A proposed football program at UNC Charlotte faces a sobering landscape of up-front costs and uncertain fundraising, according to a report from Chancellor Phil Dubois to the school's Board of Trustees.
The report, which was posted on the university's Web site Monday, offers slivers of hope to football advocates -- a vast majority of large public universities have football programs, the report says, and the most successful of those programs sometimes bring benefits in enrollment and incoming SAT scores.
Perhaps most tantalizing to supporters: Charlotte likely would play its home games at a renovated Belk Track complex in the heart of campus, the report speculates. But that possibility raises Charlotte football's biggest challenge -- how to find tens of millions of dollars for that renovation and other expenses not previously considered.
Dubois, who will present the report Thursday to the UNCC Board of Trustees, will not make a recommendation this week. Such an announcement probably will come by September, Dubois said. He said he is not leaning either way.
"This is all about due diligence," he said of the report. "These are the questions that anyone who is serious about football needs to ask."
At Thursday's meeting, Dubois will offer follow-up research to a study completed in February by the Football Feasibility Committee. That chancellor-commissioned committee recommended the school begin playing in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA, in 2012, with a move to the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly I-A, in 2016.
The committee said the school could turn an annual profit of $600,000 to $1.8 million playing football, although doing so would require students to pay at least $745 in athletic fees, a $300 jump and far more than any other school in the UNC system asks for from its students.
The committee's estimates didn't include some critical football costs, Dubois' report says, including up-front marketing of up to $1 million, a conference entrance/equity fee of approximately $3 million, and more than $1 million annually for operating costs of the football facilities. No additional annual operating costs are available for a stadium.
Stadium's a hurdle
Among the steepest hills for football, Dubois said Monday, is how to pay for a new or renovated stadium and football facilities -- both of which the feasibility committee declined to address in its report.
Dubois said one option -- playing at Memorial Stadium near uptown -- has been discounted after a visit from Kansas City, Mo., sports architecture firm HOK Sport helped determine that investing in renovation would not be worth the short-term benefit.
Two possible solutions: A renovation of the Belk Track Complex, or a stadium in the northeast corner of campus that could be part of a mixed-use development near the expected light rail line.
Dubois said the first option is more affordable and likely, if football is added. While a free-standing football stadium could cost between $60 million and $75 million, renovating the track complex might cost about $20 million. An auxiliary building and practice fields would add up to $30 million.
That money likely would have to be found through outside donors, said Dubois.
The chancellor's report shows donors historically have targeted Charlotte's non-athletic programs with 75 percent of their gifts.
Of the 886 football supporters who've made unbinding pledges to a private Charlotte football initiative, only 33 percent had given to the university before, for a total of $1.1 million. Four percent of those pledging annual donations previously have given more than $25,000 to the university.
Dubois noted that football might create a new market of donors who haven't given large amounts to Charlotte or its athletics programs. He will, if the board approves, spend the summer talking to potential donors and investigating fundraising possibilities, including selling Personal Seat Licenses to a new stadium.
As of now, he said: "I'd say it's sobering. You try to get a realistic assessment of what's ahead of us, and that's what's ahead of us."
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