Why would an institution need a consulting firm to conduct a football feasibility study?
Institutions consider adding football to their athletics programs for one or more of the following reasons depending on their Division status and institutional goals:
- to drive men’s enrollment as women’s enrollment in college is generally higher
- to increase revenue as a result of moving from Division II to Division I
- to increase school spirit, elevate institutional brand, and/or instill pride through tradition within the student body.
To provide some context, there are currently 346 NCAA Division I programs, 249 of which sponsor football. In terms of Division II, 169 of the 318 institutions sponsor football. Finally, out of the 449 Division III institutions, 246 sponsor football.
What does a football feasibility study entail?
Generally, a study takes about 3 months to complete because it includes a combination of data gathering and review, a series of on-campus visits (requiring typically one to three days) and phone conversations before and after those visits. The consultants conducting the review ask the institution to provide them with a great deal of material to help them focus their assessment, questions, and campus visit objectives.
When on campus, the athletics consulting team visits existing facilities, meets with all athletic staff, professionals both internal and external to the athletics department, and organizes focus groups with alumni, donors, faculty, and students to gain their perspectives and gather concerns.
Consultants will often go back to campus after an initial visit to talk with invested constituents outside of Athletics such as members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, and students about the impact of adding football. These groups often only understand the negative repercussions of adding the sport due to the media’s depictions of the stereotypical football student-athlete. The consultant will often spend time talking about the student-athlete as an addition to the campus culture and community just like any other sport or extracurricular activity on campus.
It is important that the consultant take the time to develop a deep understanding of the institution’s mission, goals, culture, and reason(s) for wanting to add football. They consider and add information or recommendations related to adding a college band and/or cheerleaders, which could again add brand and community value to the institution. The athletics consultant should offer each institution a timeframe for implementation specific to their needs, but find adding football typically requires a three to four year rollout process. The change in level or addition of a football program must be announced, coaches need to be hired, monetary support must be provided for them to recruit athletes and build a competition schedule along with facilities that are up to par with their conference requirements.
Additional factors to consider
- The institution’s goals and overall partner/constituent willingness to collaborate with Athletics during this evaluation and implementation process.
Private institutions are driven by tuition dollars. Keeping expenses down in terms of building the program is essential so an institution can come out ahead financially. Often, the one sticking point is the cost of the facilities; for example, the stadium, seating, and locker rooms. The cost of operating a football program is also considered. Salaries of the coaching and support staff for private institutions take care of themselves in terms of funding because they are largely privately funded through advancement dollars.
With Division II state institutions, partial or full scholarships cost the institution more and are additions to the baseline costs. That revenue can then pay for tuition and the cycle works for itself. The issue here is that there is very little revenue in Division II so functional areas and staff across the institution need to be invested in these decisions and institutions must carefully evaluation budgetary concerns. Lower levels of Division I are similar to Division II in the above respects.
It is important to note that less than 60 out of 1500 institutions across the country make a profit on their football program. There is a general misconception by professionals seeking a football feasibility study that football can make money across all divisions.
- The addition of football can elevate the brand of an institution.
Student-athletes are attracted to an institution that has a football program because it implies it is an active campus. An institution really has to look at their costs if this is one of their goals. Adding football for brand development pays off the most when the institution has a Division I football program or is considering changing to that level. Free advertising often comes at that level and can be local, regional, and/or national in its reach depending on the level within Division I and success of the program. Many institutions feel that the monetary loss on the operations side is worth the enthusiasm and high profile garnered.
Division III institutions start football programs more often than any other Division. Most often, Division II institutions approach an athletics consultant in order to assess moving up to Division I but most frequently, those institutions spend a few years trying to make it work and then go back to their previous status. Their success has a great deal to do with Conference affiliation. The institution should be in contact with their conference of interest prior to and during the feasibility study so that the consulting team can help in those conversations and truly assess the viability of that affiliation.