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Decision on football months away

Nathaniel Mata

The prospect of a football program went from a strong desire to a possibility this February. With the announcement of a feasibility study of a football team at UTRGV, the wheels began to spin.

The biggest name on the feasibility study committee is Mack Brown, former coach of the University of Texas Longhorns, who is a special adviser to the UT System. He has visited the Rio Grande Valley at least once to meet with UTRGV President Guy Bailey, Athletics Director Chris King and members of the feasibility committee.

The feasibility study committee is composed of prominent community members, such as developer Alonzo Cantu, builder of the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and the RGV Toros’ and Vipers’ new facilities, and Bob Vackar, CEO of Bert Ogden Auto Group. The committee also includes individuals with ties to the university, such as student-athlete Lew Stallworth and economics Professor Alberto Avila.

King said Brown, who chairs the committee, and special advisers spearhead the group with other members providing support if it looks like football has a chance to move forward.

“When you look at the chair, Mack Brown, and the special advisers, they’re really the ones with the expertise and the background of football, what it takes to start a football program and then maintain and sustain it,” the athletics director said. “The rest of the committee is, basically, influence with our constituent groups if it’s something that’s viable for us to do, particularly the community members for private funding, student body representatives to talk to the student body in regards to what football brings to the greater good of the university.”

Brown and Oliver Luck, the NCAA executive vice president of Regulatory Affairs and feasibility committee special adviser, threw out the first pitch during UTRGV’s final baseball series of the season.

They fielded questions from the news media regarding the study moving forward.

Luck, a former NFL quarterback, said the study can draw from other universities starting football programs.

Besides speaking of the excitement and growth of the university, Brown and Luck said there is a lot of work to be done and that most of the resources to gather information is in place. They said the consulting firm, separate from the study committee, will do most of the heavy lifting in terms of providing monetary estimates based on the startup costs of football at programs across the country.

“The good news is that there have been a number of programs that have taken this step,” said Luck, the former West Virginia University and Houston Oilers quarterback. “I think there will be plenty of data to make a solid decision. The consultant and team will do a bulk of the work in terms of looking at other universities in all various divisions and conferences, all the issues that need to get sorted out so that there’s good information to make a good decision.”
Luck’s perspective is unique because of his knowledge of the inner workings of the governing body of college athletics.

Brown had high praise for those in charge at UTRGV, saying the organization leaves him no doubt that if football happens, it will be a high-quality production..

“These guys know what they are doing, they’re organized,” Brown said. “They want it to be great for the university, with the growth they want it to be great for the Valley. I don’t think you’ll see anything that’s no first class out of them. If they decide to move forward with football at one point, it will be a first-class program.”

He said the pace was a positive for UTRGV; there is not a sense of rush that could hurt them.

“The good thing right now is it’s in such early stages they don’t have to worry about, ‘Is it next year, is it five years, or is it at all?’ That’s all ahead of the committee and the feasibility study to make sure they’re doing it right,” the current ESPN and ABC college football analyst said.

The idea of a football team at UTRGV has generated excitement among the community and student body along with serious concerns. King explained that this study may not come to the conclusion that football is feasible over the next five to 10 years. While growth was a major theme from Luck and Brown’s visit, King maintained that growth must meet strategic goals.

“Now … that we’re one year under UTRGV, the sky’s the limit for this school. We’re looking at what programs for the students do you want to put in place for the long-term success of this university,” said King, the former associate athletic director at the University of Alabama. “That’s where we ask, ‘Does football align with the university mission, vision and future values of the school?’ It may be a deal where this is one or two of the major initiatives over the next five years or it may be one of the major initiatives in the back end of the decade.”

King said his role includes handling an exciting possibility and still remembering to be cautious when the study wraps up in the fall.

“They may say, ‘Let’s do it,’ but I know there are some major strategic goals we still have with our other 16 sports,” King said. “Football is a big big deal on major college campuses and there’s a lot of good reasons for it. But, at the end of the day, not done right, it can become a massive drain to the university.”

The study is projected to end in the fall and sometime in October, November or December may be the time the public finds out the fate of college football at UTRGV.

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