Phil Dubois has a problem. He faces vocal advocates who want to start a football program at almost any cost. But he also faces the obligation that comes with being chancellor of a public university – to do what is best for that institution.
For now, he is doing exactly what a chancellor should do: He's vetting the numbers, raising tough questions and moving deliberately. But the time will come for him to be honest with himself and his trustees: This is the wrong time in a young university's life to start a costly athletic program from scratch.
UNC Charlotte Chancellor Dubois offered no recommendation on that issue to trustees last week. A feasibility study done last year weighed the advantages and disadvantages of fielding an NCAA Football Championship Division, or formerly Division 1A team, and gave it a thumbs up. Yet it is not that simple.
It's true a successful football program is a rallying point for a university. It can build identity, school spirit, draw in alumni and increase the numbers and quality of applications. (Case in point: Appalachian State University and its three-time national champion Mountaineers.)
Yet the cost is staggering: The study estimated the annual operating cost for UNCC football at $9.4 million. A 30,000-seat stadium would likely cost $60-75 million.
Chancellor Dubois has questioned whether those numbers are too low. He has also pointed out the unfair burden it would place on students: Non-optional student athletic fees would pay for 66 percent of the revenue needed for football. They would be the highest in the 16-campus UNC system. That's wrong for a public university with one of the highest levels of student debt and student financial need in North Carolina.
Here's another point: UNCC's private fund-raising is impressive given its relative youth. Yet that muscle is limited. As exciting as it would be to have hometown college football team in Charlotte, the prospect of UNCC strengthening its academic muscle and better integrating its mission into the region is more exciting. And there may not be enough money to do both well.
For now, Mr. Dubois has punted on a decision. That won't make the loud voices happy. But his careful leadership suggests he understands what is most important.