By Tyler Gray and Garrett Coleman, News Writer and Sports Writer
Football has become a highly-favored sport in the U.S. and some even believe it has surpassed baseball as America’s favorite sport. With professional and college football seasons in full swing, many students hope that UVU will have a football team one day, but is that really the case?
The prospect of a UVU football team has been a topic of debate for the past few years, and questions have only increased since Utah Valley State College transitioned to a university in July 2008. There are however a few obstacles standing in the way of a UVU football program, specifically the financial environment in which all universities find themselves, the school’s academics and UVU’s current athletic conference.
“The fact of the matter is, football programs are very expensive propositions and we’re in the middle of a tough financial environment right as we’ve moved to become a university,” President Matthew Holland said. “We have some really fundamental needs to build out the academic programming in support of the institution and that has to be first and foremost in my mind.”
Holland further elaborated on the various factors that would have to be overcome in order to start the process.
“If we can get into a conference, that needs to happen, then we have to take assessments year by year to say, ‘What does the financial picture look like? What does our academic programming look like?’ Once those things get put into place then I think the institution can think about a football program. But we’re not there right now,” Holland said.
Financially speaking, it’s hard to undertake an endeavor like starting a football program from scratch. Athletic Director Mike Jacobson also commented on the financial aspects of a football program.
“It’s tough when the economy is down and there are faculty members that aren’t getting any raises,” Jacobson said. “Then to start a program like football, which is an expensive program to get started, football will pay for itself. So after a short period of time it’s not going to be a drain, but initially to get it started it would. We would love to play football. It would be great for our community, great for our university, great for our students.”
Aside from finances, UVU must first get into an athletic conference that not only includes football, but that is a better fit geographically. Holland is making it a priority to move UVU into a larger conference.
“My biggest push this first part of my administration has been what can we do to get into a better conference,” Holland said. “It’s the thing that all sports need and it’s the thing you have to do before football.”
Jacobson echoed his sentiment regarding a better conference for UVU.
“I think it’s important that our students know that for the last five years specifically, we’ve worked really hard to get into a regional all-sports conference that would accept us,” Jacobson said.
There are a few reasons why UVU hasn’t already moved to an improved conference. First, the university will not rush into a situation that isn’t beneficial. For this reason there are a number of conferences that make more sense than others.
“The fact that we don’t have football is a plus for us right now,” Holland said. “Due to conference expansion in football, select conferences have chosen to move forward without football and that is where UVU can carve out a niche.”
Secondly, UVU’s own history can be a hindrance to some.
“For a lot of different reasons we haven’t been accepted at this point,” Jacobson said. “A lot of presidents have trouble with us being a junior college just ten years ago and now being a university today. They don’t look at our academia at the level that it is and needs to be recognized at, even though we’ve been very competitive athletically.”
UVU administration is working hard and prospects of a football team are slowly getting better. The university is poised to move quickly when a better situation comes along by implementing conference affiliation fees and with the recent purchase of 100 acres of land.
“We have purchased that land for expansion for the state’s fastest-growing school,” Holland said. “The immediate plan is to have intramural fields, then we will take it year by year.”
Both Holland and Jacobson are optimistic that a move to a better conference will happen soon.
“I’m convinced that in a very, very short period of time, we’re all going to be getting together and having a press conference and be very, very excited about a big, all-sports conference that UVU is going to be a part of,” Jacobson said.
Either way, a majority of students feel that UVU is ready for a football team and would be there to support it. Unfortunately they will have to be patient and wait for that day to come.