No question about it, I enjoy watching football; especially if the WVU Mountaineers or the Pittsburgh Steelers happen to be playing. When I started graduate school at Florida Gulf Coast University in 2009, I remember the buzz about the new university president seriously looking into starting a football program at the 12 year-old university. Two years later, a feasibility study determined that it could cost up to $144 million to bring a football program to FGCU. No small chunk of change; even when you are not dealing with statewide budget cuts to higher education and growing dissatisfaction with higher education in general. Needless to say, the results of the feasibility study pretty much put the question of football at FGCU on indefinite hiatus.
And as a student at the time, and now as an alumna; I take pride in this decision.
Yes, football adds a unique facet to the collegiate experience. Yes, football can do wonders for a college’s name and marketability. However, football…or any sport for that matter…is still an extracurricular activity. Meaning that is exists in addition to the main purpose of a college — which is education. For example, the college library is 1000 times more important than football because it exists to support the main purpose of the college. Football does not. So let’s not lose sight of this.
Besides the obvious (that football is not a mandatory requirement for a college), let’s look at some more specific reasons as to why FGCU is smart for not having a football program:
- Football is expensive. Since I like using analogies, I’ll take the opportunity to use one here. I see a college’s football program as a personal yacht. Yes, there is a certain level of prestige that comes along with it. Yes, you can potentially make money from it. However, in the majority of cases, it will become a money pit. Yes, in spite of the hype, only 14 FBS football programs out of 120 are profitable. That’s only 12%. So there is a good chance that once you take on football, you take on a lot of bills and expenses; with the small hope of seeing a return on your investment sometime within the next generation.
- The best colleges are not (only) known for their football programs. In spite of the fact that collegiate football does seem to impart some benefit to academics, the academic prestige of a college is not strongly correlated with the success of its football team.
- It opens up the door to gender inequality in college athletics. Due to Title IX regulations adopted by the NCAA in 1972, any collegiate athletic program that benefits from federal funds must host an athletic program that presents (relatively) equal opportunities for both men and women in regards to participation. Since football is a men’s only sport, FGCU would need to take on a comparable number of female athletes in order to level the scales. Many schools opt to not fully comply however, and instead resort to unsavory techniques such as “roster management” where the ratio of male to female student athletes is skewed by counting female athletes multiple times and even by counting males as females in sports such as fencing. Surprisingly, this practice is pretty common. However just because everyone else is doing, does not mean that I want my alma mater to do it as well.
- Location, location, location. Part of the mission of Florida Gulf Coast University is to serve the academic, cultural and career aspirations of its constituents; especially in the Southwest Florida region; a region whose population increases 22% between November and April and supports a population where 27% of its members are over the age of 65. This is out-of-sync with the beginning of the football season and the profile of avid football fans. In addition, large transient populations tend to continue their hometown sports allegiances, not adopt the local and lesser-known teams of their winter-homes (and teams that have yet to prove themselves at that).
FGCU has a lot more going for it than football; so the choice to eschew it should not be seen as a mistake. It’s commitment to the environment and sustainability is admirable and sets the university apart from other schools in the state. The new Bower School of Music and the U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering are brand new and hold a lot of promise. And if you absolutely have to have some kind of sport team to support, both the men and women’s basketball teams have winning records and are making a name for themselves nationally.
At the end of the day, there is more to life than football…especially life in college.