The reaction to Paine College’s announcement that it plans to reinstate football by 2014 was met with equal parts of enthusiasm and skepticism.
It was almost as though everybody were reciting lines from some sort of universal intuitive script – wonderful, but how?
First came this …
“I think it’s a great thing,” said Marion Barnes, the Augusta-Richmond County school board member who played quarterback and linebacker for Paine in the early 1950s.
“I think it’s good,” said William Holmes, the former Laney High School principal who briefly played on Paine’s last team in 1962.
“I’m glad to hear that,” said Mike White, the Albany State head coach from Augusta who played high school football at Westside.
Then came the immediate qualfiers.
“My concern is about the financing,” said Barnes, who formerly served as president of Paine’s Athletic Hall of Fame. “Are we going to be able to finance it in the way that it should be financed?”
“My concern is where are they going to get the money from,” Holmes said. “That’s the problem. It’s not cheap to start up a football program.”
“It’s very hard,” said White, a coach in Paine’s SIAC for 29 years. “It’s tough because you’ve got to have a committed foundation and administration and city. To try to establish traditions and operate with a program that might not have the facilities. It’s going to be uphill for whoever takes that one.”
These are all natural responses for any school taking the major step of trying to start up the most expensive of collegiate athletic programs. It takes on an even larger meaning when the school in question has financial troubles that caused it to be cited by its accrediting agency with six compliance violations including financial stability, control of finances and control of financial aid programs that led to a $3.6 million shortfall in March and a $2 million cash deficit in June with expenses outweighing revenue.
Perhaps that explains why one interview subject’s first response at the Paine football news was, “Wow!” followed by a long train of hearty laughter.
But starting up a football program is no laughing matter, and one that Barnes believes is worth pursuing.
“That’s one of the greatest public relations departments for your school,” Barnes said. “I often look at Georgia Southern and see how that football team has made that college and that city. I’m hoping that something like that would at least increase the participation of kids at the college.
“There are more advantages to it than disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage is the financial part. But the advantages are it brings in students, it brings pride, it brings in contributions. Overall I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.”
A good place to start understanding what Paine hopes to accomplish is to look back at why it disbanded football to begin with 50 years ago.
When Barnes played at Paine from 1950-54, “we weren’t the best in the world but we were very competitive,” he said.
“The greatest thing was the rivalry we had with Savannah State,” Barnes said. “We played that game every Thanksgiving, home and away. That was a big game for both colleges. You got a chance to meet folks and know kids from other schools and stay friends with them. We looked forward to our Thanksgiving classic. It was just a joyous time. That was for bragging rights in the state among black colleges.”
But Paine didn’t offer athletic scholarships and was academically rigorous. As other historically black colleges began offering scholarships and major colleges began opening doors to black athletes, Paine couldn’t attract good enough players to remain competitive. The Lions lost 36 consecutive games before winning one final time against Livingstone in 1962 before the program was terminated.
“That was a fun time, too,” Barnes said. “That was something we could brag on. We held the record for losing.”
It will take commitment and resources for Paine to build a competitive program in this era. Division II allows a maximum of 36 football scholarships, though few SIAC schools can afford the maximum.
“You’re going to need help to establish yourself,” said White, who has been a part of 13 SIAC championships as a coach at Albany State. “I don’t know where they stand in terms of equipment and facilities, but when you’re recruiting those kids want to see that. They want to at least see the plan where you’re headed.”
Paine athletic director Tim Duncan was a bit vague on the plans during Friday’s announcement. But Barnes, for one, appreciates the vision.
“When they first started talking about it, people were saying that’s pie in the sky,” he said, noting the reinstatement of football at other historically black colleges such as Shaw (2002), Edward Waters (2001) and CSRA Classic participant Benedict (1995).
“They’re going strong and have a big beautiful stadium over there in Columbia (S.C.),” Barnes said of Benedict, which more than quadrupled in size in the decade after reinstating football. “Like I said, it does things for a school.”
The few remaining links to Paine’s football past endorse the vision despite their legitimate concerns.
“I’ll be very supportive of them,” said Holmes.
“I support their athletics and basketball already, so I’ll be a strong supporter of them,” said Barnes. “Initially the alumni and other interested parties will be a lot more than generous.”