By Scott Pauley
The University of West Florida and the Community Maritime Park Associates have announced a deal to allow UWF’s football team to play its inaugural season in 2016 at the Pensacola Bayfront Stadium, the home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
The proposed agreement will allow UWF to move forward with plans to start football in 2016 by eliminating the need to have a stadium built on campus before the season begins, thereby reducing the startup costs of a new football team.
“Many of the details of the agreement are being worked out, but the terms as of now are that UWF will pay the CMPA $5,000 per game to rent the facility and the CMPA will receive $1 for every ticket sold,” said Matt Rowley, director of athletic communications for UWF, in an email. “The concessions part of the agreement is still unclear because that information will be addressed in an agreement with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and the CMPA. The agreement is in concept and has yet to be finalized.”
The stadium will seat about 5,000 people with the proposed configuration for UWF’s games. UWF President Judy Bense said the Bayfront Stadium was designed to be a multiple-use stadium and was created with the idea of eventually bringing football teams into it.
Rowley mentioned the university would try to accommodate students with transportation to the games.
In addition to this announcement for football, the UWF Board of Trustees passed a resolution Friday supporting the plan to bring football to the school in 2016. This step will allow UWF to continue on the path to include interviewing and hiring a coaching staff by spring 2014.
The first class of student-athletes will enroll in fall 2015, and will begin practicing and scrimmaging to prepare for the inaugural season the following fall.
The long-term plan for football calls for coaches offices, practice fields, strength and conditioning areas and locker rooms to accommodate football. In the immediate future, coaches offices will be located in the Field House.
Bense also said the school is more than halfway to the goal of raising $1.4 million to start the hiring process and field a team. The money came from donors who will be named at a later date, and the savings from the athletic fees that students pay with tuition.
“As our enrollment has grown, part of the athletic fee has gone to athletics, and Athletic Director Dave Scott has been squirreling away some of that money for football,” Bense said.
At a meeting of the UWF Football Founders Committee on Tuesday, Bense said she decided to “stop beating her head against the wall” while trying to gain funding for football from the state legislature. UWF will now look for funding primarily from private donations in addition to the budget from the athletic fees.
“Private giving through the Argonaut Athletic Club supplements the program budgets for the current sports, and private giving will be essential to the football budget as well,” Rowley said, but added that no cuts have been made to current sports budgets because of football.
The budget for the football program will be funded on a yearly basis. Funds will come from current athletic fees, scholarships, private donations, corporate sponsors and ticket sales. The budget is expected to grow each year leading up to the 2016 season.
“The program budget for football will be similar to the budgets for UWF’s current sports in many ways,” Rowley said. “None of UWF’s current sports are fully-funded with the maximum number of scholarships, and football will be the same.”
The current plan with the CMPA does not call for any new fees associated with football.
Current athletic fees have been increased to expand sports at UWF, including women’s swimming and diving.
Bense spoke to the CMPA about her vision for the inaugural season and painted a picture of the spectacle that she hopes football in historic downtown Pensacola will be.
“I was thinking the other day about our homecoming parade, our first one, and I can see it coming down Palafox Street,” Bense said. “I can see it with our first marching band. I can see it with our first drum corp. I can see it with our cheerleaders, with high school bands flanking us, and we’re going to have a heck of a time in downtown Pensacola.”