The University of North Carolina at Charlotte could well claim kinship with The University of Texas at San Antonio as a large (about 25,000 students), relatively young school on the outskirts of a growing American city, with a mission of putting itself more prominently on the regional map and building school spirit in the process. The school is building a football team of its own—and an on-campus stadium—in preparation for the 2013 season.
“The football program to me is a piece of marketing to the university and giving students a full-blown college experience without going away on weekends,” explains Mac Everett, the former chairman of UNC Charlotte’s Board of Trustees, who also chaired the school’s football feasibility study in 2007.
“It’s also been very difficult over the years to tie the university to the city and to gain the city’s ownership of our university. Because of UNC Charlotte’s young age, our alumni have just begun to get into leadership positions in our community.”
Similar to UTSA, the football program will be funded through: annual student fees, ticket sales and seat licenses, and private donations to defray the $6 million start-up cost for the team and its continuing operation. The $46 million stadium—which is under construction and will seat 15,000 but is expandable to 40,000—is being financed through a bond issue.
As for tackling these projects in a flagging economy, Everett insists that there’s no time like the present. “There would never be a time when the money to start a football program would be readily available,” he says. “To reduce it to a discussion of finances misses the chance to develop the larger vision of the university.”
UNC Chancellor Philip Dubois agrees that there’s more than the bottom line at stake. “Looking down the road 20 to 25 years, how would the university compare to the institutions with which we’d like to be compared? We’d be one of the biggest institutions without football,” he concludes.
Over the past 15 years, Dubois point out, UNC Charlotte has transitioned from a largely commuter college to a more residential student body, “and they’ve been clamoring for more college activities.” He adds that the current climate of low interest rates has created favorable conditions for financing the new stadium. “At under four percent, that’s almost free money to us. I think the stars are properly aligned.”
The football team will debut in August 2013 unaffiliated with any conference in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision. When, and if, UNC Charlotte moves to the Football Championship Subdivision remains to be determined, says UNC Charlotte Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Judy Rose, who admits that the challenges of hosting games at the school’s own stadium will rival those of any big time program.
The football team’s preseason spring game in 2013 will serve as the testing ground for operational logistics, Jones says. “The one big takeaway from visiting other schools that had started football programs was that football will expose every weakness, whether you don’t have enough change at the concession stands, or the parking is a mess.”