|An artist's rendering of Alvernia's planned football stadium.|
Alvernia University's Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to introduce varsity football as a sport at its Reading, Pa., campus beginning in the fall of 2018. The team will compete within the Middle Atlantic Conference and would be one of two schools adding Division III varsity football that fall, along with the University of New England.
Eleven of the 17 MAC members will be sponsoring football in 2018. With UNE adding the sport and Dean College moving from two-year status to four-year status and joining Division III, that would bring the number of schools sponsoring the sport to 251.
At a news conference announcing the decision, Alvernia president Thomas F. Flynn said he expects the addition of football to not only enhance the university's historically strong athletic culture but also attract students to majors in key liberal arts and professional fields that will complement its large, high-profile healthcare sciences programs.
"During the past five years, we've made significant investments to hire and support additional faculty and expand our undergraduate and graduate programs, while enhancing teaching and learning facilities and residential life," Flynn said. "Our launch of football now is part of a logical evolution for the university at a time when we are well situated to expand athletic and recreational opportunities for our students," Flynn said.
According to Flynn, Alvernia is ideally positioned academically to accommodate enrollment growth forecasted to accompany the addition of a football program. National data shows that the top programs currently studied by student athletes playing football include athletic training, business, criminal justice and sport management— all areas in which Alvernia has well-established, successful academic programs. The university also anticipates increased interest in its liberal arts fields, such as communication, history, political science, and psychology.
“The addition of football is the latest example of Alvernia’s commitment to the MAC,” said Ken Andrews, executive director of the MAC. “As a conference, we have high expectations for sport sponsorship, and Alvernia has met that call with the addition of seven sports since joining the MAC. To support these new programs, they have made major investments in their staff and facilities. We thank President Flynn and Director of Athletics Bill Stiles for their vision and leadership.”
The conference will begin to assemble the 2018 MAC football schedule, and will release it in the upcoming months.
The decision to launch a football program followed a comprehensive study that engaged members of the entire Alvernia community and included rigorous assessment by both campus and trustee task forces. The study also incorporated research with a number of similar sized colleges that recently introduced football.
Alvernia simultaneously announced a national search for its first head football coach. "It's a rare opportunity for a football coach to build a top NCAA program from the ground up," said athletic director William Stiles. "Alvernia has an extraordinary athletic culture and we fully expect our football program will continue to enhance that tradition."
The first Alvernia football game will be played in fall 2018. In preparation, beginning next summer the university plans significant renovations to Alvernia Stadium and the school's Physical Education Center not only to prepare for football but also to enhance support for other sports that will share the venues. Included are significant upgrades to locker rooms and additional stadium seating along with a press box and hospitality suite.
Earlier this fall, Alvernia shared plans for its largest-ever expansion with creation of a 100,000 square foot academic and Recreation, Wellness and Health Sciences Complex, called "The PLEX" as the highlight of a new East Campus. The PLEX includes a 70,000 square foot field house that will support student recreation and varsity athletics programs and be available to the community.
It also features a 35,000 square-foot academic wing to house leading-edge interprofessional education in the health sciences, an area for which the university has developed a reputation for excellence within the region.