Gazette opinion: Be careful what (football) you ask for

2014-08-19T06:00:00Z 2014-08-19T06:25:04Z Gazette opinion: Be careful what (football) you ask for The Billings Gazette
August 19, 2014 6:00 am

For a group of dedicated football supporters and folks at Montana State University Billings who are considering whether to bring football back to the school: Consider carefully what you’re asking for.

We can certainly see where football might fit in well as the university continues to define itself and change its status as a well-kept-secret university — the third largest in the state and not appreciated as such. For many students, football defines a college experience. So maybe it is true that until a football program is added, it might not seem as legitimate as some universities or colleges.

But we would also urge campus leaders to carefully consider this effort, even if it is by an amazingly dedicated and well-organized group of football alumni.

Football can consume a lot of university resources. The teams are big and it takes a lot to take them on a road. And that doesn’t even get close to talk about facilities — stadiums, practice facilities, gear. A football team is not a cheap proposition. And just starting a program is just the beginning of an investment. The real money is keeping folks coming to the games, recruiting and scholarships to make the program competitive.

While it’s true that some campuses have experienced stronger donor support and increased enrollment because of strong athletics, not every university has a strong athletic program and it costs money to field a losing endeavor.

What we question — and hope the current study being conducted will answer — is whether this will help the university in its effort to be more competitive and more of an integral force on the higher education scene in Montana? If so, how will a football program enhance the academic standing for Montana State University Billings?

Some may argue that’s not the point of a football team. A football team’s point is to win and provide an athletic opportunity.

But at the risk of sounding like a buzzkill: What will ultimately sustain and improve MSUB’s reputation is investing in the academics and refining its offerings to adapt to a changing workforce. Universities and colleges throughout the country are racing to stay relevant and contemporary with a rapid and dynamic economy.

While recent court rulings affecting the NCAA would be a long way off, maybe never to have an affect on schools the size of MSU-B, we can’t help but wonder if the regulation and red tape that comes with college athletics would divert resources from the classroom to the football field.

If football were added to the roster of sports at MSUB, would it mean that more attention would be paid to athletic fundraising and less attention given to the academic programming? What about scholarships for athletes — would those be given a higher priority instead of scholarships for students? Would the money be better used making sure that hometown, higher education is available and accessible to Montana’s largest market?

We can’t help but wonder about the resources it would take to restart the football program at MSU-B. And, we would be worried that money and effort that would shift to football would be money and effort that would be taken away from the school’s sacademic mission, which is exactly where the effort and focus needs to be.

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