778 Schools Will Play College Football in 2018
Seven schools will kick off their inaugural seasons this fall while five more will launch in coming years.
IRVING, Texas (June 28, 2018) – The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) highlighted today that seven college football teams will take the field for the first time this season. Including the five other colleges and universities that will take the field in the coming seasons, the number of schools among all NCAA divisions, the NAIA and independents offering football has increased to an all-time high of 778.
Since 1978 when the NCAA changed its method for tracking attendance figures, the number of schools playing NCAA football (FBS, FCS, DII and DIII) has steadily increased by 182 schools from 484 in 1978 to 666 in 2017, or an average increase of 4.7 schools per year. Adding NAIA and independent schools playing football and schools launching programs in the coming years, the number of colleges and universities offering students an opportunity to play college football has been increased to the all-time high of 778.
In the past six seasons alone (2012-17), 35 football programs have been added by NCAA or NAIA institutions. Only 11 football programs have been dropped during the same span, including two at schools that closed and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which returned to the gridiron in 2017. All 778 schools that offer football will be represented on the three-story helmet wall at the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
Universities and colleges are adding football at all levels, and administrators have developed sound plans, ensuring the new programs address the unique financial, academic and long-term objectives of their respective schools. The 74 institutions listed below, who have implemented firm plans during the past decade, coupled together with the more than 20 schools with exploratory committees, create a clear and undeniable trend that presidents and trustees nationwide see the value of a football program as part of their overall academic mission.
“No other sport contributes more to the vibrancy of a college campus than football, and we are very pleased to highlight those schools that have added our great game,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “University and college presidents clearly see the value of having programs on their campuses, and we applaud them for understanding the role football can play in the educational experience of all their students.”
The rationale for adding football varies at each institution, and all of the decision makers who helped develop a plan for launching a program explain that an in-depth study played a critical role in finding the right level of play and the proper financial balance. Small colleges may cite increasing enrollment and addressing gender imbalances while larger universities might highlight the role of football in raising the institution’s profile and its ability to attract research grants. All mention creating a more vibrant on-campus community and connecting with alumni.
“With more than one million high school students playing football and more than 75,000 spots on college teams, there is plenty of room for expansion,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning. “Many of these colleges clearly recognize that football can play an important role in encouraging students to continue their educations by enticing them to enroll.”
According to a 2015 study of five small universities published in College Planning & Management by Virginia Wesleyan College President Dr. Scott Miller and former Carlow University (Pa.) President Dr. Marylouise Fennell, adding sports teams and facilities, especially football and marching bands, can fuel an enrollment boost. According to the study, each of the five institutions experienced a six-year increase of 26 percent or more, with one school doubling its enrollment during that period.
The schools have added programs at every level of play and in every region of the country, experiencing successes that run the gamut. In all, the 62 programs that have added football from 2008-17 have combined for two national championships, 36 conference championships and 49 postseason appearances.
In 2017, UAB went 8-5 and earned a trip to the Bahamas Bowl in its first season after a two-year hiatus. Georgia State, which launched its program in 2010, won its first bowl game after a win in the AutoNation Cure Bowl and had its first NFF National Scholar-Athlete selection in Chandon Sullivan. At the FCS level, Kennesaw State (launched in 2015) claimed its first conference title in 2017 and reached the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs.
West Florida, which launched its program just two years ago in 2016, reached the Division II National Championship Game. Berry (Ga.), which kicked off its inaugural season in 2013, claimed its first conference title and first perfect regular season in its history and reached the second round of the Division III Playoffs. Reinhardt (Ga.), which also launched in 2013, posted a perfect regular season, won its conference division title and reached the NAIA National Championship in 2017.
These are just some of the impressive achievements at schools that have recently added football. Others include notching impressive attendance figures; attracting increased enrollment; garnering national publicity; expanding their donor bases; and receiving invitations to join conferences at the next level.
The planning and preparation of seven programs will come to fruition as they begin intercollegiate play this fall: Allen University in Columbia, S.C.; Alvernia University in Reading, Pa.; Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind.; Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich.; Ottawa University-Arizona in Surprise, Ariz.; and the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine.
Allen University in Columbia, S.C., which had previously dropped its football program following the 2005 season, is among the new schools this season. The school announced in January plans to reinstate the program and that Teddy Keaton would be the team’s head coach as it begins its inaugural season this fall. The Yellow Jackets will compete at the NAIA level and will announce its 2018 schedule in the near future. Allen also announced it would be bringing back its marching band program after more than 50 years. Administrators believe both programs will attract more students to the university, which has a current enrollment of around 600.
Alvernia University in Reading, Pa., will begin its inaugural season while competing as a member of NCAA Division III’s Middle Atlantic Conference under the direction of head coach Ralph Clark. Since announcing the addition of a football program, the school has changed its mascot to the Golden Wolves and made significant upgrades to its stadium.
Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., which announced the launch of its program more than two years ago, will see its hard work pay off this fall as the Wildcats begin their kick-off season. A member of the NAIA’s Mid-States Football Association, Indiana Wesleyan will be playing its games in a brand new on-campus stadium. “We are really looking forward to competing in 2018 and this schedule will be a great test for our football program in our inaugural season,” said head coach Jordan Langs in March.
Keiser University will begin its first season in West Palm Beach, Fla., behind the leadership of head coach Doug Socha. Earlier this year, the Seahawks joined the NAIA’s Mid-South Conference as an affiliate member in football.
Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich., will return to the gridiron after a 70-year hiatus this fall and compete as an independent before joining the NAIA’s Mid-States Football Association in 2019. One of the university’s main objectives with the football program is to create an active student body.
“[Our student section, ‘The Pointe,’ will] give us that 12th man,” said Lawrence Tech head coach Jeff Duvendeck. “It’ll give us some extra support and make the stadium louder. It’ll bring the campus together, which I think is a big part of why you start an athletic program at a school is to bring the campus community together, and having that student section is a huge part of it.”
Ottawa University Arizona (OUAZ), a second campus of Ottawa University in Kansas, opened its doors in Surprise, Ariz., last fall. The school will kick off this season as a member of the newly formed Sooner Athletic Conference in the NAIA, and it will play its games at the brand new, state-of-the-art Spirit Field on campus. Veteran head coach Mike Nesbitt will lead the Spirit and is “extremely excited for this upcoming season.”
The University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, which announcing the addition of football in 2014 and played a junior varsity season in 2017, is prepared to play its first varsity season. A member of the Commonwealth Coast Football conference, head coach Mike Lichten‘s UNE Nor’easters join Alvernia as the two NCAA Division III football programs kicking off their maiden seasons this fall. The two schools will conclude their 2018 regular seasons with a game against each other in Biddeford.
The number of football programs across the nation continues to grow, with four additional schools announcing the launch of future teams since last fall: Allen University in Columbia, S.C. (which was previously highlighted as launching this fall); Barton College in Wilson, N.C.; Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H.; and Keystone College in La Plume, Pa.
In January, Barton College in Wilson, N.C., announced the addition of an NCAA Division II football program with the goal of an inaugural season in 2020. The private, liberal arts college’s decision to integrate football into its athletics program is based on its mission of providing programs and opportunities to encourage the intellectual, spiritual, social and cultural development of its students.
According to the college’s announcement release, football will enhance campus vibrancy, community engagement and institutional growth while helping balance the current gender ratio of 70/30 women to men.
“This is an exciting time for Barton College,” said Dr. Douglas N. Searcy, president of Barton College. “We know that we also have to make choices institutionally that will continue to expand our footprint and provide new and exciting opportunities for our students as well as positively engage our friends and partners in the community. Bringing football to campus is exactly that kind of bold choice. Football will undoubtedly create a tremendous surge of energy and enthusiasm among students, as well as faculty, staff, alumni and the Wilson community.”
Like all colleges and universities that add football programs, Barton came to its decision on the heels of an in-depth feasibility study and detailed analysis. On June 19, the school announced Chip Hester, who coached the past four seasons at North Carolina A&T State, as the program’s new head coach. The next steps will be solidifying the timeline.
With an enrollment just under 2,000, Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H., has fielded a sprint football team (all players weighing less than 178 pounds) since 2012. In February, the university announced it would begin transitioning to an NCAA Division II program, and the Ravens will join the Northeast-10 Conference in the sport beginning with the 2019 season.
“Moving to NCAA Division II Football is a significant step for the University, and one that makes sense, given the growing similarities to rules governing our existing Sprint Football program,” Franklin Pierce President Dr. Kim Mooney said in a university news release. “In terms of eligibility and expenses, the gap between Sprint and NCAA Division II Football has never been so close. Now is the logical time for Franklin Pierce to make the transition to Division II with our football program, allowing us to capitalize on the enhancements to our on-campus student experience which will come with such a transition.”
The changes were the result of analysis by Franklin Pierce that aimed to ensure its athletics program “continues to grow in reputation and impact, regionally and nationally.”
“It’s exciting to be part of something new,” head coach Rashad Watson told The Keene Sentinel. “We want people to know we’ve got a football team over here, we have a great campus and a great school that people (in the region) can enjoy.”
Keystone College, a 1,400-student institution in La Plume, Pa., announced in January it was bringing back its football program after a 71-year hiatus. The program will operate as a club program and play a limited schedule in the fall of 2019 before switching over to a full-varsity schedule in 2020 as a member of NCAA Division III’s Eastern Collegiate Football Conference. The Giants will play their home games at the school’s athletic field and track complex, which opened in 2014, and plans call for the construction of a new field house.
Keystone previously sponsored the football in the late 1800s through the 1947 season, and the college believes the new program will reinvigorate the proud tradition the sport once held on campus. Notably, Hall of Fame baseball player Christy Mathewson was a member of the Keystone football team from 1895-97.
“We are so excited to reintroduce football as our next varsity sport,” Keystone President David L. Coppola said in a news release. “This will be a wonderful experience not only for the student-athletes who come here to continue their education and compete on the NCAA Division III level but for our entire student body and alumni as well. We can’t wait to get started and we look forward to the day when we cheer for the Giants as they take the field for the very first time.”
According to the college, the success of other recently added sports made football the next logical step to continue the growth of the Keystone student-athlete experience. In addition to the benefits to the players, the college stated that football will provide an enjoyable and uplifting experience for everyone associated with the college, bringing people together to socialize and share common experiences. In March, the college announced that Justin Higginswould serve as the head coach of the revived program.
“My family and I are thrilled to be at Keystone College,” Higgins said in a news release. “I can’t wait to get started as we work to build a football program that reflects the values and traditions that have made Keystone what it is today. We are so very proud to be part of the Keystone community.”
The addition of a football program often entails a long, calculated process that frequently begins with studies conducted by task forces. Schools are more likely to begin the football feasibility process if there is significant support from the community.
Last year, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock announced it would conduct a football and marching band feasibility study following a student-created petition calling for the sport’s addition at the school. Already a member of the FBS’ Sun Belt Conference in all other sports, the university last fielded a football team in 1955 when it was known as Little Rock Junior College.
In October 2017, Little Rock chose a firm to conduct the study, which is evaluating whether a football program and marching band would be a fiscally responsible and meaningful addition to the university and the central Arkansas community. The study is examining every aspect, including costs, staffing, playing venue, facility construction and economic and enrollment impact. The study will put exact figures on both a startup and annual cost for Little Rock football, helping the university determine if it will move forward with the program.
In May 2018, Little Rock athletics director Chasse Conque updated the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees on the feasibility study, which he said would be completed by July 1.
“It’s all part of the bigger vision for the athletics department to compete at the Division I level,” Conque said, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Another school taking a real look at adding football is the University at Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, Texas, which boasts an enrollment of more than 28,000 students after the consolidation of the University of Texas at Brownsville and the University of Texas-Pan American.
The football feasibility committee at UTRGV was created in 2016 with legendary coach Mack Brown, a2018 College Football Hall of Fame electee, as its chairman. The committee has been looking at how other universities have set up football programs in recent years to determine best practices, including the University of Texas at San Antonio, which launched its program in 2011. The UTRGV feasibility study is expected to be released soon.
Rick Anderson, UTRGV’s executive vice president for finance and administration, explained to the Rio Grande Guardian in April what would happen after the study is released.
“We do expect a student vote coming this fall,” Anderson told the outlet. “If we assume that is positive it would go to the board. It would require student approval and then board approval sometime this fall. And then, of course, it takes several years to get up and running.”
Seven Programs Launching in 2018
Five Programs Launching in 2019 and Beyond
(Listed chronologically and then alphabetically.)
Four Programs Launched in 2017
Four Programs Launched in 2016
Four Programs Launched in 2015
Six Programs Launched in 2014
12 Programs Launched in 2013
Five Programs Launched in 2012
Eight Programs Launched in 2011
Six Programs Launched in 2010
Five Programs Launched in 2009
Eight Programs Launched in 2008