Cover Story: UNC Charlotte football - play ball

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - UNC Charlotte football program officially in play.  Kickoff set for 2013.  But that kickoff is gonna cost.  In our Cover Story, PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson reports on a little known secret behind the cost of college football.

On Friday, the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees voted to go ahead with a plan to start a football program in less than four years.

To pay for the program, the university is going to raise yearly student fees $320 over the next couple of years.  The school is also counting on selling seat licenses.

There's been so excitement about the prospects of Charlotte fielding a team, centered around the fact that UNC Charlotte is one of the largest public institutions in the country without a football program, but we wanted to take a critical look at all the costs.

Football at the college level.  It's as much a part of the American fabric as it gets.

But there's a little secret about football programs large and small that most people don't know.

The NCAA in this report studied the revenue and expenses for three years from 2006-to-2008 and found all but a handful of football programs in the country lose money.

"Football is a loser. Intercollegiate football at the Division One level loses money."

Dr. David Goldfield, a history professor and served as faculty representative to the NCAA from UNC Charlotte, showed us the numbers.

Only four percent of football programs in the Football Championship Subdivision, what used to be known as Division I-AA.. the division UNC Charlotte would play in reported budget surpluses.

Athletic department budgets at those schools.. median budgets almost 11-and a half million dollars.  That's more than three times UNCC's current athletic budget.

So it's not just the facilities that'll cost.. there's ongoing operations.

And if Charlotte hopes to eventually make it to the big leagues.. to compete on the level of say an Alabama, Texas or Florida.. it gets more expensive.

"What is happening now in Division One football is basically an arms race," says Goldfield, "because the guy down the road has the bigger stadium, has the better facilities, more coaches.. well you've got to have that too."

And who bears most of those costs?.. students.  North Carolina like many states.. prevents taxpayer dollars from going to fund athletic programs.

The plan University Trustees approved Friday calls for borrowing 40-and a half million dollars (five and a half million already raised) to build a 15-thousand seat stadium and field house.. paid for through seat licenses and and a hike in student fees.

In moving forward, officials say football is something everyone wants and will boost the University's image and its presence in Charlotte and beyond.

"I am humbled and overwhelmed and very excited for the future of our University and our athletic program," says UNC Charlotte Athletic Director Judy Rose.

By adding football, the University will have to add up to three women's athletic programs to be in compliance with federal rules, that will drive up costs as well.

With the economy some people might be wondering why they're going forward with this now?

They say now is a good time to do it, build it cheaper while interest rates are at an all-time low and construction costs are lower.

By showing they're committed-- UNCC believes it'll be easier to raise seat license money.

It's not a completely done deal the University of North Carolina Board of Governors and the General Assembly still must sign off on the plan and that's expected to come by next summer.