Phil Dubois didn't fake, pass or punt. He put the football in the hands of key players and called a deft play: Show me the money, he said, and UNC Charlotte will suit up a gridiron team.
That move will not please rabid supporters pushing for a quick path to big-time college football. It will not please critics who believe a young public university ought to focus its energy and fund-raising muscle on academics. But if UNCC is going to start football, this is the right way to go about it. Mr. Dubois has come up with a responsible proposal.
Mr. Dubois told university trustees Thursday he supports starting a football program – but with stringent conditions. The first: The idea is dead unless football supporters raise $5 million in six months to help pay for a $45.3 million stadium. The second: The program will be scaled-down, with no plans to move to a more competitive division. The third: An outrageous proposed increase in the $445 mandatory student athletic fee to pay for football will be cut by one-third and phased in. That last point is critical. The athletic fee – $645 a year by 2013 – would still be higher than it should at a public campus with one of the highest levels of student debt in the state. Yet it's at least palatable. It's in line with UNCC's peers and will not require an exception from system policy.
Mr. Dubois embraced the right reasoning in explaining his decision. He said what swayed him was the value of football as a rallying point for students on a campus that badly needs to build atmosphere and spirit. He's correct.
Football is the most costly college sport. For UNCC, the question comes at a tricky time, too. The numbers and wealth of alumni are growing, but only so much money can be raised. Investing in football can suck limited, desperately needed private dollars from academics.
This is a significant risk, and before trustees proceed, they must make this reality check: Would boosters pushing to raise $45.3 million for a stadium work as passionately to mount a similar campaign for academic programs and scholarships?
The ball should move downfield only if the answer to that question is a deafening “bring it on!” and only if supporters of 49er football meet the high threshold in Mr. Dubois' carefully drawn plan.