Soon after he was hired 18 months ago, athletic director Tim Duncan held conversations with Paine College President George Bradley about the possibility of restarting football.
After the sport’s 50-year absence, Bradley and Duncan unveiled a white helmet with a purple logo Friday morning. The Lions will start playing football again in 2014 in NCAA Division II in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“We think this is the right time to bring back football,” Duncan said. “We’re excited to add to the student experience here at Paine College.”
Retired NFL official and current NFL game official observer Keven Mack said Augusta is hungry for a football team.
“It’s utopia for a community to have football,” he said. “This is huge.”
Duncan revealed plans to revive the sport after working with an extensive, 13-month feasibility study. Now, there’s plenty to do to get started.
The school will hire a head coach within the next 90 days, Duncan said. That coach will then hire up to six assistants and will also begin recruiting players.
“Hiring the right coach is the key,” Duncan said. “Alabama struggled for many years. Then, they hired Nick Saban. All of a sudden, they’re a juggernaut.”
With approximately 800 students at Paine, the school likely will see a 10 percent growth in enrollment in the coming years. Duncan said the football team, which will have a maximum of 36 scholarships per NCAA Division II rules, likely will add 80 players to its initial roster.
As for the future site of home games, Duncan said he’s not ready to announce that yet, though Laney High School, with its six-year-old, 9,000-seat stadium, is a viable option. He added the team will practice on the school’s baseball field.
While Duncan and other Paine officials answered logistical questions, they didn’t address one main concern: Cost.
“I don’t want to identify those,” Duncan said. “We identified it in the feasibility study. We’ve done some things to mitigate some costs that most people would think about.”
Brandon Brown, vice president for institutional advancement, also would not estimate the cost but said the funding for the football program will be covered through philanthropy and grants.
While the school has aggressive fund-raising efforts, it is also addressing financial trouble that caused its accrediting body to place the school on a one-year warning period in June.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges cited Paine with six compliance violations, including financial stability, control of finances and control of financial aid programs.
In March, Paine faced a $3.6 million shortfall that Bradley attributed to a drop in enrollment. The school also had a cash deficit of $2 million through July as expenses outweighed revenue, according to documents obtained by The Augusta Chronicle.
“We’re going to sit down and come up with a strategic plan for fund-raising for football,” Brown said. “You’re building it from the ground up … it’s an undertaking.”
According to a 2010 article from the Memphis Commercial Appeal, LeMoyne-Owen, a private school and one of Paine’s SIAC rivals, planned to start football by this season. The start-up cost was announced to be $1.5 million, with operating costs of $500,000 a year.
Paine also will incur additional costs by adding at least two women’s sports to satisfy Title IX. Duncan said within the next two years the school is planning to add women’s golf and is considering women’s tennis and bowling as well.
While Duncan wouldn’t divulge any numbers, he did say the start-up cost for football alone would be less than $2 million. He added part of the funding will come from the increased enrollment and the other part will come from community support.
“We’re going to need the community to step up and help bring college football back to Augusta,” Duncan said. “We’re the second-largest community in the state – without football. It’s going to take a community effort to do that.”
Paine has formulated a football steering committee, which currently consists of Mack, Augusta City Classic president and Augusta Economic Development Authority chairman Henry Ingram and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney financial advisor Haskell Toporek, president of the Augusta Sports Council. Former S.C. State coach Willie Jeffries, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, is the honorary chair of the committee.
Duncan said the purpose of the steering committee is to: raise awareness, provide a sounding board and to help raise funds.
Paine last played football in 1962. The Lions’ last win came against Livingstone College. Duncan said he’s trying to schedule them for the school’s first season.
Staff writer Tracey McManus contributed to this story