Students could vote this fall to bring a football program to The University of Texas at Tyler as early as 2015 if they approve an increase to the Intercollegiate Athletic Fee.
Administrators said the fee increase also would allow UT Tyler to add a drill team and marching band, in addition to expanding the cheerleading and dance squads.
“I believe it is time now to look at this and respond to what students have asked for a number of years,” Dr. Rodney Mabry, UT Tyler president, said. “My most common question has been ... ‘When are we going to have football?’ This (is) a good time to look at it in the right way.”
Increasing the Intercollegiate Athletic Fee would require approval from students and The University of Texas System Board of Regents. Students could vote on the issue if the Student Government Association puts it on a ballot this fall, said Dr. Howard Patterson, vice president for administration and government relations.
The student fee increase likely would be an additional $8 per semester hour in fall 2014 and $12 per semester hour in fall 2015, Patterson said.
For a student taking 15 hours, the fee eventually would double from $180 to $360 per semester.
Dr. Mabry said the fee increase could be a point of concern for state legislators who in recent years have emphasized lowering the cost of higher education.
“They would prefer to see few or no increases in tuition or student fees, and I understand that,” Dr. Mabry said. “On the other hand, we have seen a modest increase from the beginning. We did not participate in some of the very large increases that UT Dallas put in place, UT Austin put in place and others when tuition was deregulated.”
SGA President Michael Suarez said holding a vote on the fee increase would require a referendum by a student, or group of students, which has not yet been filed. Suarez said SGA senators are in the process of contacting constituents to gauge support for adding football, but the organization has not conducted formal research.
Suarez said the initial response from students has been mixed, with concerns primarily stemming from how the program would be funded.
“For the most part, students … want to have a football team. But at the same time, they don’t want to pay for it,” he said. “It’s kind of a Catch-22.”
Patterson said the addition of a football team, drill team, marching band and an expansion of cheerleading and dance would be profitable for UT Tyler in about five years, due to an expected increase in enrollment.
The UT System wants UT Tyler to reach enrollment of 10,000 students by 2020, he said, and adding these programs would help reach that total. Without these additions, the University is projected to reach only about 8,000 students by 2020 at the current growth rate, he said.
“It allows us to increase our enrollment, to have more people on campus, to have more of a campus atmosphere by adding the sport of football,” Patterson said.
He added that the growth would generate money that could be used to increase faculty salaries that are “notoriously below the mean in the state.”
Football teams need a lot of space.
Patterson said UT Tyler could not conceivably accommodate a football program with its current resources. Such a program likely would include an additional 150 student-athletes who need a locker room, weight-training equipment and washing machines to clean their pads and uniforms.
A football team also would need two additional practice fields. The current soccer fields likely could not endure the strain of the extra athletes, he said, and scheduling time on the fields could be an issue in the fall.
Patterson said he envisions new fields as part of a development project on Old Omen Road across the street from the soccer fields. In addition to two lighted practice fields — one grass and one turf — the area could be used for intramural sports and might include a disc golf course and walking trails. An on-site field house would have all the amenities for football, in addition to resources for existing sports.
“It becomes a multipurpose facility and something I think the students could benefit a lot from,” Patterson said.
The funding for this development, which likely would take 14 to 16 months to complete, would require more than what students could provide with a fee increase. Patterson said UT Tyler will need generous donors to help get the project off the ground.
“I’d rather be able to get as much external money as we can moving toward completing this facility than using the fee,” he said. “Part of the fee has to be set aside for this, but the more money that I can get … in the form of donations, the less that that fee has to go to (construction).”
Patterson said the facilities eventually could grow to accommodate a small stadium that could host games, but initially would be used for practice. If a football team began play in 2015, UT Tyler potentially could use Grace Community School’s Clyde-Perkins football stadium, located across the street from campus on the 3900 block of University Boulevard. However, Dr. Mabry said no formal plans have been discussed.
Even with overwhelming student support, adding football and the related programs likely would take two years.
Patterson originally hoped students would vote on the fee increase this spring, so that it could be implemented this fall. The extra funds could have been used to hire a head coach and possibly a few assistant coaches by the end of the year.
After meeting with student organizations and the Faculty Senate, he decided to pursue the vote in the fall. Patterson said he revised his plans because faculty questioned why UT Tyler would make adding these programs a priority instead of increasing salaries. He also was concerned about being able to inform enough students about the program prior to the vote.
If students vote to increase the fee this fall, the UT System Board of Regents will have to approve the measure. At that point, Patterson said he still could hire coaches at the end of the year if there is enough money in the Intercollegiate Athletic Fee reserve account, though he emphasized that is only speculation at this point.
Pending passage and approval of the fee increase, 2014 could mark the start of the first significant steps toward adding a football program. If enough money is secured, construction of the new facilities could begin in the spring. The first players, which Patterson calls the “leadership class,” would come to UT Tyler in fall 2014 to begin practice, though no games could begin until the following year.
“The idea is to bring in a group of kids and then go through all the drills (next fall),” he said. “The following fall, well now you’ve got 150 guys in here. … You’ve already got a group of kids that know the system.”
UT Tyler likely would begin profiting from the additional enrollment about three years after the first games are played, Patterson said. This partly is due to a lag in funding from the biennial Texas Legislature, which would increase funding to UT Tyler for enrollment growth.
While Patterson and Dr. Mabry expressed excitement about the potential of adding football and the associated programs, such as marching band and drill team, both avoided speaking with any certainty about the future.
“Ultimately, if the students say ‘No, we don’t want football,’ then we’ll have to look and try and find some other way to increase enrollment,” Patterson said. “… It depends on the students.”
Andy Taylor is the editor-in-chief of the Patriot Talon and is also a copy editor for the Tyler Morning Telegraph.