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Football at UTPB still faces some hurdles - Odessa American: UTPB

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Football at UTPB still faces some hurdles

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Posted: Saturday, December 14, 2013 5:00 am

Football is coming to UTPB, but not right away and only if the university can raise enough money to support it.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Thursday approved UTPB’s business proposal for implementing an NCAA Division II football program, with the fall of 2016 as a target for the school’s first season of competition. It was a significant hurdle to clear in terms of making college football a reality in the Permian Basin, and there are two more challenges facing the university.

UTPB President David Watts said during a campus news conference Friday that the plan for football won’t move forward unless students approve the repurposing of an existing student fee, which UTPB expects to generate $1.9 million in football-supporting revenue during the initial five-year period. The school also needs to raise $9.5 million in private donations, which would cover startup costs and operating costs through the first four seasons of play, by the end of 2014.

“We need to raise the money. That’s the most immediate obligation in front of us,” Watts said. “We will not be allowed to move forward, the regents and the chancellor’s office will not permit us to go forward, unless we meet those financial targets.”

Odessa businessman Kirk Edwards, who will lead UTPB’s fundraising efforts, said the school already has secured $3 million in pledges. He said the bulk of that money was pledged about a year ago by the John Bushman and Dick Saulsbury families of Odessa.

UTPB had suspended its fundraising drive until Thursday’s go-ahead from the board of regents, and Edwards said that drive will soon resume.

“What’s great right now is you find people that want to support the arts and the Wagner Noël (Performing Arts Center),” Edwards said. “You’ll have another set of people that wouldn’t do that, except they will on supporting an initiative like football or athletics in the Permian Basin. It’s just making the pitch on how it supports these kids and the university going forward, and see if it hits their heartstrings to donate to the project.”

UTPB athletics director Steve Aicinena said 2014 will strictly be a fundraising and planning year in terms of preparing for football and an expanded athletic department, which also will include men’s and women’s golf teams. The school plans to hire paid assistant coaches for all its athletic teams and will construct a fieldhouse, two football practice fields and training and locker room facilities.

But no one will be hired, and no ground will be broken, until the fundraising goal is met.

“You’re not going to see dirt fly and you’re not going to see 6-foot-4, 240-pound athletes walking around campus,” Aicinena said. “There may be a period of adjusting and adapting to make use of the facilities we have in terms of renovating them temporarily or temporarily housing people in places. But it’s going to work out. Growing pains are a good sign, because they’re a sign of growth.”

If the fundraising goal is met by the end of next year, Aicinena said UTPB will hire its first football coach in January 2015. The first wave of players would reach campus the following fall and spend the entire school year preparing for their first season of competition in the fall of 2016.

UTPB also must align itself with a football-playing conference. It presently competes in the Heartland Conference, which does not support football, and Aicinena said the most likely destination is the Lone Star Conference.

UTPB could seek full-fledged membership in the Lone Star or remain in the Heartland for every sport except football, which is the arrangement for McMurry University in Abilene.

“We haven’t entered into any discussions with their commissioner or their presidents at this particular point,” Aicinena said of the Lone Star Conference.

So Saturday afternoon tailgates at Ratliff Stadium, which UTPB will rent for its home games, aren’t in the immediate future. But the board room full of UTPB faculty, coaches and student-athletes who attended Friday’s news conference already have warmed up to the idea.

They cheered for every significant announcement made by Watts, who wore a football-themed orange tie and displayed a white football helmet with UTPB decals on each side.

“I’m excited,” said UTPB women’s basketball player Giselle Loya, a Seminole native. “I’m sad that it’s going to be going on after I graduate, but I’m sure I’ll come back to come watch a game.”

>> Follow Adam Zuvanich on Twitter at @OAZuvanich

Football is coming to UTPB, but not right away and only if the university can raise enough money to support it.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Thursday approved UTPB’s business proposal for implementing an NCAA Division II football program, with the fall of 2016 as a target for the school’s first season of competition. It was a significant hurdle to clear in terms of making college football a reality in the Permian Basin, and there are two more challenges facing the university.

UTPB President David Watts said during a campus news conference Friday that the plan for football won’t move forward unless students approve the repurposing of an existing student fee, which UTPB expects to generate $1.9 million in football-supporting revenue during the initial five-year period. The school also needs to raise $9.5 million in private donations, which would cover startup costs and operating costs through the first four seasons of play, by the end of 2014.

“We need to raise the money. That’s the most immediate obligation in front of us,” Watts said. “We will not be allowed to move forward, the regents and the chancellor’s office will not permit us to go forward, unless we meet those financial targets.”

Odessa businessman Kirk Edwards, who will lead UTPB’s fundraising efforts, said the school already has secured $3 million in pledges. He said the bulk of that money was pledged about a year ago by the John Bushman and Dick Saulsbury families of Odessa.

UTPB had suspended its fundraising drive until Thursday’s go-ahead from the board of regents, and Edwards said that drive will soon resume.

“What’s great right now is you find people that want to support the arts and the Wagner Noël (Performing Arts Center),” Edwards said. “You’ll have another set of people that wouldn’t do that, except they will on supporting an initiative like football or athletics in the Permian Basin. It’s just making the pitch on how it supports these kids and the university going forward, and see if it hits their heartstrings to donate to the project.”

UTPB athletics director Steve Aicinena said 2014 will strictly be a fundraising and planning year in terms of preparing for football and an expanded athletic department, which also will include men’s and women’s golf teams. The school plans to hire paid assistant coaches for all its athletic teams and will construct a fieldhouse, two football practice fields and training and locker room facilities.

But no one will be hired, and no ground will be broken, until the fundraising goal is met.

“You’re not going to see dirt fly and you’re not going to see 6-foot-4, 240-pound athletes walking around campus,” Aicinena said. “There may be a period of adjusting and adapting to make use of the facilities we have in terms of renovating them temporarily or temporarily housing people in places. But it’s going to work out. Growing pains are a good sign, because they’re a sign of growth.”

If the fundraising goal is met by the end of next year, Aicinena said UTPB will hire its first football coach in January 2015. The first wave of players would reach campus the following fall and spend the entire school year preparing for their first season of competition in the fall of 2016.

UTPB also must align itself with a football-playing conference. It presently competes in the Heartland Conference, which does not support football, and Aicinena said the most likely destination is the Lone Star Conference.

UTPB could seek full-fledged membership in the Lone Star or remain in the Heartland for every sport except football, which is the arrangement for McMurry University in Abilene.

“We haven’t entered into any discussions with their commissioner or their presidents at this particular point,” Aicinena said of the Lone Star Conference.

So Saturday afternoon tailgates at Ratliff Stadium, which UTPB will rent for its home games, aren’t in the immediate future. But the board room full of UTPB faculty, coaches and student-athletes who attended Friday’s news conference already have warmed up to the idea.

They cheered for every significant announcement made by Watts, who wore a football-themed orange tie and displayed a white football helmet with UTPB decals on each side.

“I’m excited,” said UTPB women’s basketball player Giselle Loya, a Seminole native. “I’m sad that it’s going to be going on after I graduate, but I’m sure I’ll come back to come watch a game.”

>> Follow Adam Zuvanich on Twitter at @OAZuvanich

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