Reshaping who they are: Little Rock’s quest for football
October 9-15, 2017
By Kolton Ruterford
Two months ago, UA Little Rock announced it would conduct a feasibility study on bringing a football program and marching band to campus. According to Little Rock Athletic Director Chasse Conque, the study, with a target end date of April 2018, will be a collaborative effort funded through private support and the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, as well as the City of Little Rock.
The idea of a college football program in the capital city isn’t new. For years, Little Rock Junior College (former name of the university) fielded a team and in 1949 won the Junior College Rose Bowl. Since football left the university in 1955, students and citizens alike have displayed interest in the Trojans return to the gridiron. In recent years, the discussion has gained traction.
Last year, Little Rock’s Student Government Association (SGA) circulated a petition to bring football back to school. SGA presented the 1,000-student petition to university leadership earlier this year. The petition impressed the university and made them “proud,” Conque said as it showed students’ passion and resolve for campus athletics.
Despite student enthusiasm, it will take more than petitions to return football to UA Little Rock. If Little Rock chooses to pursue a football program, it will face several significant challenges. The cost of football on a college campus is high. “I think you have to recognize the financial piece…” Conque said. “It’s very expensive to have a Division I FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) college football program… it (finances) has to be part of the equation.” Conque also stressed the importance of fan engagement, as football is a spectator sport.
College football requires more staff, new facilities, additional scholarships, Ωand specialized equipment. Likewise, most universities with football programs have marching bands, all of which carry a hefty price tag. Title IX, a federal law requiring college athletics to equally value and finance men’s and women’s sports, is another significant factor in the discussion. To remain in compliance, Conque said, the university might have to add one or two women’s sports teams. As with football, those teams would also require facilities, equipment, scholarships, and staff. When asked what sports the university would consider, Conque stated it would require more research but stressed the importance of choosing the right sport (/s) to remain compliant. “You want to make sure there’s equity… that you’re not just starting a program just to start one,” Conque stated.
Taking all this into consideration, the athletic department’s budget would have to increase significantly. Conque stated in previous interviews he thought adding a football team would cost somewhere between $10 and $15 million dollars upfront, while also requiring a 70% expansion in his department’s yearly budget.
Despite daunting obstacles which complicate football’s return to Little Rock, the University has signaled its intent to explore all possibilities with the announcement of the feasibility study. Conque noted the importance of the decision the university will face in the future. “This conversation is so much more than the sport of football. It’s about an entire campus community and city totally reshaping who they are…”