Football study part of bigger picture for UTRGV

EDINBURG — Before University of Texas Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey can plot the course for the university’s future, he needs to know if the time is right for a football program.

UTRGV announced yesterday the initiation of a football feasibility study, confirming a report The Monitor had Wednesday afternoon. Former Texas coach Mack Brown will guide the committee that will lead the study, which is a part of the university’s overall strategic plan.

“Had we done our strategic planning later, we would have done (the study) later,” Bailey said. “What you don’t want to do is do your strategic planning for the university and omit something like this. You don’t want to do something like this independent of broader strategic plans. That explains the timing of it.

“There is certainly a lot of community interest and a lot of other interest,” Bailey added. “Are we ready for it? That’s what the feasibility study will tell us, I think. We’ll be guided a lot by that.”

Brown was the coach at the University of Texas from 1998-2013, winning a national championship in 2005 and competing in another in 2009. He retired in 2013 and is serving as a special assistant to the men’s athletics director and president at Texas.

Brown, 64, is also a college football analyst for ESPN.

“You want to establish a program, you want to have a competitive program, and so you need somebody who has been there,” Bailey said. “Do you know anybody with more credibility than Mack Brown? So that’s what we’re trying to do. If we lay this out, he’s a guy with enormous credibility about how to be competitive in football.”

A UTRGV news release Friday stated the committee for the study will consist of Brown, special advisors, faculty and staff, student leaders and community members. The committee will work with consultants chosen to conduct the feasibility study. Final recommendations will be presented to Bailey.

The university has not yet chosen committee members or the consulting group.

“The opportunity to build a college football program from the ground up is unique, and I’m excited to be involved in the process,” Brown said in the release. “I know there are many passionate football fans in the Rio Grande Valley, and I can’t think of a better place to launch a college football program.”

Brown was not available for further comment.

UTRGV athletics director Chris King said in July 2014: “I think everybody realizes who is involved with UTRGV that (football) is probably five or seven years down the road before we even look at the study.” That was true then.

However, because of the impressive growth of enrollment at the university — which stands at 28,500 and is projected to be 40,000-50,000 in 10 years — the study is being conducted now.

In mid-January, UTRGV purchased 52 acres of land north of its campus in Edinburg. The university looked at using the land to build athletic facilities, among other venues, according to Marty Baylor, UTRGV executive vice president of finance and administration.

“We had already looked at the idea of putting a stadium out there,” Baylor told The Monitor on Tuesday.

The NCAA requires teams competing in FBS football, the top level of college football, meet a minimum average of 15,000 in actual or paid attendance per home game at least once in a rolling two-year period. According to a report in The Monitor in July 2014, only Weslaco’s Bobby Lackey Stadium could currently hit that mark, though another possibility is the new soccer stadium being built in Edinburg that initially will hold seating for 9,500 but could also be a multipurpose facility.

Even if UTRGV met the requirement for an adequate facility, more than one women’s sport would have to be added to meet Title IX regulations.

Bailey told The Monitor in July 2014 that adding a football program requires “perfect timing.” Bailey has experience in dealing with the situation. The University of Texas-San Antonio commissioned its football feasibility study two months after Bailey departed as provost and executive vice president in 2005, but he was a part of initial discussions to launch the study.

UTSA’s study took nine months to complete and was conducted by Carr Sports Associates Inc. The next step after the study was a student referendum to gauge support for a fee increase, which is necessary to bringing a football program to UTRGV.

It took almost three years for UTSA to receive approval from the UT Board of Regents on adding a football program. UTSA had an enrollment of more than 28,400 students at the time.

“They’re a great model,” Bailey said. “It’s a model of exactly how it should be done and could be done. They have a very fine athletics director, Lynn Hickey, who is a good friend of mine, and Lynn did things in exactly the right way. There are other models out there, too, and I’m no expert on it, but that is certainly a very good one.”

Whichever models are used, the mission is simple: seeing if football can be viable in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It is important that this study take into account all factors, including support in the community, potential infrastructure and funding models, and NCAA requirements for football programs at both the FCS and FBS levels,” King said in the release.

King was not available for further comment.

UTRGV’s study consists of the following items:

1. Identify specific, detailed costs (including capital outlay), revenues and facilities associated with implementing and maintaining a successful Division FCS and FBS football program. Provide benchmarking data and financial documents from similar FCS programs and similar FBS football programs, including start-up costs, explanation of expenses, expense line-items for football and additional non-football expenses.

2. Identify possible expansion of athletic facilities in UTRGV’s Campus Master Plan, including a conceptual space allocation for football.

3. Assess initial and ongoing support from students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, sponsors, media and other South Texas constituencies. Provide benchmarking data from similar FCS programs and FBS football programs.

4. Outline gender equity issues to remain in compliance with Title IX requirements based upon current sports programs of the athletic department once a FCS or FBS football program is added.

5. Provide data and information to develop a strategic plan and timeline for implementing an FCS independent or conference affiliated football program, and action plans for moving expeditiously.

6. Provide professional assessment with input from coaches and leaders in the field of ability to attract high-potential coaches and student-athletes, and schedule opponents that appeal to South Texas football fans.

7. Identify additional institutional, academic and athletic support systems required to maintain a successful all-around athletic program that includes football.

8. Identify NCAA requirements for FCS and FBS and possible conference affiliation changes or legislation pertaining to conferences.

9. Identify other transitional issues.