BY MARY RINGWALD, STAFF WRITER
In recent weeks, Bellarmine officials have amped up discussions about bringing football to the university. While no decisions have been finalized, it has been the buzz around campus since multiple Louisville media outlets reported the story.
“We have seen nothing that would discourage us from doing this,” Bellarmine President Joseph J. McGowan said, “We know we can handle it on the operating level. We are developing an arrangement for a recreational area and even the money involved in that is not that overwhelming.”
If Bellarmine chooses to launch a football program, it will become the 10th university in the Great Lakes Valley Conference to have football.
The University of Indianapolis football team has been an integral part of its community since 1924. The team brings in roughly 5,000 fans per game and going to games has become a school tradition.
Ryan Thorpe, the university’s football sports information director, said, “A ton of people come out for games and celebrate the UIndy community.”
Jason Cissel, Bellarmine’s director of media relations and social networking, agrees that having a football team will bring more people to Bellarmine.
He said, “It can add to the campus experience for our alums and our current students.”
Bellarmine’s goal for football is to draw more male students to our school. Bellarmine’s student body is 69 percent female compared to 31 percent male students, according to Bellarmine’s Office of Admissions.
New football teams are added to universities across the country each year. According to an article by University Business in 2012, leaders of public and private schools believe investments in football can increase enrollment, student involvement, and fundraising.
McGowan has a goal for Bellarmine to grow gradually because the university needs more residence halls and athletic facilities to accommodate new students and teams.
“As we grow, we do not want to leap forward,” McGowan said. “We want to grow deliberately so we can also make sure we have the capacity to accommodate students.”
There are four main residence halls on campus: the Siena complex, Anniversary Hall, Kennedy/Newman halls, and Petrik Hall. All are at capacity with many of the freshmen students squeezing three roommates into two-person rooms.
“We have plans for a new residence hall in front of Kennedy and Newman, and we are seriously going to explore what is called privatized housing that would be between the Wyatt Center for the Arts and Knights Hall,” McGowan said.
Privatized housing is an idea that Bellarmine officials have been considering more. This housing would be apartment communities that are close to campus and owned by private developers or other institutions. It would not only expand the residential capacity of Bellarmine, but it would also be a positive impact to the campus, McGowan said.
McGowan said he believes the addition of new residence halls and privatized housing will increase not only student enrollment but will also allow for Bellarmine to have enough room to house a football team.
Along with new residence halls, Bellarmine is exploring places to build new fields, locker rooms, a training room, and a weight room for all of Bellarmine’s athletes.
McGowan said one of the university trustees has an expertise in identifying available land close to campus for a sports complex.
“I cannot talk about where because there are deals still being made, but it is within easy access of campus, and it would eventually allow us to have a facility for locker rooms for both genders, a weight room, a training room, and other kinds of things,” McGowan said.
Students have different opinions about whether or not a football team would actually add to the campus experience at Bellarmine. They believe there are both positives and negatives about adding a team, but they all agree some changes will need to happen for more students to call Bellarmine home.
Nathan Jones, a Bellarmine men’s soccer player, said a football team would benefit the university.
“Who doesn’t love football?” he said. “And plain and simple, it would attract more men to our school to play and to watch.”
Students have expressed concerns about parking. Students who currently wish to park on campus have to obtain a parking pass, but many students still have to park on side streets because lots often fill.
“Without a football team, BU has enough of a parking problem,” said Sara Wilder, a member of the field hockey team.
There are plans to add more parking at the future Bellarmine sports complex, but parking is an issue being addressed by Bellarmine administrators.
Along with parking, Bellarmine also has limited space for its 21 athletic teams. The weight room holds only one team and one trainer at a time. The training room has four well-qualified trainers who have no office space and only six tables to assist athletes with treatment. The men’s and women’s soccer teams, men’s and women’s track and field teams, and the field hockey team are without locker rooms.
Some students said improving these conditions would be beneficial to the athletic department and should be carried out before Bellarmine launches football program.
“They will need to add locker rooms, another stadium, and the training room needs to be bigger,” said Lillie Nitzken, a member of both the field hockey and softball teams. “I think this process will take a while, but it will benefit the school in the long run.”
Adding women’s lacrosse would be necessary due to Title IX laws, which requires an equal amout of opportunity for any educational program or activity that receives federal financial assistance.
“I would love to have a serious marching band,” McGowan said. “That would expand our music students, and it would bring in more students.”
McGowan said he believes a football program could bring the community closer together, and it is one of the next steps for Bellarmine as a university. The decision will be discussed once again at the Board of Trustees meeting in December.
“It is most likely we will have football, but ultimately that is a Board of Trustees decision,” he said. “We will give them all the information they need to make that decision.”