Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

There's a Football Revival Goin' On

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

There's a Football Revival Goin' On

Article excerpt

Within the last two years, five historically Black colleges have dusted the cobwebs off their football programs.

Strange as it might sound, football's recent revival at the smaller Black colleges is all about the bottom line. True, it is an expensive sport to maintain. That's why schools dropped the sport in the first place. Football consumes a sizable chunk of the operating budget regardless of whether you're a national champion like Oklahoma or as small as Allen University of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

Yet the game has an alluring upside as a main attraction and moneymaker. Those are the chief reasons behind football's resurgence at those schools with student populations of 1,500 or less.

Within the last two years, five historically Black colleges have dusted the cobwebs off their football programs, most of which had been dormant for decades. Each school has its own unique game plan for its football future, and all are committed to making sure the sport remains a vital element of the college experience on their campuses.

Because of football, enrollment at Patti Quinn College (Texas), Lincoln University (Mo.), Edward Waters College (Fla.), Stillman College (Ala.) and Allen University (S.C.) has increased by more than 50 percent. In the case of Paul Quinn and Stillman colleges, the influx of football players has drastically changed the ratio of males to females on those campuses. Prior to football's arrival, women outnumbered men 2-to-1, now the mix is 50-50.

But there's also another plus. As these schools bring back football, incoming players who didn't get football scholarships from the bigger schools now have more opportunities to attend college. Additionally, a larger number of students participate by joining the band or the cheerleading squad, two spin-off benefits of football.

"Larger enrollment means more money for the school," says Bob Smith, head football coach and assistant athletics director at Allen University. "Instead of this being a suitcase campus, the kids have a reason to stay here on the weekends. It is a drawing card."

Rosemary Lewis, vice president for student affairs at Allen, agrees. Lewis anticipates that Allen's enrollment (currently 542) will increase to 700 by the time the fall semester begins. "Football helps us recruit more students," she says. "They want to know if we have football and that's not surprising. Students want to attend a school that offers what other colleges offer."


There's nothing quite like a Black college football game. The fierce but friendly rivalries and the pageantry of the marching bands transform an athletic contest into the main event on any given weekend.

"Bringing football back has been very positive," says Theressa Ferguson, Lincoln athletics director. "I know that when I walk on this campus in August, everything will have a different feel. The football team will be practicing and so will the marching band and cheerleaders. That whole scenario produces a greater sense of pride, excitement and joy about our school."

At any level of competition, the economic aspects of operating a football program can be daunting. None of the five schools has unlimited financial resources to devote to football, so they will have to make prudent decisions to ensure their programs are financially stable. Start-up costs can run as high as $250,000 to $300,000.

"Yes, it's costly to put a program together," Smith says. "But the way to make this work is to treat it like a business, so it can take care of itself. But at the same time, you can't take money away from football and use it to pay for all the other programs."

As a member of the NCAA Division III, Stillman College does not offer athletic scholarships. However, that doesn't mean that money is not a prime concern. Richard Cosby, athletics director at Stillman, emphasizes that using a common-sense approach in spending matters and selecting coaches are critical steps in building a solid program. …

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