College Football Blitz
With six schools now fielding Division 1 Bowl Subdivision teams, Florida has become a major battleground in the college football arms race. But does it pay to play?
As for the effort going into new stadiums, schools without their own stadiums ask why they shouldn’t have the same amenities that UF and FSU have enjoyed for years. Particularly, they say, since they don’t use public money or tuition fees. UCF officials say they raised $29 million in private donations for their new stadium, including $15 million from Bright House for naming rights. They plan to pay the balance of the $55-million construction bill via ticket and concession sales, revenue from suites and club seat leases, donations, corporate sponsorships and advertising. FIU is taking a similar approach to the $31-million first phase of a stadium project that’s expected to open for the 2008 season, and likewise FAU with its $62-million facility, slated to open in 2010.
GAME PLAN: State cuts in university operational spending are frustrating and hard on the teaching mission, says FAU President Frank Brogan (left), but “it’s harder for athletics because they don’t receive operational money from the state. They just can’t sit and pout because they didn’t get enough money handed to them by the state of Florida. They actually have to go out and make theirs.” [Photo: JC Ridley]
The schools also say the cost-income equation doesn’t reflect the intangible benefits of football — what FSU’s Lee Hinkle, vice president for university relations, calls the “sense of being” that comes with sports. Hinkle, whose department oversees the alumni organization and also its academic foundation and athletic fund-raising Seminole Boosters, says sports help market FSU to the high school students, professors and donors the university wants to attract.
“You don’t have ABC or NBC coming to your campus and wanting to publicize your recruitment of National Merit Scholars,” Hinkle says. “Having sports is a way to pique people’s interest and get them interested in the university. Once they’re at the front door, you can bring them in.”
Many students reflect that view. “I do find it curious why, having won a basketball championship and football championship, we have such a high faculty-to-student ratio,” says 23-year-old Daniel Hanser, a UF student from West Palm Beach. “But athletics is incredibly important to me: My first memory as a child is literally Emmitt Smith running touchdowns on Florida Field.”
On a roll
Cheering on the home team in Tallahassee [Photo: Florida State University]
College football appears to have plenty of momentum to expand further. “The right way to think of college football is it’s professional football in the 1960s and ’70s,” says Noll, the Stanford’s sports economist. “There’s no sign sports will do anything but get more popular. The only real serious issue here is how long it’s going to last. In regard to professional sports, people started to ask how long is this going to last in the 1960s. Fifty years later, it’s still going.”
For the moment, however, it doesn’t appear that Florida’s football epidemic will become a pandemic. The state schools without football — the University of North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, the University of West Florida and New College — say they have no plans to get in the game. UWF Athletic Director Todd Davis says school officials have discussed adding a football program but don’t expect to start one anytime soon.
“As you will find out,” he says, “the expense to develop a sport such as football can be astronomical, while maintaining it has its own challenges.”