Opinion

Winthrop football

Winthrop University's football team is likely to remain undefeated for the foreseeable future.

That, of course, is another way of saying that Winthrop is not likely to initiate a football program any time soon. Figures released Tuesday by Winthrop President Anthony DiGiorgio indicate that the university could not begin to think about a football program until it could be assured of significant and continuous private financial support.

The preliminary figures come from a report by a special task force assigned to study the feasibility of a Winthrop football team. The full report will be released in the future, but the financial estimates shared by DiGiorgio on Tuesday offer a picture of how challenging it would be to start a football program at Winthrop.

University officials have, for years, fielded the question: Why doesn't Winthrop have a football team? But, as DiGiorgio noted in his official statement regarding the task force findings, members of the community, especially younger alumni, recently have been asking a new question: What would it take to start a football program at Winthrop?

That question prompted the university to come up with some hard answers.

First-year start-up costs would total more than $18 million, with $16.6 million going for an 8,000-seat stadium and field house. But the truly daunting cost would be annual operational expenses totaling more than $2.4 million. That would include the cost of coaches and support personnel, scholarships and other recurring expenses entailed in sustaining a football team.

Football is expensive. By contrast, Winthrop fields teams in 17 other sports with an annual athletic budget of $4.4 million. Operational costs are covered by $400 per semester student athletics fees.

It is true that football is an extremely popular sport in South Carolina and that Winthrop football probably could generate more revenue than most other sports. But initial estimates of annual revenues total only $500,000, which falls far short of enabling football to pay its own way.

To field a football team, Winthrop would have to have guaranteed funding of nearly $2 million from private donors year in and year out, according to DiGiorgio. While an individual donor or a group of donors might step forward to do that, the possibility seems remote.

And DiGiorgio said Tuesday that this is "not something we're going to do on the cheap. And it's not something we're going to go into hock for." He said that the issue is not closed, nor does any deadline exist for making a decision.

Clearly, however, DiGiorgio wants the Winthrop community to know what would be entailed in starting a football program. He also indicated that the university has other, more important priorities that have been part of an ambitious, long-term strategic plan, including a new campus center, a new library and more classroom and lab space.

That is not to say Winthrop will never have a football team. But now, when people ask what it would take to start a football program, DiGiorgio can give them a comprehensive answer.

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