The big question: Football at HPU?

By Nolan Stout, Staff Writer

January 23, 2013

Football. In the South, it’s a religion. Saturday is for tailgating and college football. It’s practically a given that anyone attending a Division I college in the South will experience the craze of college football. Nothing says college like football.

But, at High Point University, that’s a different story. The school has not had football in over 60 years.

On November 28, 1950, after a dismal 1-10 record and only two wins in the past two seasons combined, then High Point College cut its football program.

In a letter published in the High Point Enterprise then university president Dennis H. Cooke stated that the Athletic Council of the College had voted to “discontinue intercollegiate football at High Point College until such time that colleges can have full enrollments of men students from whom to recruit a football squad and the game can be played without too great a financial sacrifice to the small college.”

After the 1950 season, the United States was entering the Korean War and a draft would soon be implemented. According to research by the college, 12 of the 28 members of the 1950 team would be graduating, four were already drafted and ten faced the possibility of being drafted.

Donald Brown, 81, was a freshman halfback in the 1950 season, attending the college on a full football scholarship.

While his scholarship would have been honored, Brown dropped out to join the Air Force less than two months after the decision to cancel football was made.

As expected, Brown was disappointed when football was cut.

“I hated to see it go,” said Brown. “I loved football and thought it added a lot to the school.”

The school diverted all the money from football to basketball in an effort to bring the program to “a new high.” High Point Enterprise writer Bill Currie supported this plan saying, “There is every reason to believe that basketball is the athletic salvation of the college.” Currie wholeheartedly believed that “the small college can play big time basketball.”

The money from football may have helped basketball in the past, but that success hasn’t carried over into the modern era. Since the 1998-99 season, the men’s basketball team has gone 181-230, with only four winning seasons in that 14-year stretch, the last coming in a 17-14 record in the 2007-08 season.

So could a football team do any good now?

Of course, there are many obstacles to starting a football program from scratch. The main issue: money.

According to current athletic director Craig Keilitz, it would cost around $35 million for a football stadium and about $6 million yearly to maintain the program.

To those that know the amazing changes the school has made and all the money spent since Nido Qubein became university president in 2004, this might not seem like much. But, according to a 2009 NCAA financial survey, only 14 of the 106 Division I FBS (formerly 1-A) made a profit on college football.

If the Panthers started a football program, it would be in the FCS (1AA) subdivision of Division I. However, those schools are also losing money to football.

According to both Keilitz and Qubein, there are other sports at High Point getting upgrades. Fairly expensive projects for soccer and lacrosse are planned to be started early in 2013. The basketball teams are getting a new arena sometime in the future that could cost $50 to $60 million.

Qubein also said the university is adding a new library, math and computer science building, a school of health sciences and a school of pharmacy in the near future, which take precedence over football.

These projects are placing the football program low on the school’s priority list.

“On a list of ten priorities right now, I’d have to say football was down around 9 or 10 on the list,” said Qubein.

Qubein also sees no dire need for football at High Point.

“Some colleges add non-scholarship football to attract more male students,” said Qubein. “We don’t need to add football to get more students. We have plenty of students.”

While it may hurt the school economically to get a team, there is no reason to think football wouldn’t benefit the school in other ways.

Currently in the fall, Saturday afternoons at High Point University are for women’s soccer games with about 400 attendees per game. Football would serve as something to get students out of bed and supporting their school on Saturdays.

Sophomore Robyn Sellers of New Jersey sees the benefit that football could bring to the school.

“I feel like it would tie the community to us and add school spirit,” said Sellers.

Adding football could benefit the community. The traffic created by Division I football fans and teams could bring business to the town, bring alumni back and bring the community together for sports.

Bob Brenner, a long time resident of High Point, believes that football would be great for the town.

“I think it would be fantastic,” said Brenner. “Something like that would be great and if they recruited locally it would be supported even more.”

There is no real economic benefit that football could bring to High Point University, but it may not be quite as much of a detriment as it seems. According to the NCAA study, FCS schools with football are only losing about $300,000 more a year than Division I schools without football. Therefore, football would not be such a drain on the school as some make it out to be.

While it may be difficult for a college to start a football team, one can’t help but wonder when High Point University will start theirs. Since 1950, there haven’t been many advocates of the sport at the school. Brown believes the time is coming for football to return.

“Up until recently, I wasn’t really surprised it hadn’t come back because no one had got behind it,” said Brown. “I do think it’s coming back, it’s just a question of when.”

It also seems that Qubein may agree with him.

“Is it inevitable that High Point University will have football? I think that would be right,” said Qubein.

So will football return to High Point University? It’s very possible. When? That’s a different question. The general consensus among those close to the issue is that it will not be seriously considered until at least five to ten years from now. Should it ever come back? That’s a question we may never know the answer.