Tourism group cheers Winthrop football idea

Winthrop University football received its first vote in the polls. The poll of public opinion, at least.

A local tourism group has publicly endorsed bringing NCAA Division I football to Rock Hill. Partners in Tourism, a private association of hotel, restaurant and retail shop owners, unanimously voted recently to support a football program at Winthrop.

"We feel football would be another piece to the sports puzzle in York County," said association president Chris Cassady.

Winthrop officials earlier this fall announced the school would consider a football program if adequate support was in place. University President Anthony DiGiorgio said a football program would have to be privately financed, meaning the Rock Hill and Winthrop community would need to cough up about $16 million for start-up costs and $2 million annually for scholarships. He said Winthrop won't pay for football through extra student fees or tax dollars.

Cassady said Partners in Tourism hasn't decided how much cash the group might donate, if at all, for football. The endorsement, he said, is a show of support from the hospitality community.

"Football at Winthrop would bring in tourists at restaurants, doing shopping and some overnight visits," said Cassady, general manager of the Baxter Hood Center. "As a group, we haven't decided to raise money or pledge a specific donation, although I'm sure some of our individual members would support monetarily."

Winthrop athletics director Tom Hickman said the Partners in Tourism nod is the first formal endorsement the school has received for football.

Hickman said most of the feedback he has received since announcing the price tag in September has been from fans and alumni wanting more information. But major gifts haven't materialized, and that's what will be needed to get a football program up and running.

"We haven't had any major donations," Hickman said. "Some folks have indicated they would buy season tickets."

Hickman said the school has no expectations for community support. He's just happy to hear feedback of all kinds. Hickman reiterated Eagles football is in its infancy at most, and more research will be needed before a true push begins.

"It's good to get a response from the community," he said about the endorsement. "We'll see if it continues."