The National Football Foundation released its annual report Wednesday on the growth of college football across America. Not television ratings, or fan attendance, but literal growth. More than a handful of schools are adding football programs year after year. Seven new programs will embark in 2014, following the 12 that launched last year, the five that launched in 2012, the eight in 2011, the six in 2010, and so on. Nine more programs are set to begin over the next two years.
"No other sport contributes more to the vibrancy of a college campus than football, and the trend of adding programs continues full force,” 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 largest growth sectors have been the smallest divisions. Forty-five of the new football schools - 75 percent - have jumped into either NCAA Divisions II and III or NAIA. This is because, of course, the competition is lowest there, and it also speaks to the reason why these schools are adding football in the first place, namely to increase male enrollment and to build a bridge of attachment to their alumni and the public. Basically, they need a reason to bring people back to campus, and nothing does that better than staging a football game six Saturdays in the fall.
"We’re in the second largest city in Georgia and we don’t have college football here on a weekly basis," Paine College athletics director Tim Duncan, whose Augusta-based school joins the Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference this fall, said. "Football is important in the South. It’s almost a religion here. I think it’s important in a state like Georgia that’s football crazy to have that option for our students and alumni. The response has already been tremendous. Last year we had three home club games that drew extremely well, and we only expect to see more fans as we start to play the big name schools in our conference."
"We’re going to hit 50 years in 2017, which for most academic institutions is fairly young," said West Florida athletics director Dave Scott. "Football will help increase people’s awareness and marketing of the university. You have kids that choose institutions because of traditions, and when you’re a young institution you’re trying to establish those traditions and establish that connection to your community."
With less than 500 schools sponsoring football a quarter-century ago, and nearly 800 schools offering the sport today, football is a sport whose appeal is growing, as Hatchell likes to say, coast to coast and border to border.
New Football Schools in 2014
- Arizona Christian University - Phoenix, Ariz. - NAIA (Independent)
- The 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 III (Independent)
- Missouri Baptist University - St. Louis, Mo. - NAIA (Independent)
- Paine College - Augusta, Ga. - NCAA Division II (Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference)
- Southeastern University - Lakeland, Fla. - NAIA (The Sun Conference)