Though a football program could still be in the University of North Florida‘s (UNF) future, officials believe it would take years for a plan to come to fruition.
Several years ago, UNF took a detailed look at what it would take establish a program. An athletic facilities master plan published in 2013 outlined dedicated venues for football that were desired by the university, including a newly-constructed 25,000-to-35,000-seat stadium along support facilities and two practice fields. The study called for construction to begin in 2026, with the project costing over $126 million.
That study, however, also noted that UNF would likely need until at least 2025 until it could support a football program and its related costs. Ultimately, the university decided in April 2013 to pass on adding football.
In recent remarks, UNF president John Delaney said that while UNF is still open to the possibility, it could take years for the school to add football to its athletic offerings. He cited the need to grow the student population in order for the effort to work. More from First Coast News:
“I think it is going to be a while before we add football,” Delaney says now, admitting the decision to pass on the sport wasn’t popular with everyone. “I don’t go to a rotary club speech that I don’t get asked about football.”
UNF is at a crossroad. Delaney is retiring next year, university enrollment is stagnant, and the Southside-based public university is facing funding issues.
“Money, money and money!” Delaney said.
Delaney believes the university needs its student population to double before it can successfully field a football team. 15,975 students attended UNF in the fall of 2016.
“If you get to 25,000 or 30,000 you can make that work,” he said. “25,000 is a little bit harder and 30,000 makes it work, but we don’t want to get to 30,000. We want to stay a mid-sized university that gives you the advantages of a small school.”
The existing Hodges Stadium is viewed as an unlikely fit for football, as its tracks would put fans too far away for the field. The facility serves as a multipurpose venue for UNF, and is also being used for professional soccer this year by the NASL’s Jacksonville Armada.