UTSA is on the verge of announcing the start of football, a new $80 million athletic complex and a move toward a top level NCAA conference.

UTSA athletic officials are awaiting permission from The University of Texas (UT) System to announce an athletic fundraising initiative to help establish a football program and move all 17 sports toward a Football Bowl Subdivision (Division 1A) conference.

“At that point, we will be asking everyone-boosters to alumni -to help raise the funds needed,” Athletic Director Lynn Hickey said. “Right now we are waiting to hear from the UT System to give us permission to announce the initiative. It could take four to five weeks.”

The move to establish football took shape after students approved a referendum last year to increase athletic fees and when the community approved $22.05 million City bonds and County tax elections.

Budget increase

The athletic department needs to raise $15 million from donors over the next five to seven years to increase its annual operations budget from $8 million to more than $20 million. When fully implemented, the student approved athletic fee will generate approximately $15 million annually.

According to Hickey, The UT System could grant permission to proceed by mid-September.

The university needs at least a $10 million budget to operate a football program as well as the other 16 sports in its current conference, the Southland Conference. But that’s approximately half as much as the budgets of Conference USA, a next level conference of metropolitan area universities of similar size and academic stature as UTSA.

The Western Division of Conference USA includes Houston, Rice, UTEP, SMU, Tulsa and Tulane-all geographically convenient for UTSA teams and fans.

Out of the 12 universities currently in Conference USA, the University of Southern Mississippi has an enrollment under 15,000, half the size of UTSA, and ranks last in total annual operations budget at $15 million. Ten of the Conference USA schools have operating budgets greater than $20 million. The University of Central Florida ranks first with an annual budget of $30 million.

Football Coach

According to a football timeline released by the university a year ago, UTSA is to hire a head coach by February 2009.

Brad Parrott, associate athletic director for external affairs, said waiting until then will allow UTSA to evaluate all interested coaches after the 2008 college and professional football seasons.

After all the football seasons are completed in January 2009, coaches can visit UTSA without violating contracts that last through the current seasons. The university may consider hiring a coach coming out of retirement.

“We are getting lots of calls. There are many candidates who are very interested in the position,” Parrott said. “They see the potential UTSA has.”

Basketball improvements

In order to move into an elite conference such as Conference USA, UTSA must become a financial asset to the conference.

Every team that a conference sends to the NCAA basketball tournament in March receives a lump sum of money, which is determined by that team’s point of elimination. The funds are then distributed evenly among the other universities in the conference.

Men’s basketball head coach Brooks Thompson and his staff will bring in ten newcomers as well as two new coaches to Thompson’s coaching staff.

UTSA basketball is highlighted on ESPN.com as a team “overdue for a run of good luck.”

So, unless the basketball team turns itself into a potential contender to make the tournament every year, Conference USA, the Western Athletic Conference and other Division 1A conferences will be looking elsewhere for a school that can become an asset.

Facility upgrades

A master plan has been developed for a new UTSA athletic complex to be built on land UTSA recently acquired between Hausman Road and Loop 1604 near Kyle Seale Parkway.

The 125 acres will be the home for new baseball and softball stadiums, tennis courts, a football practice facility and initially a combination of a soccer and track stadium. Space has been allocated to eventually hold a stand-alone soccer stadium and football stadium, as well as a new Convocation Center.

Construction of the first phase of the Competitive Athletic Complex will begin as soon as the university is able to demonstrate just exactly how the $22.05 million in City and County funds will be invested. University officials are currently working with the City and County on contracts to determine when funds will be available.

While a new Convocation Center is being considered, the athletic department is set to unveil its new redesigned basketball court in the current Convocation Center. The new court will don the new Roadrunner logo. Other upgrades being considered are a new scoreboard and electronic message boards.

What’s next

University and athletic department officials recently visited the University of Central Florida (UCF) and the University of South Florida (USF) to look at athletic facilities, discuss fundraising initiatives and help determine what must be accomplished to be considered for a Division 1A conference. UCF and USF both jumped to Division 1A football during the past 10 years.

The first phase of the athletic fee will be in place this semester. While students may not notice the fee increase in their tuition (one dollar per hour for the first 12 hours of each semester), they will see the effort and progress being made by UTSA Athletics throughout campus.

The athletic department knows what students really want-big-time college football. The clock is ticking and the athletic department is just as eager as the students to get there.

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