Since 1978 when the NCAA changed its method for tracking attendance figures, the number of schools playing NCAA football (FBS, FCS, DII and DIII) has steadily increased by 188 schools from 484 in 1978 to 669 in 2018. Adding NAIA and independent schools playing football and schools launching programs in the coming years, there are now 775 colleges and universities offering students an opportunity to play college football.
In the past six seasons alone (2013-18), 37 football programs have been added by NCAA or NAIA institutions. Only 14 football programs have been dropped during the same span, including two at schools that closed, three at schools that dropped all or most of their athletics programs and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which returned to the gridiron in 2017. All 775 schools that offer football will be represented on the three-story helmet wall at the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
Universities and colleges are adding football at all levels, and administrators have developed sound plans, ensuring the new programs address the unique financial, academic and long-term objectives of their respective schools. The 80 institutions listed below that have implemented firm plans during the past decade create a clear and undeniable trend that presidents and trustees nationwide see the value of a football program as part of their overall academic mission.
“No other sport contributes more to the vibrancy of a college campus than football, and we are very pleased to highlight those schools that have added our great game,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “University and college presidents clearly see the value of having programs on their campuses, and we applaud them for understanding the role football can play in the educational experience of all their students.”
The rationale for adding football varies at each institution, and all of the decision makers who helped develop a plan for launching a program explain that an in-depth study played a critical role in finding the right level of play and the proper financial balance. Small colleges may cite increasing enrollment and addressing gender imbalances while larger universities might highlight the role of football in raising the institution’s profile and its ability to attract research grants. All mention creating a more vibrant on-campus community and connecting with alumni.
“With more than one million high school students playing football and around 80,000 spots on college teams, there is plenty of room for expansion,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning. “Many of these colleges clearly recognize that football can play an important role in encouraging students to continue their educations by enticing them to enroll.”
According to a 2015 study of five small universities published in College Planning & Management by Virginia Wesleyan College President Dr. Scott Miller and former Carlow University (Pa.) President Dr. Marylouise Fennell, adding sports teams and facilities, especially football and marching bands, can fuel an enrollment boost. The study found that each of the five institutions experienced a six-year increase of 26 percent or more, with one school doubling its enrollment during that period.
The schools have added programs at every level of play and in every region of the country, experiencing successes that run the gamut. In all, the 73 programs that have added football from 2008-18 have combined for two national championships, 46 conference titles and 65 postseason appearances.
Four of the seven teams that kicked off their inaugural seasons in 2018 finished with winning records: Indiana Wesleyan, Keiser (FL), Lawrence Tech (MI) and Ottawa-Arizona. In just its second year back after a two-season hiatus, UAB won the Conference USA championship and finished 11-3 after a Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl victory under FWAA Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year Bill Clark.
At the FCS level in 2018, East Tennessee State reached the playoffs after winning a share of the conference title for the first time since relaunching its program in 2015. Kennesaw State, which also started its program in 2015, won its second consecutive conference title and reached the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs. Incarnate Word (launched in 2009) won its first-ever conference title while fellow Southland Conference foe Lamar (launched in 2010) also reached the FCS Playoffs for the first time. Stetson recorded its first winning season since relaunching its football team in 2013.
At the Division II level, Notre Dame (OH), which launched in 2010, won its conference, recorded a perfect regular season and lost to eventual national champion Valdosta State (GA) in the semifinals of the 2018 playoffs. Also in 2018, Division III Misericordia (PA) completed its first winning season since launching its program in 2012.
These are just some of the impressive achievements at schools that have recently added football. Others include notching impressive attendance figures; attracting increased enrollment; garnering national publicity; expanding their donor bases; and receiving invitations to join conferences at the next level.
The planning and preparation of four football programs will come to fruition as they begin intercollegiate play this fall: Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa; Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire; St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida; and Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia.
Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa, which announced the launch of its program in 2015, will see its hard work pay off this fall when the Pride play in the first football game in the university’s 175-year history. A member of the NAIA’s Heart of America Athletic Conference, Clarke will debut on the gridiron at home on Saturday, Aug. 31.
With an enrollment just under 2,000, Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire, has fielded a sprint football team (all players weighing less than 178 pounds) since 2012. In February 2018, the university announced it would begin transitioning to an NCAA Division II program, and the Ravens will join the Northeast-10 Conference in the sport this fall. Franklin Pierce will be led on the field by new head coach Russell Gaskamp, who was hired in December 2018 to guide the program to the next level.
“I am extremely honored and blessed to be trusted by [Franklin Pierce athletics director] Rachel Burleson and the administration of Franklin Pierce to lead the Ravens football team into their inaugural season at the NCAA Division II level,” Gaskamp said in a release following his hiring. “My initial goal is to get our team to be competitive at the conference level as quickly as possible, while creating a culture for long-term success.”
St. Thomas University, a private Catholic university in Miami Gardens, Florida, will take the gridiron for the first time this fall less than a year after announcing the launch of its football team and marching band in August 2018. The Bobcats will compete in the NAIA’s Mid-South Conference in The Sun Division.
The addition of football and a marching band will help the increase the enrollment at the university, which currently sits just under 5,000 students. St. Thomas officials also believe in the impact football can have on our next generation, including university president David A. Armstrong, who played football at Mercyhurst University (PA) and is a member of the school’s athletics hall of fame.
“Football is more than a game,” Armstrong said when the announcement was made. “Football has taught me some of the most important lessons in my life—hard work, discipline, a positive attitude—which all lead to great team work and success. Those are all the things that can be taught and learned through programs like football and marching band. And all these things are things this country needs today.”
After playing a successful exhibition schedule in 2018, Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia, is looking forward to a full varsity slate in 2019 as a member of NCAA Division II’s Mountain East Conference. The Cardinals will play the first game in school history on Saturday, Sept. 7, when they host West Liberty (WV).
The number of football programs across the nation continues to grow, with five additional schools announcing the launch of future teams since last fall: Erskine College in Due West, South Carolina; Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan; Judson University in Elgin, Illinois; Mount Marty Collegein Yankton, South Dakota; and Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, Florida. Including previously announced programs at Barton College in Wilson, North Carolina, and Keystone College in La Plume, Pennsylvania, seven more football teams are set to take the field for the first time between 2020 and 2022.
In August 2018, Erskine College in Due West, South Carolina, announced the relaunch of its football program, which had been discontinued in 1951. The Flying Fleet will kick off their inaugural season in 2020 at the NCAA Division II level under head coach Shap Boyd, who, among other stops, previously helped launch the Southeastern University (FL) football team in 2014 as an assistant coach. The small Christian college believes the addition of football supports it institutional mission and will help it expand its reach.
“This is a dramatic step for the college but one that opens doors in recruiting, which allow us to expand our footprint in South Carolina and the Southeast Region,” Erskine director of athletics Mark Peeler said in a press release.
Also in August of 2018, Madonna University, a private Catholic institution in Livonia, Michigan, announced it will begin play in 2020 at the NAIA level and join the Mid-States Football Association in 2021. The addition of football has been in the planning stages for several years, and it is the ninth sport added during university president Michael Grandillo‘s tenure.
“We are excited to add football to our athletic offerings,” Dr. Grandillo said in a press release. “We hope bringing collegiate football to Western Wayne County will be as thrilling for the communities we serve as it is to the Madonna community. The strength and success of our current programs gives us confidence that Crusaders’ football will find success as well.”
The plan is for 2019-2020 to be a redshirt season, during which Madonna’s team would practice before holding an inaugural spring game in 2020.Team practice will be on Madonna’s campus, with games initially being played at a location to be determined in conjunction with Livonia Public Schools. The team will be led by Brian Foos, who helped launch football programs at both Lindsey Wilson College (KY) and Ohio Dominican University as an assistant coach.
“Football has the opportunity to be a driving force for our department moving forward,” Madonna director of athletics Scott Kennell said in a press release. “It is a great way for us to build a larger community fan base for Madonna Athletics and can lead to other opportunities for students such as cheerleading, competitive dance and a marching band – all of which, we are currently looking into…This will be a wonderful experience not only for the student-athletes who come here to continue their education and compete on the Intercollegiate level, but also for our entire student body, alumni and Livonia Community as a whole. Football is going to bring visibility to our campus, and in return, enhance the University and the local communities.”
In October 2018, Judson University, an evangelical Christian institution in Elgin, Illinois, announced the addition of football as the school’s 20th sport. The Eagles will kick off their inaugural season in 2021 as a member of the NAIA’s Mid-States Football Association, and the team unveiled its first recruiting class in April.
“We are excited to bring football to Judson University,” said director of athletics Chad Gassman. “Football has been a huge part of American collegiate athletics for decades, and we look forward to bringing it to the Fox Valley.”
The Judson football team will be led by head coach Brandon New, who is fresh off a successful 18-year run as a high school football coach in the Chicago area.
“I am beyond blessed to have this opportunity to build a football program from the ground up,” New said in a press release. “Being a local product, both born and raised, makes Judson feel like the perfect fit. I cannot wait to get the surrounding communities involved and as excited about Judson football as I am. This program will open the door to many student-athletes looking to continue their education and athletic careers.”
In April, Mount Marty College, a private Benedictine institution in Yankton, South Dakota, joined the ranks of schools announcing future football programs. With just over 1,000 students enrolled, the college believes that football will bring more students to the “football-crazy town” that has been without a college team since the close of Yankton College in 1984. The search for a head coach is underway, and the Lancers currently plan to take the field for their inaugural season in 2022 in the NAIA’s Great Plains Athletic Conference.
“This is a great move for the Lancers,” Mount Marty athletics director Chris Kassin said in a press release. “Not only will the addition of football bring us into alignment with the offerings at other GPAC schools, but the need for additional athletes will allow us to expand our recruitment footprint in the region.”
The team will play its games at Crane-Youngworth Field, which boasts a new turf playing surface, and will practice on land recently purchased by the college with funds donated in December. In May, Mount Marty broke ground on a new $15 million, 100,000-square-foot fieldhouse that will be utilized by the football program, as well as other sports and the Yankton community. It is estimated that around 100 additional students will be brought in to fill the football roster. Mount Marty president Dr. Marcus Long says that growth will push the college toward several of its goals.
“We’re extremely excited to bring college football back to Yankton after a 35-year absence and we look forward to the growth it will foster,” Dr. Long said in a press release. “As we drive our enrollment upward, more students will experience our outstanding Catholic, Benedictine education and the enrollment increases at the College will help economic development in the region. It’s a win-win.”
In May 2019, Florida Memorial University, a historically black university in Miami Gardens, Florida, became the latest institution to announce the addition of football. Founded in 1879, the school offers 27 undergraduate degrees and enrolls roughly 1,800 undergraduates. The Lions previously played football from 1929-58, and their last game was a win over Albany State (GA). Florida Memorial will look to play its first season in the NAIA in 2020.
“We are elated about the impact the football program will have on our enrollment, retention, and engagement of our students,” said Florida Memorial president Dr. Jaffus Hardrick. “It will also galvanize our alumni and community.” Hardrick also believes football will help elevate the university and deepen its roots in the greater south Florida community.
Ernest T. Jones, a former Alcorn State football player and longtime coach with head-coaching stints at Alcorn State and Morgan State, made the return of the sport one of his goals after taking over as the university’s athletics director earlier in the month of May. His presentation to the university’s board of trustees included a partnership with the city of Miami Gardens that will not only increase revenue and enrollment at the university but also create a family amongst the students and the city in which they reside.
“Football is more than just a game, it brings immeasurable value in uniting people and having a social and cultural impact on the community and quality of life of our residents,” said Miami Gardens mayor Oliver G. Gilbert III.
Barton College (NC) and Keystone College (PA), the two other schools that previously announced the additions of football, have made progress toward their inaugural seasons in 2020. Barton unveiled its inaugural recruiting class in February, and the college entered into a football scheduling agreement with the South Atlantic Conference for its first two seasons, allowing it to complete a full NCAA Division II schedule.
Keystone will be preparing for its inaugural season in 2020 by playing an eight-game club team schedule this fall. The college will soon break ground on a locker room that is expected to be completed before players arrive to start practices in August, and stadium expansion is still planned on campus for the 2020 season.
Four Programs Launching in 2019
- Clarke University (Dubuque, Iowa): NAIA, Heart of America Athletic Conference – President Joanne Burrows, Athletics Director Curt Long, Head Coach Miguel Regalado. First game of 2019: Saturday, Aug. 31, vs. Central Methodist (MO).
- Franklin Pierce University (Rindge, New Hampshire): NCAA Division II, Northeast-10 Conference – President Kim Mooney, Athletics Director Rachel Burleson, Head Coach Russell Gaskamp. First game of 2019: Saturday, Sept. 7, vs. Wesley (DE).
- St. Thomas University (Miami Gardens, Florida): NAIA, Mid-South Conference – President David Armstrong, Athletics Director Laura Courtley-Todd, Head Coach Bill Rychel. First game of 2019: Saturday, Sept. 7, vs. Thomas More (KY).
- Wheeling Jesuit University (Wheeling, West Virginia): NCAA Division II, Mountain East Conference – President Michael Mihalyo Jr., Athletics Director Rudy Yovich, Head Coach Zac Bruney. First game of 2019: Saturday, Sept. 7, vs. West Liberty (WV).
Seven Programs Launching in 2020 and Beyond
- Barton College (Wilson, North Carolina): NCAA Division II, Independent (2020) – President Douglas Searcy, Athletics Director Todd Wilkinson, Head Coach Chip Hester.
- Erskine College (Due West, South Carolina): NCAA Division II, Conference TBA (2020) – President Rob Gustafson, Athletics Director Mark Peeler, Head Coach Shap Boyd.
- Florida Memorial University (Miami Gardens, Florida): NAIA, Conference TBA (2020) – President Jaffus Hardrick, Athletics Director Ernest T. Jones, Head Coach TBA.
- Keystone College (La Plume, Pennsylvania): NCAA Division III, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (2020, club team schedule in 2019) – President Tracy Brundage, Athletics Director Matthew Grimaldi, Head Coach Justin Higgins.
- Madonna University (Livonia, Michigan): NAIA, Independent (2020, will join Mid-States Football Association in 2021) – President Michael Grandillo, Athletics Director Scott Kennell, Head Coach Brian Foos.
- Judson University (Elgin, Illinois): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association (2021) – President Gene Crume Jr., Athletics Director Chad Gassman, Head Coach Brandon New.
- Mount Marty College (Yankton, South Dakota): NAIA, Great Plains Athletic Conference (2022) – President Marcus Long, Athletics Director Chris Kassin, Head Coach TBA.
Seven Programs Launched in 2018
- Allen University (Columbia, South Carolina): NAIA, Independent
- Alvernia University (Reading, Pennsylvania): NCAA Division III, Middle Atlantic Conference
- Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Indiana): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Keiser University (West Palm Beach, Florida): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Lawrence Technological University (Southfield, Michigan): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Ottawa University-Arizona (Surprise, Arizona): NAIA, Sooner Athletic Conference
- University of New England (Biddeford, Maine): NCAA Division III, Commonwealth Coast Football
Four Programs Launched in 2017
- Dean College (Franklin, Mass.): NCAA Division III, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference
- St. Andrews University (Laurinburg, North Carolina): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Texas Wesleyan University (Fort Worth, Texas): NAIA, Sooner Athletic Conference
- University of Alabama at Birmingham (Birmingham, Alabama): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Conference USA
Four Programs Launched in 2016
- Cincinnati Christian University (Cincinnati, Ohio): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Davenport University (Grand Rapids, Michigan): NCAA Division II, Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
- University of Texas of the Permian Basin (Odessa, Texas): NCAA Division II, Lone Star Conference
- University of West Florida (Pensacola, Florida): NCAA Division II, Gulf South Conference
Four Programs Launched in 2015
- East Tennessee State University (Johnson City, Tennessee): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southern Conference
- Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan): NCAA Division III, Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association
- Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, Georgia): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Big South Conference
- Lyon College (Batesville, Arkansas): NAIA, Sooner Athletic Conference
Six Programs Launched in 2014
- Arizona Christian University (Phoenix, Arizona): NAIA, Sooner Athletic Conference
- College of Idaho (Caldwell, Idaho): NAIA, Frontier Conference
- George Fox University (Newberg, Oregon): NCAA Division III, Northwest Conference
- Limestone College (Gaffney, South Carolina): NCAA Division II, South Atlantic Conference
- Missouri Baptist University (St. Louis, Missouri): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Southeastern University (Lakeland, Florida): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
12 Programs Launched in 2013
- Alderson Broaddus University (Philippi, West Virginia): NCAA Division II, Great Midwest Athletic Conference
- Berry College (Mount Berry, Georgia): NCAA Division III, Southern Athletic Association
- Florida Tech (Melbourne, Florida): NCAA Division II, Gulf South Conference
- Hendrix College (Conway, Arkansas): NCAA Division III, Southern Athletic Association
- Houston Baptist University (Houston, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southland Conference
- Mercer University (Macon, Georgia): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southern Conference
- Oklahoma Baptist University (Shawnee, Oklahoma): NCAA Division II, Great American Conference
- Reinhardt University (Waleska, Georgia): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Southwestern University (Georgetown, Texas): NCAA Division III, American Southwest Conference
- Stetson University (DeLand, Florida): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Pioneer Football League
- University of North Carolina at Charlotte (Charlotte, North Carolina): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Conference USA
- Warner University (Lake Wales, Florida): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
Five Programs Launched in 2012
- Bluefield College (Bluefield, Virginia): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Lindenwood University-Belleville (Belleville, Illinois): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Misericordia University (Dallas, Pennsylvania): NCAA Division III, Middle Atlantic Conference
- Point University (West Point, Georgia): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Wayland Baptist University (Plainview, Texas): NAIA, Sooner Athletic Conference
Eight Programs Launched in 2011
- Ave Maria University (Ave Maria, Florida): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Concordia University Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, Michigan): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Presentation College (Aberdeen, South Dakota): NAIA, North Star Athletic Association
- Robert Morris University (Chicago, Illinois): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan): NAIA, Mid-States Football Association
- Stevenson University (Owings Mills, Maryland): NCAA Division III, Middle Atlantic Conference
- University of Texas at San Antonio (San Antonio, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Conference USA
- Virginia University of Lynchburg (Lynchburg, Virginia): National Christian College Athletic Association
Six Programs Launched in 2010
- Georgia State University (Atlanta, Georgia): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Sun Belt Conference
- Lamar University (Beaumont, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southland Conference
- Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Kentucky): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Notre Dame College (South Euclid, Ohio): NCAA Division II, Mountain East Conference
- Pacific University (Forest Grove, Oregon): NCAA Division III, Northwest Conference
- University of South Alabama (Mobile, Alabama): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Sun Belt Conference
Five Programs Launched in 2009
- Anna Maria College (Paxton, Massachusetts): NCAA Division III, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference
- Castleton University (Castleton, Vermont): NCAA Division III, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference
- Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Virginia): NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, Conference USA
- University of New Haven (West Haven, Connecticut): NCAA Division II, Northeast-10 Conference
- University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio, Texas): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Southland Conference
Eight Programs Launched in 2008
- Campbell University (Buies Creek, North Carolina): NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, Big South Conference
- College of St. Scholastica (Duluth, Minnesota): NCAA Division III, Upper Midwest Athletic Conference
- Colorado State University-Pueblo (Pueblo, Colorado): NCAA Division II, Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference
- Dordt University (Sioux Center, Iowa): NAIA, Great Plains Athletic Conference
- Grand View University (Des Moines, Iowa): NAIA, Heart of America Athletic Conference
- Kentucky Christian University (Grayson, Kentucky): NAIA, Mid-South Conference
- Lake Erie College (Painesville, Ohio): NCAA Division II, Great Midwest Athletic Conference
- Lincoln University (Lincoln University, Pennsylvania): NCAA Division II, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association