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The fate of football UTRGV to examine feasibility of sport


On Feb. 19, UTRGV announced a football feasibility study that serves to gauge community interest, fiscal estimates and information about starting an interscholastic football program.

The announcement from the university’s athletics department stated that a study will take place to determine specifics and then report to a feasibility committee. Former University of Texas Head Coach and current ESPN/ABC Analyst Mack Brown was named chair of the committee. Also serving on the committee will be student, faculty, staff and community leaders and representatives.

College football in the Rio Grande Valley has been absent from the area since the early ’50s. The last teams to compete at the college level were Edinburg Junior College and Texas Southmost College who ended their programs in 1951.

The study will examine costs for starting a football team from the ground up.

The feasibility study
The study will examine details of bringing a football program such as cost of building a venue, recruiting players and offering scholarships. Consultants from the area and outside parties will gather information on all of these things before their four- to six-month study concludes and the results are passed along.

While no monetary figure can accurately be estimated yet, there are universities that have recently undergone feasibility studies. The first that comes to mind is UT San Antonio’s study in 2006. Georgia State also had a 2006 football study that resulted in the formation of a football program. The football programs at those two schools were inaugurated in 2011 and 2010, respectively.

The feasibility committee
“Anytime that you’re doing any type of study you’re going to want a broad range of constituent base and the student body, the faculty, the staff as well as the community members bring all different perspectives to the table,” said Athletics Director Chris King. “They bring the pros and the cons to starting a division 1 football program to the university so their voices definitely need to be heard.”

According to the news release, the members of the committee and the consulting group will be announced further down the road.

These individuals will attempt to raise as many concerns and questions as possible to ensure a thorough analysis of
the situation.

The feasibility committee will take the four- to six-month study and then deliberate on the results. After the committee has done its task, it will turn its findings over to UTRGV President Guy Bailey.

The Expert
King, who has been at his position since 2009, said that reaching out to Brown was not too challenging since he is still associated with the University of Texas and the UT System.

“Dr. Bailey reached out to the Chancellor of the UT System [William McRaven]. The chancellor really is the individual who reached out to Mack Brown,” King said. “[Bailey] told him the importance of what we’re trying to do in looking at this potential to start football.”

Brown, who resigned from his position as Longhorn head football coach in 2013, is still involved with the system. During his tenure in Austin, from 1998-2013, the UT Longhorns won a national championship and also appeared in a second championship game.

“Our purpose is preparing our student-athletes from the time of recruitment until the time of graduation,” said King, who previously served as the University of Alabama’s associate director of Athletics. “Coach Brown understands what our purpose is. He understands the entire recruiting progress and the operations of a football program. He’s going to know and have relationships around the entire state of Texas. He brings the total package when you’re looking at somebody who has been a head coach not just at Texas but at other high division 1 institutions.”

Brown, who spends college football Saturdays on television analyzing games, is quoted in the news release.

“The opportunity to build a college football program from the ground up is unique and I’m excited to be involved in the process,” said Brown, a 64-year-old native of Tennessee. “I know there are many passionate football fans in the Rio Grande Valley and I can’t think of a better place to launch a college football program.”

Where to call home
One of the biggest question marks regarding the creation of a high-level college football program is the stadium that the team will call home. This hurdle provides the biggest monetary challenge when starting up a program. When UTRGV compares its feasibility study with the ones done at Georgia State and UTSA, a major difference to consider is those two institutions already had huge stadiums to play in. UTSA did not need to build the Alamodome and Georgia State did not need to Dome in Atlanta.

King said the consultants in the feasibility study will examine different options for hosting a UTRGV stadium. Different costs for each option would also be factored in.

“Part of that will be looking at other institutions that have been similar in nature,” King said. “Whether it’s an on-campus facility or an off-campus facility, they’ll show us ‘here’s what it costs at X institution to build on campus compared to off campus.’ That gives us at least a ballpark figure of what we would take a look at. Or what would a city, if they wanted to step up and build a stadium,what it may cost the city to do that.”

Another option that may be considered is the use of existing high school stadiums in the Valley possibly going through renovations to accommodate the college game.

Bobby Lackey Stadium in Weslaco currently seats 15,000, while McAllen Memorial Stadium seats 13,500.

Campus reaction to the study
Students weighed in on the announcement about football being considered at UTRGV.

Certain students were enthusiastic about the possibility of football coming to Deep South Texas at the college level.

“I think that it was one of the best things that UTRGV has thought about. There isn’t a lot of Vaquero pride, yet,”said Leonel Garza, a freshman chemistry and biology double-major. “I feel that bringing a football team will not [only] bring student pride, it will also bring a lot of revenue in. I assume it’s going to take a lot of money, but hopefully it will be worth it. I have a bunch of high school football friends that didn’t come to the university just because they didn’t have a football team and those guys are dedicated to their education. I feel like UTRGV missed out with that.”

Unlike Garza, biology senior David Hernandez highlighted concerns and was critical of the university going down this path.

“I am against this feasibility study and against a football program. The only way I’d support a football program is if athletics could fund it solely on their own through donations and self-funding,” Hernandez said. “I would like to know how much money they are paying Brown and where it is coming from. I would say football is unnecessary itself.”

The athletics director did recognize that football cannot be valued above thefinancial security of the university.

“At the end of the day we’re not going to put ourselves in a situation where we’re going to put anyone in debt and/or this university over a football program,” King said.

More information will be solidified when the feasibility study is completed in a few months. From there the process to determine if this is a wise step for UTRGV can be made. Until then, people on both sides will have plenty of time to let their excitement or anxiety build as the push for football in the Rio Grande Valley begins.

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