Within days of new Winthrop University President Jayne Marie Comstock’s pledge last week to look into the potential of bringing football to the school, Will Evans took to Twitter and Facebook to rally the gridiron troops.
The 18-year-old Northwestern High School graduate and York Technical College student is the man behind the “Bring Winthrop Football” social media accounts, and he is adamant that Rock Hill is a “football city.”
Fresh from Northwestern Trojan football Friday nights, Evans has done his fair share of football research to bolster his agenda.
Rock Hill and Winthrop leaders say they want the city to be a bustling “college town,” complete with pedestrian-friendly roads, inviting restaurants and students who stick around on weekends.
Evans says there’s nothing like football to grow school spirit, attract a crowd and appeal to new businesses.
Comstock told state leaders Wednesday she wants to gradually grow Winthrop’s enrollment – now about 6,000 – by 1,000 students.
Evans says putting Eagles in helmets and shoulder pads would bring in some extra college applications.
Business leaders and advocates for revitalizing downtown Rock Hill say they want more development between Main Street and Winthrop’s campus.
Evans says Winthrop should lease District 3 Stadium on Cherry Road as its home field for football, then leaders can sit back and revel in new businesses setting up shop to cater to Eagles fans.
“I don’t see any negatives from college football in Rock Hill,” he said.
Winthrop’s reputation of offering high-caliber academics with a large population of creative, “artsy” and intellectual faculty members and students doesn’t need to change for football to be successful, Evans says.
The greater community of Rock Hill and York County would support an Eagle football team, he says.
Evans notes that the area’s population is booming and Rock Hill is experiencing growth.
“One of the things we’re missing is football,” he says.
A Rock Hill native, Evans wants a Winthrop football team to cheer for – and he’s not even enrolled in a Winthrop class yet.
Taking advantage of a new partnership between York Tech and Winthrop, he’s in what’s known as the bridge program. After two years at York Tech, he’ll transfer to Winthrop and finish his degree in secondary education.
In the meantime, he has full access to Winthrop facilities, its library and academic services, such as a writing center and student success center.
He hopes one day he’ll be cheering for Winthrop on the gridiron – whether he’s an Eagle or not.
An expensive endeavor
It’s not uncommon for schools such as Winthrop to be talking about adding a football program, said Winthrop Athletic Director Tom Hickman.
The move is usually “enrollment driven” and seeks to add to a college’s atmosphere, he said.
“There’s lots of kinds of football,” Hickman said, and depending on the type that Winthrop leaders would want, the program is expensive to build.
Winthrop took a hard look at adding the sport in 2007 and came up with an initial price tag of $18 million to start football. Every year of operation would run the university about $2.4 million.
Estimates in the feasibility study showed that Winthrop football would rake in about $500,000 in revenue each season.
Some of the costs identified in the 2007 study were:
• $11.5 million to build an 8,000-seat stadium.
• $5.1 million to build a field house that would include coaches’ offices, locker rooms, laundry facilities, practice fields and training and meeting rooms.
• More than $450,000 to pay coaches, an operations manager and two graduate assistants.
• $400,000 to pay support personnel, such as tutors, a strength coach, trainers and a secretary.
• $40,000 to add a band.
• $400,000 for other, non-salary operational costs.
• $848,000 to pay for scholarships for a 53-member football team.
Winthrop wouldn’t necessarily have to offer its football players scholarships.
College football has three separate divisions, depending on the amount of scholarships offered to players.
Schools can start a “non-scholarship” football program and later move into another division if scholarships become available, Hickman said.
While many schools have added football programs in recent years, he said, the start-up programs are mostly happening at small private schools.
Hickman isn’t ready to publicly share his opinion about whether bringing football to Winthrop would be a good idea.
Instead, he said, he’s focusing on helping Comstock and the Board of Trustees collect information and evaluate the prospect of Eagle football.
A nearby blueprint?
A recent case study is less than 30 minutes up the road, at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
UNCC recently founded its football team, the 49ers, who will play their first game at home Aug. 31 against Campbell University.
The school borrowed nearly $40 million to build UNCC's stadium and field house, and student fees were increased to help pay for the new program and its facilities.
University officials hope having football will connect more students to UNCC and bring in support from Charlotte residents.
UNCC's football stadium is named after Carolina Panthers owner and founder Jerry Richardson who made a $10 million donation to the university and created a scholarship fund for a 49ers football player in honor of his son.
School officials have said that single-seat tickets available through UNCC were sold out for the team's first game this month.
Campus opinions mixed
Winthrop’s campus community seems to have a mixed opinion about adding the sport.
During Comstock’s opening address last week to employees, she informally polled the audience with the “football question.”
By a show of hands, the crowd was divided almost equally among those indicating “no,” “yes” and “unsure.”
Comstock says she hopes she’ll have an answer to whether football is good for Winthrop by the end of her first year as president.
On social media, Winthrop supporters responded to Evans’ online football crusade in many ways last week.
Former Northwestern player and University of South Carolina defensive tackle Gerald Dixon Jr. showed excitement on Twitter over the possibility of a new Eagles football team.
Many students and alumni “re-tweeted” Evans’ posts, showing support for adding football to the school’s athletic offerings.
Less than a week after starting the “Bring Winthrop Football” account, Evans had gathered more than 100 Twitter followers and 41 “likes” on Facebook.
He’s convinced, he said, that any “cons” of adding football are outweighed by the “pros.”
Rock Hill’s high schools are full of “impeccable” football talent that Winthrop could tap for its program, Evans said.
And, given the general excitement around the sport, he said, he’s sure football would make Winthrop’s atmosphere “go through the roof.”
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068