Fea­si­bil­ity of UALR foot­ball to get study

It’ll test sup­port for such a re­vival

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BROOKS KUBENA AND AZIZA MUSA

The Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock an­nounced Wed­nes­day plans to study the cost of re­viv­ing its foot­ball pro­gram and whether there would be enough com­mu­nity sup­port.

Sev­eral of­fi­cials said the idea of a col­lege foot­ball team in the cap­i­tal city has buzzed around cam­pus for sev­eral years, but no ac­tion was taken un­til some UALR stu­dents pre­sented firstyear Chan­cel­lor Andrew Roger­son with a pe­ti­tion of 1,000 sig­na­tures last spring in sup­port of re­viv­ing such a pro­gram.

“We had to ap­peal to rea­son that this is a very ex­pen­sive en­deavor,” Roger­son said. “We didn’t re­ally have an an­swer, and we con­sid­ered … a fea­si­bil­ity study to make an in­formed de­ci­sion on it.”

The idea for the study comes at a time when UALR’s en­roll­ment has been stag­nant and War Memo­rial Sta­dium is get­ting less Ra­zor­back foot­ball rev­enue. UALR is ex­plor­ing us­ing War Memo­rial Sta­dium for its foot­ball games, and the prospect of hav­ing a new ten­ant of­fers the sta­dium, and cen­tral Arkansas cities, the po­ten­tial of ad­di­tional in­come.

UALR had a foot­ball team when it was a ju­nior col­lege. The school claimed the na­tional foot­ball cham­pi­onship in 1949 for ju­nior col­leges. The team’s fi­nal sea­son was in 1955.

UALR will seek pro­pos­als from firms to con­duct the study, and the school will di­vide equal parts of the cost with the city of Lit­tle Rock and the Arkansas Depart­ment of Parks and Tourism. Roger­son said the study should take six to seven months, the es­ti­mated to­tal cost will be un­der $100,000, and UALR’s share will be paid with pri­vate funds from the ath­letic depart­ment.

A fo­cus of the study, Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Chasse Conque said, will be how UALR can take in enough rev­enue to cover the cost of run­ning a foot­ball pro­gram. Funds for Arkansas in­ter­col­le­giate ath­letic pro­grams in­clude do­na­tions, stu­dent-ath­letic fees and up to 2 per­cent in state ap­pro­pri­a­tions. The univer­sity won’t pro­ceed with a foot­ball pro­gram if it comes down to us­ing state ap­pro­pri­a­tions.

“That’s just not some­thing I would sup­port,” Roger­son said. “Hope­fully, this will be­come self-suf­fi­cient.”

UALR’s ath­letic rev­enue to­taled $11,993,856 from 201516 — 199th in the NCAA and last out of the 11 schools within the Sun Belt Con­fer­ence. UALR has re­ceived as­sur­ance from the Sun Belt Con­fer­ence that if it does cre­ate a foot­ball team, the team will have a spot within the con­fer­ence.

UALR is one of the 105 out of 356 (29.5 per­cent) schools within NCAA Divi­sion I that does not have a foot­ball team. The Univer­sity of Texas at Ar­ling­ton, which is sec­ond-to­last in to­tal rev­enue in the Sun Belt Con­fer­ence, is the only other school in the con­fer­ence that also does not have a foot­ball pro­gram.

The other uni­ver­si­ties within the Sun Belt Con­fer­ence that do have foot­ball pro­grams have bud­gets more than dou­ble that of UALR.

“It’s a huge com­mit­ment by the schools to do it if you don’t al­ready have foot­ball,” said UT-Ar­ling­ton Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Jim Baker, whose univer­sity con­ducted a fea­si­bil­ity study three years ago be­fore de­cid­ing to stop pur­su­ing a foot­ball pro­gram when it found that it would cost $10 mil­lion to start.

The high cost is why the Univer­sity of Alabama at Birm­ing­ham stopped play­ing foot­ball in 2014. The team is returning this sea­son.

“Ev­ery­thing you have to add to have a foot­ball team — the in­fra­struc­ture, not just fa­cil­i­ties but staff-wise,” Baker said. “We didn’t have a large sports medicine group, the tick­et­ing, the de­vel­op­ment, spon­sor­ship staffs — peo­ple you don’t even think about. You’re go­ing to have a lot of cost to get it go­ing.”

The ath­letic depart­ment bud­get will have to line up. The Arkansas Code An­no­tated 6-62-804 says that col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties can­not op­er­ate un­der deficits in ath­letic pro­grams. The state al­lows higher-ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions to take in money from un­re­stricted ed­u­ca­tion and gen­eral rev­enue, which is usu­ally for aca­demics, and from aux­il­iary prof­its, such as hous­ing or food ser­vices. But the schools can­not trans­fer more than 2 per­cent of its un­re­stricted ed­u­ca­tion and gen­eral rev­enue into their ath­let­ics de­part­ments.

If an in­sti­tu­tion has a deficit af­ter to­tal­ing ath­letic rev­enue and other in­come, pri­vate gifts and trans­fers from aux­il­iary or ed­u­ca­tion and gen­eral funds, it must charge a des­ig­nated stu­dent fee.

The Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion schools with higher bud­gets de­pend less on stu­dent fees than sub­di­vi­sion schools that have lower bud­gets. (The sub­di­vi­sion in­cludes large schools such as the Univer­sity of Alabama or the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville.)

Ac­cord­ing to a 2014 re­port from the Knight Com­mis­sion on In­ter­col­le­giate Ath­let­ics, the sub­di­vi­sion schools that spend $12 mil­lion-$29 mil­lion on ath­let­ics use 14 per­cent more from stu­dent fees than sub­di­vi­sion schools that spend $88 mil­lion-$154 mil­lion. The Knight Com­mis­sion is based in Florida and en­cour­ages in­ter­col­le­giate ath­let­ics pro­grams to op­er­ate within their schools’ ed­u­ca­tional mis­sions.

UA-Fayet­teville is the only pub­lic univer­sity in Arkansas that does not charge stu­dents ath­letic fees.

In 2015-16 — the most re­cent year for which an ath­letic bud­get re­port is avail­able from the state Depart­ment of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion — UALR charged its 11,891 stu­dents $ 18.75 per credit hour in ath­letic fees. The univer­sity raised $3,837,889 from it.

By com­par­i­son, Arkansas State Univer­sity with its 13,410 stu­dents that same year col­lected a lit­tle more than $5 mil­lion in stu­dent-ath­letic fees and $1,762,021 in ticket sales, about $1.4 mil­lion from foot­ball, data show. The Jones­boro univer­sity has also charged an ath­letic fee of $19 per credit hour since at least 2015-16.

UALR earned $4,097,305 from stu­dent- ath­letic fees last year when it charged $20 per credit hour. It will charge stu­dents $21 per credit hour for the 2017-18 aca­demic year.

A foot­ball team at UALR could at­tract more stu­dents and, in turn, raise more in stu­dent-ath­letic fee rev­enue, Roger­son said. The univer­sity has set a “15 in 5” goal — get­ting to 15,000 stu­dents by 2022. In the fall of 2016, 11,665 stu­dents were en­rolled at the univer­sity, down nearly 10 per­cent from five years ago.

What­ever the stu­dent-ath­letic fees even­tu­ally to­tal, UALR will look to pay the rest of the cost with do­na­tions and game rev­enue such as ticket sales.

In 2016, UALR took in $537,051 in do­na­tions to the univer­sity specif­i­cally for ath­let­ics, and $486,269 in ticket sales, mostly from men’s basketball games, ac­cord­ing to state data.

Larry Golden, a 1982 UALR grad­u­ate and for­mer swim­mer, de­ferred to the com­ing fea­si­bil­ity study in re­gards to whether the alumni base could help fi­nan­cially sup­port a foot­ball team’s ex­penses, but he be­lieved there would be enough lo­cal in­ter­est to gen­er­ate ticket sales.

“Imag­ine a game be­tween Lit­tle Rock and Arkansas State at War Memo­rial Sta­dium,” said Golden, who sits on the UALR ath­letic ad­vi­sory board. “What kind of draw would that have?”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchin­son said through his spokesman J.R. Davis that he sup­ports the study, and Lit­tle Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said that an­other col­lege foot­ball team in Arkansas would not flood the sports mar­ket.

“I’m an alum­nus of UA-Fayet­teville,” Stodola said. “I sup­port the Ra­zor­backs, and this is just a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion for UA-Lit­tle Rock. It’s a process that doesn’t hap­pen overnight. But long term for the city, it has some great pos­si­bil­i­ties. “

UALR has re­lied on do­na­tions to sup­port ath­letic ven­tures. The univer­sity was able to con­struct a new basketball arena for the 2005-06 sea­son be­cause of a $22.4 mil­lion gift from the late busi­ness­man Jack­son T. Stephens, and in Jan­uary 2016, the Cole­man fam­ily, own­ers of the for­mer Cole­man Dairy com­pany, agreed to do­nate nearly 8 acres for the univer­sity to build a new base­ball field and sports com­plex.

The Ra­zor­backs have played foot­ball games at War Memo­rial Sta­dium since 1948. Un­der its cur­rent agree­ment with War Memo­rial Sta­dium, UA-Fayet­teville will play one game in the Lit­tle Rock sta­dium through the 2018 sea­son. It is un­known what will hap­pen af­ter­ward.

UA Ath­letic Di­rec­tor “Jeff Long has to make some de­ci­sions on foot­ball games at War Memo­rial, and there may be some value in this process in how this de­ci­sion is made,” Stodola said.

The state-owned sta­dium is run by the Arkansas Depart­ment of Parks and Tourism and cur­rently rents out its fa­cil­ity for sev­eral ath­letic events.

“The more the mer­rier. We can ac­com­mo­date all of them,” said Kane Webb, the agency’s di­rec­tor. He would not say what the depart­ment would charge UALR and de­ferred to the out­come of the study.

“We just know that we would love to be a ten­ant for them if it should hap­pen. This study is the first step of this process.”

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