Many current University of West Florida students and faculty can remember when President Judith Bense announced the UWF vision for student life enhancement in Fall 2011, an announcement that brought hope for the start of a football program in the near future.
In addition to football, the student life enhancement project included new facilities on campus. A new sports complex, an event center and an outdoor pool were all proposed ideas, according to the student life video produced by UWF.
Prior to the announcement, Bense appointed members to the Football Feasibility Committee. The committee met seven times over a five-month period before sending the final recommendation to Bense. The committee set several benchmarks that must be achieved in order for a football program to be feasible at UWF.
The student life announcement caused immediate buzz on campus about the potential football program. However, there have been few updates since the announcement in Aug. 2011. The Pensacola News Journal reported that Bense’s goal is to have a Division II football program by 2016.
It has become a bit of a waiting game for anxious students and others affiliated with the university. Common concerns for the starting the program are the increase in tuition fees and harming the natural beauty of the UWF campus. The idea of a football team is clearly appealing to those attracted to a more traditional college environment, not to mention a greater awareness of the institution, but what exactly can we expect from UWF and its football program during its first few years?
UWF has announced that it would like to charge a student fee from two to five dollars per credit hour to fund football. These funds will be used on coaching staff, equipment, travel, NCAA fees and other operating expenses.
It is tough to find a school to compare to UWF regarding football. Until 2012, there were no Division II football teams in Florida. The Florida Institute of Technology now has a team, and is just months away from its inaugural game this Sept.
Florida Tech Assistant Athletic Director of Communication Ryan Jones has seen the effects of the programs start.
“Campus has been so embracing, Jones said, “students are so extremely excited for the start of Florida Tech Football.”
The Florida Tech Panthers did not compete with other schools in their first year. However, the team has still had a busy season and has had no problem capturing campus attention. The Panthers have 4 played four inter-squad scrimmages since the start of the program. Jones said he has noticed day-by-day improvement and added that the team has now started full-contact practices.
“Each day that passes is one day closer to our inaugural game,” Jones said, “the guys are hitting pretty hard out there.”
Florida Tech had its first Panthers vs. Florida Tech spring game Saturday night. According to the Florida Tech press release, Team Panthers defeated Team Tech 17-7 in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
Florida Tech also built new facilities for the football program, including a varsity training center equipped with a weight room, showers, meeting room, and the football locker room. An Astroturf field was also added for football practice as well as intramural sports. Florida Tech football will be part of the Gulf South Conference; the same conference UWF football would join once the program is established.
“Florida Tech is very excited for the potential program at UWF,” Jones said, “We keep our ears open for any updates coming from that way.”
UWF will not come across any cupcake competition in the GSC, which includes Valdosta State, the reigning national champion. In addition to the Blazers, West Alabama and North Alabama both rank in the top 10 regionally.
Unlike UWF, Florida Tech never had plans to increase student fees.
“Florida Tech is a private institution and our football program is a self-funded sport,” Jones said.
Florida Tech started a founders club to cover a large portion of expenses. The 12 founders collectively raised 1.2 million dollars for the football program. In addition, a presidents club was started with a $50,000 commitment over five years. Florida Tech is also playing home games at nearby Palm Bay High School.