It’s the question VCU Athletic Director Norwood Teague just can’t dodge.
Will football ever be brought to VCU, and if so, when?
Teague—a North Carolinia native who is in entering his fifth year at the university after a five-year stint as Associate Athletic Director at UNC—gets asked almost daily, and doesn’t think the questions are going to cease anytime soon.
“I get (questions about football) all the time,” said Teague. “If I’m out in the community, I’ll honestly get one every day. It could be joking, it’s not always; somebody asked me about it at lunch today.”
For years, thoughts of forming a football team have been merely a pipedream or passing fantasy to most at the university, yet to Teague it’s a turned into a task; one that is more of a marathon than a sprint and one with no finish line in sight.
Though the topic itself is hardly a new one for those associated with the school, the idea seems to be as relevant, and indeed asked about, as ever. That’s because longstanding VCU President Eugene Trani—who was famously known for insisting football would not be brought to the school ‘on my watch’—stepped down last year after almost two decades in charge. When Trani stepped down, the possibility of pigskin once again reappeared.
With Trani’s successor, Dr. Michael Rao, coming from Central Michigan, a school with a football program, proponents of bringing the sport to VCU have renewed reason to believe.
“Dr. Rao knows the benefits of football; he also knows the costs and large undertaking that it is,” said Teague. “[He and I decided] if we ever were to do it, we want to make sure we do it the right way.”
Further fuel to the fire was added last year with the addition of Old Dominion’s football team. ODU’s team enjoyed a successful run in their first season of play, cruising to a 9-2 record. With the two schools already sharing a storied and heated rivalry, even the conference’s head honcho is under the impression that the Monarch’s move may force the Rams’ hand.
“CAA Commissioner Tom Yeager always says ODU starting a football team adds another log to the fire for VCU,” said Teague. “As (ODU’s football team) starts becoming more public, and as they start playing in the CAA and they start winning at a higher level, which they will, I think that will add a lot more fuel to the fire.”
Such a fire, however, will be easily doused without donor’s dollars. A lot of donor’s dollars, in football’s case.
If VCU were to add a football team, Teague projects startup costs to be in the range of $50 to 100 million overall with yearly operations sitting somewhere in the $5 million range. So massive is the undertaking that a football team would, in any and all likelihood, see the doubling of VCU’s student athlete population, a doubling of VCU’s athletic budget and a near doubling of VCU’s athletic support staff. Additionally, three female sports would have to be added to equal out the addition of some 50-plus football players due to Title IX.
So, where exactly is this money going to come from?
“We’d have to have a couple of major, major gifts to start football,” said Teague. “We would probably have to have one very, very involved corporation, financially, to have a naming right on the stadium. And after that you have to have sustainability in season ticket sales, with donations that go with that. It’d be an expensive proposition.”
It’s a proposition that also needs a facility to house the team. No official sites have been named as definitive destinations the school would pursue. However, City Stadium—which was vacated by the University of Richmond this year after moving into their new stomping grounds, Robins Stadium—is a natural fit and may be the most likely course of action.
No course of action will be taken on any front regarding football till after the start of the New Year, when Teague and Rao are scheduled to meet to begin studying the proposition of bringing the sport to VCU more intently.
“We really have to study (the proposition) more than we have and a lot of it depends on the economy.” said Teague. “If the economy comes roaring back are we guaranteed to start a football team? No, but it’s a huge factor in the question.”
A question that will continue to be asked until there is an answer, one way or the other.
“If VCU wasn’t doing so well both academically and athletically, it wouldn’t be that big of a question,” said Teague. “It’s a question because over the last 15 years we’ve done so well and have become such a strong university.”