PEMBROKE, N.C. – On Saturday afternoon, September 1, 2007, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke will play its first football game in more than 50 years.
Football kick-off – From left: Board Chair Carl Meares Jr., Chancellor Allen C. Meadors, Student Government President Venessa Jones and Athletic Director Dan Kenney.
The Board of Trustees approved the return of football to UNCP in a unanimous decision on Wednesday, December 1, 2004.
It was a decision that will transform athletics at the University. UNCP officials said a football program would transform the entire University.
“In my 30 years in higher education, I have never seen such high levels of approval,” said Chancellor Allen C. Meadors. “This is the best, most positive response I have ever seen.”
Board Chair Carl Meares Jr. said a football program would affect the entire community.
“I think it will be a great asset to the school and the community,” Meares said.
Surveys of students, faculty and alumni indicated about a 70 percent approval rating, and higher in some sectors. Of the 1,100 students surveyed this fall, 91 percent favored establishing a football team.
To fund the program, trustees approved a $70 per semester increase in student athletic fees that will raise nearly $500,000 per year at current enrollment levels. A campus committee, comprised of students, faculty and staff, unanimously approved the increased fee.
Athletic Director Dan Kenney and football consultant George “Buddy” Sasser presented a detailed “Football Feasibility Study” during the afternoon meeting of the Board of Trustees.
The study offers an analysis of the program’s start-up, including the recommendation that the Irwin Belk Track and Soccer Complex be converted to a football stadium with artificial turf. To create “gender equity,” the study recommends the creation of women’s golf and indoor track teams.
For the kick-off at the new 2,000-seat Belk Stadium, there will be more than 100 football players on the rooster - 36 receiving athletic scholarships - and seven new coaches. The team will compete in Division II of the NCAA as an independent or member of the South Atlantic Conference or the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
The team will play on a “FieldTurf” playing surface and wear game uniforms that cost $175 each. A field house with locker rooms, training facilities and offices will also be needed.
Although the feasibility study offers a detailed look and timetable for launching a football program at UNCP, Kenney cautioned that it is only a plan, and there is a great deal of work to do before kick-off time.
“We have a plan and funding in place,” Kenney said. “There are many decisions to be made, and we must get the fundamentals in place before we proceed.”
Trustee Dick Taylor said raising money in the private sector would be a high priority.
“I feel that a lot of this money will have to be raised through the Office of Advancement,” Taylor said. “Before we kick-off, someone is going to have to start running for a touchdown in fundraising.”
Chancellor Meadors said a major fund-raising campaign is waiting in the wings.
“Not a penny of base-line budget money will go to football, and that’s the way it should be,” Chancellor Meadors said. “Everything in this proposal would come from funds that have already been identified.”
“We can do the basics, but if we are going to build a high-quality program, we will have to raise funds,” he said. “We will immediately begin pulling together a prospect pool and identifying volunteers for committees.”
“In my five years here, there has been more positive support for this program than anything we have done,” Chancellor Meadors said.
Sasser, who as athletic director started Coastal Carolina University’s football program in 1999, said increased enrollment and retention came with football. He said football supports the entire university.
“Some of the best contributors to the library and other programs came through football,” the consultant said. “Public support for football is unbelievable. I can’t explain it.”
“We had people coming to games who live two miles from campus and had never visited before,” Sasser said. “It’s unbelievable the positive public relations and alumni support you will get.”
“You’ve done your homework,” he said. “It’s scary to look at the cost, but you’re going to have unbelievable support for a football program.”
Chancellor Meadors offered evidence of that support.
“I’ve gotten emails that say, ‘I’ve never given to the University. If you start a football program, I’ll give,’” he said.
For more information on UNCP football, contact the Athletic Department at 910.521.6227.