basketball program has a Final Four trip to its credit, along with 10 other conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances. The men’s golf program has a national No. 1 ranking in its past, and the women’s basketball, men’s soccer and women’s soccer programs have all made multiple trips to the NCAA Tournament.
The school also happens to sit in America’s fifth-fastest growing metropolitan area, according to Forbes, and will be North Carolina’s largest university by 2020, according to Rose. Charlotte is certainly ready for football to explode, with a 15,000-seat stadium that is easily expandable to 40,000, thanks to a $10 million donation from Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.
And yet, with a successful athletics department at a growing university inside of a booming city, Charlotte wouldn’t have felt complete without a football program. Makes you wonder why they waited so long in the first place.