Should Mount Marty College add football?

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BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

I purposely held off on providing an opinion either way.

Until now.

The story I wrote for Tuesday’s Press & Dakotan detailed the issue of Mount Marty College in Yankton potentially adding football. Not that it’s being planned or not being planned, the mission was simple: What would it take? What are the pros and cons? What do the decision-makers think?

Athletic director Chuck Iverson and new president Marc Long were both clear: Football is not in the works right now, but let’s never say never. You can’t completely shut the door on a sport that would clearly increase the enrollment at a small school and would therefore raise the profile of your entire institution.

I didn’t initially intend for that story to be as long as it is (probably 1,800 words), but there were so many angles to consider: Costs, culture, facilities, etc. And I also thought, you know, this is the first time I’ve ever seen football discussed in a public forum like that, and who knows when it will ever come up again. So why not dig deep.

Personally, I’ve been torn over the years on the whole idea of Mount Marty adding football.

Would I like to see it? Of course. Selfishly, what journalist or fan wouldn’t want to spend a Saturday afternoon at a football game? (I’ve been covering college football for a decade now, and there’s nothing that compares to a Saturday at a football game, even if it’s inside at the DakotaDome in Vermillion).

Does it make sense?

Put simply, no.

From every one of those angles, I can’t see how football would work at Mount Marty. If you consider the low end of what it would take to operate a football program, you’re probably talking somewhere around $300,000-400,000. And on the high end, it’d be closer to $800,000. That’s a huge portion of an athletic budget that was last at $1.3 million, according to the information MMC provided to the Department of Education.

And college football at this level (small-school NAIA) isn’t exactly going to net you a giant profit. You’re not going to make enough in gate receipts (people paying to attend your games) or donations to make it self-sustaining. So then you’re stuck in a situation where you’re annually losing money for a program that isn’t likely to succeed any time soon.

And that’s a whole other thing. Football isn’t likely to succeed at Mount Marty College. Look at the most recent Great Plains Athletic Conference school to add football, Dordt College. I’m far from a GPAC football expert, but I can’t ever remember Dordt being a title contender. Not when you’re in a league with Morningside and Northwestern. So then, you’re left with the question, what’s the point?

Some would argue culture.

Football gives you an identity, proponents would argue. Football gives your student population a true college experience, they would say. There’s something missing without football, they would say. But on the other hand, when you’re Mount Marty, with an on-campus population of a couple hundred students, suddenly adding 100 students would certainly revamp your landscape. For good or bad, things would be different. Mount Marty’s student population is 60% female right now, and an influx of, say, 80-100 male students, would not only alter your numbers, but it would present some gender equity concerns. Then, the athletic department would be in a position where it was possibly forced to add a women’s sport to keep the proportions in check. What women’s sport would you add? Cheer and dance?

The addition of football, and in turn, another women’s sport, would put strains on an already maxed out Laddie E Cimpl Arena. You would have teams practicing or using the facility at 2 a.m., or some other random time. There’s not enough room. And with football, you would need an expanded weight room and training space. Cimpl Arena, as it stands right now, can’t accommodate football.

That brings us to the next concern: Facilities.

I’ve made my beliefs on this very clear the past few months. Mount Marty College needs to construct some kind of indoor athletic/wellness center; some kind of facility with an indoor track, space for other teams, and a state-of-the-art weight room. I’m of the belief that such a facility might not be unrealistic, but we’ll have to wait and see if Mount Marty could raise enough money to build a second athletic center. The benefit in Mount Marty’s case, though, would be that it would already have one, and possibly two, football fields to use in Yankton – depending on what the Yankton School District decides in the Crane-Youngworth vs. Williams Field issue.

Those would be the major issues to tackle in a potential decision to add football, and that doesn’t even touch on a significant – in my eyes, the most important – piece to this puzzle: The impact on current Lancer athletic programs.

There’s a lot of work to be done with the current MMC teams, many of which consistently struggle to compete in the GPAC. Long, who began his duties as president on July 15, called baseball the “shining example” in the athletic department, and we’ve already seen what improvements – field turf – can do for that program (more home games, regional exposure, recruits, etc.). There’s also the concern of what message you would be sending your current athletes if you suddenly add football. What would the track program think? What would volleyball think? I can tell you what they’d think: They’d feel slighted. And that was exactly the concern Iverson and Long both separately addressed in my interviews with them; that they would much rather improve the programs in-house before considering adding more.

And so, in my opinion, adding football would be a huge mistake. Financially. Competitively. Logistically.

In every avenue, football would be another struggling program at a college that wants to raise the profile of the programs it already has: From tennis on up to basketball.

If, for example, Mount Marty does construct an athletic fieldhouse and in 10-15 years, its programs are at the point where they’re all regularly competing for GPAC titles, then you could consider it. As Long put it, you could do so from a “position of strength.”

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