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Pigskins don’t fly at UALR: Touchdowns not in University’s future

Submitted by Jamila Brown on March 6, 2011 – 8:01 pmNo Comment

For athletes like Jason Belt, junior health science major, football is strictly fantasy at UALR. Photo by Jamila Brown.

Football is a staple of American culture. In elementary school we counted the seconds to recess, where pulling flags and scoring touchdowns dominated our lunches. In middle school we determined or inherited our favorite teams and players. In high school we geared up religiously, holding our breaths all week until those Friday-night lights found the bleachers stuffed with a freezing, cheering mass of students, teachers, and parents alike.

Even if you never went to a game, it’s undeniable that football somehow made an impact on your educational experience.

So at UALR it’s no surprise that there seems to be a void; a question lingering in the minds of all Trojans. Where is our football team?

UALR is one of three schools in the Sun Belt Conference without a football team, however that will change in fall 2012. Denver University will be leaving for the Western Athletic Conference and the University of South Alabama will be adding a football team to the schedule. These changes will take the Sun Belt Conference from a 12-school league with nine football teams, to an 11-school league with 10 football teams. Guess who the lone school without a football team will be?

“UALR has been a member of the Sun Belt Conference for 20 years and will not be pressured to add football or find another conference home,” said John McElwain associate commissioner of the Sun Belt. “The Sun Belt Conference only requires that members sponsor a minimum of 15 of our 19 sports.”

UALR meets the minimum of this requirement, but the question of why there is no Trojan football remains. A look at our history over the past 20 years shows that the University has done its fair share of team cutting. In 1987 we lost women’s basketball, which was reinstated in 1999. In 1993 the University dropped men’s water polo. In 1995 it cut men’s swimming and soccer, and in 2008 men’s tennis was sliced.

Igor Nikitin, the only former men’s tennis team member still living in Little Rock said, “We had an incredible team, all international students, everyone had a 3.0 or above, and our coach [Tommy McDonald] was really passionate about our team’s performance and a great mentor. We were regionally ranked that year as both a team and individually, and just a few months later we went to a meeting and were told we were getting dropped.”

So why would the university cut a team that was doing well?

“Title 9,” said Chris Peterson, the UALR Athletic Director. “In Arkansas we are subject to a lot of laws that other schools in our conference don’t have to deal with.”

The interpretation as applied to this situation states that the number of athletic scholarships given must mimic the male to female ratio of the school’s undergraduate population. When men’s tennis was dropped statistics were 62-38, female to male. As of fall 2010, not much has changed.

“The problem is we aren’t fully scholarshipped as it is,” Peterson continued. “Adding a football team would require an additional 85 male scholarships.”

The legalities behind UALR’s golden ratio just doesn’t support that. Beyond the ratio, the cost of the scholarships plus staff, equipment, and facilities is finanicially unfeasable at this point as well. In the case of South Alabama, that meant adding a widely protested student football fee of $150 a semester to their tuition.

“I’m not a proponent of just adding sports to add sports. Unless you have the facilities, the student athletes won’t have a good experience,” Peterson said. “To have a sport without a budget to support it competitively … there’s nothing fun about that for anyone; the athletes, the coaches or the university. Like it or not, everyone wants to win and be successful.”

Peterson’s push for competitive resources has been proven through the state-of-the-art Jack Stephens Center, which opened in 2005, and more recently the soccer/track complex scheduled to be completed this summer.

While the UALR sports program is growing, don’t purchase those bleacher seats just yet. An unbalanced undergraduate class, funding, and a desire to perfect what we have, means football just isn’t in the cards for UALR any time soon.

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