Winthrop football: ‘Still undefeated,’ still undecided

03/13/2014 11:08 PM

03/13/2014 11:26 PM

In weighing the football question at Winthrop University, school leaders may soon poll for campus opinions but some students are already sounding off in opposition to the idea of the university fielding a football team.

Winthrop President Jamie Comstock and Athletic Director Tom Hickman led a town hall-style meeting Thursday to share the results of recent research that shows the financial costs and benefits of football program. About 100 people attended, including students, alumni, and faculty and staff members.

Comstock cautioned that football is still an “if” for Winthrop and the university is still in the “initial phase of our information gathering.”

After more than an hour of discussion Thursday, Comstock said she planned to hold another football meeting with the campus.

Many students at the meeting said they had concerns about adding football. Some of those students said they had transferred to Winthrop from another college that had football because they wanted to escape the “football culture.”

As some students pointed out that the rigor of academic programs was their main draw to Winthrop, Comstock assured them that football wouldn’t change the school’s commitment to academic excellence.

“We simply can’t have extracurricular activities – whether (it’s) athletics or marching band or anything else – trump the academic experience,” she said.

She pointed to the athletic department’s “proud record” of student-athletes who boast a GPA of better than 3.0. Of the university’s 145 student-athletes, 69 were recently named “Academic All-Americans.”

Comstock also listed several ways in which Winthrop athletics contribute to the university’s overall student experience and said she would expect a football team and marching band to reach the same standards.

While football fans might like to see the Eagles on the gridiron, some students said Thursday that they don’t hear other students pushing for it.

But Comstock said she is asked the “football question” almost every day and it started before she was hired in February 2013, during her interview process for the presidential job. Mulling football, she said, “wasn’t first on my list of things to do but it was on the community’s list.”

As for her personal preference, Comstock says she’s still undecided about football at Winthrop.

Nia Ricks, a Winthrop sophomore fine arts major, said the “football question” is being asked off-campus more often than on-campus by students. She attended Thursday’s meeting with an open mind, she said, but does not favor adding football to Winthrop.

Ricks sat near Winthrop sophomore Dylan Bannister who, like some other students, raised concerns about campus needs that he thinks should be higher priorities than football, such as building a new library.

For years, Winthrop has requested state money from lawmakers for the nearly $50 million it would take to build a new library and “technology hub.” It’s expected that the university would raise funds and borrow money to pay for football, rather than increase student tuition or fees.

And, unlike some other projects, Winthrop officials expect that football would bring in money for the university – money that could be spent in other areas of the school.

If Winthrop adds football, university leaders expect it would eventually need to add another women’s sport to satisfy Title IX requirements – a federal regulation that, in part, ensures women have equal opportunity in high school and collegiate athletics. Winthrop has added four women’s sports, most recently lacrosse, over the past 20 years.

In addition to future polling of students on the “football question,” one sports management faculty member is already overseeing a survey to find out which women’s sports students would like to see added.

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