Schreiner University is studying adding football to its NCAA Division III sports program, and it could make a decision as early as December to launch it.
On Friday's episode of The Lead Live, Schreiner's Dean of Students Charlie Hueber and Toby Appleton, the university's marketing and communications manager, said Schreiner is finishing a feasibility study ahead of an October presentation to the board of trustees.
The Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference's interest in adding football to its offerings moved Schreiner to act. Schreiner is a member of the SCAC. Four members of the conference currently field football programs. There are nine Division III programs in Texas, including powerhouse Mary-Hardin Baylor, winners of two Division III national titles since 2016.
"The conference is leaning toward turning the conference into a football conference," Appleton said. "So, they reached out to all of the conference schools to ask if the schools wanted to start a football program. They asked to do a feasibility study and give an intent of what we wanted to do by the end of the year. By December."
Ultimately, it will be up to the university's board of trustees to decide, and the biggest pill to swallow would be the startup costs.
Hueber estimates it could cost about $3 million to add the sport — that's just to start. However, if a majority of the SCAC universities add football, it reduces some of the travel costs associated with launching the program.
SCAC programs Austin College, Trinity College in San Antonio, Texas Lutheran University in Seguin and Southwestern University in Georgetown field teams. That closeness is appealing to Schreiner.
"Travel costs in football are extraordinarily high," Hueber said.
The SCAC has just two out-of-Texas members — Colorado College and Louisiana's Centenary.
However, the magnitude of a football program dramatically changes the university. It would add more than 100 players and staff — nearly doubling the size of the athletic department. It would expand the need for more athletic trainers and support staff.
"There's a calculated risk with anything when you add a program as large as football," Hueber said. "The fear is will the cost overwhelm us."
Hueber said there was plenty of self-reflection among those participating in the study, primarily questioning the costs and if Schreiner can compete. However, there's been an overriding enthusiasm for adding football among those who have participated in the study.
"Texas is a football state, and as such, it makes sense," Hueber said. "I think the most common question we get is why haven't we done it already. There are a lot of barriers to entry in football. Football uniforms cost a little bit. When you add 100 guys on campus, all of a sudden, your weight room needs to be changed."
While Texas has a huge high school football culture, its community college and non-Division I offerings are relatively small. The chance to play collegiate football could be a major attraction for students who may have not considered Schreiner.
Appleton said the university's pre-coronavirus pandemic goal was to double the enrollment by 2023. That would see Schreiner grow to more than 2,800 students. The university's newest dorm — Baldwin Hall — was designed to accommodate that growth. The hall's fourth floor is currently empty.
Hueber said there are bigger questions about scaling up athletic facilities, including upgrading current fields. The baseball and softball fields do not have lights. The track and field team practices at Ingram Tom Moore High School.
So, where does the football team go?
Hueber said Schreiner's athletic complex could be reimagined to accommodate football. Hueber said the $3 million startup costs wouldn't include facilities.
"We would still need to build a practice field or a stadium or create a deal to use a stadium in town," Hueber said.
Hueber and Appleton said there are significant benefits to adding the program, including recruiting students and donors to the university. Hueber said the collateral impact of football could expand other programs, including adding a marching bad.
In the Division III level, athletes pay their way, and there are no scholarships. While Division I athletes can now take advantage of name, image and likeness licensing deals that provide financial incentives, the same isn't true of Division III universities like Schreiner.