According to the Daily Herald an average of 59,547 fans gathered to watch the Brigham Young University football team face off with a formidable foe in 2019. Despite being just four miles to the northwest, Utah Valley University’s difference in attendance is drastically lower. If you were to take away the attendance from football games, BYU would still have a comparably larger margin of fan attendance than UVU.
Why? One idea comes to mind: national relevance.
BYU was featured in the first ever live broadcast of a college football game on ESPN. It was Sept. 1, 1984, after the Supreme Court ruled to bar the NCAA from owning the television rights of every affiliated school. This meant that each individual school was able to sell their television rights to the highest bidder. BYU beat the No. 3 ranked University of Pittsburgh 20-14, and eventually would be named National Champions for the 1984 season.
That started a rich history of America’s favorite sport in Utah County. Now considering where we are at 37 years later, UVU still does not boast a football program. UVU currently has the most students enrolled in higher education than the rest of the state of Utah. By the year 2041, it is projected that UVU will have five times more alumni than any other institution within the beehive state.
There are many benefits to having a large alumni base, such as a functioning booster program. It also could mean a much larger support in athletics, but one thing still lacks. A football team.
But would having a football team change anything immediately? According to former UVU social media director Ryan Boswell it would not.
“I don’t know that it would immediately impact student attendance,” said Boswell. “Maybe once they established themselves as a team it would, but that would be five to 10 years down the road.”
In a poll taken of 38 current UVU students, 50 percent said they had never attended a sporting event in their time as a student. When asked why, the top response listed was “Too busy to attend.” The same 38 students were then asked if they would attend a UVU football game and 89 percent responded that they would attend if given the option.
These results beg the question, are the student’s really “too busy?” Could it be that students lack interest in the current athletic programs UVU offers? Boswell says a different problem could be at play.
“There’s so much that goes on in Utah County, and there isn’t an experience established that would make someone want to go [to a game], over going and doing something else on a friday or saturday night.”
That doesn’t mean that can’t change, it just means that is how it currently is.
In recent years the University of Central Florida’s football program has come into the national spotlight. In 2017, UCF had an undefeated season and after being left out of the College Football Playoff, named themselves National Champions. Much like UVU, UCF has the largest student enrollment in the state of Florida, and once struggled mightily with fan attendance at sporting events. That all changed after they had their special season.
Schools that don’t have a football program can still have solid student support and overall attendance. The key is success and atmosphere. Wichita State made a Cinderella run to the Final Four in the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball tournament which ignited the fire and passion in their fanbase.
In certain instances teams don’t need to be overly successful to create a great student-led atmosphere, such as the one found at Grand Canyon University. Despite being a member of the Western Athletic Conference since 2012, the Lopes just recently won their first men’s basketball championship in the 2020-21 season. All it takes is the right amount of funds allocated to the right people and programs, and if managed competently, a football team could help bring in the right amount of money.
Brice Larson is currently a Junior at UVU majoring in communications with an emphasis in journalism and media studies. He enjoys everything about sports and one day hopes to become a college football analyst and play by play commentator.