Students and faculty crammed the sidewalks, road and courtyards between Alvernia’s Campus Commons and Physical Education Center on a hot September afternoon to hear the news. Yes, it was true. With a thrust of an official NCAA ball into the air over his head, President Tom Flynn made it official.
Football is coming to Alvernia!
The announcement affirmed what the university’s Board of Trustees had voted unanimously on just days earlier: to develop a varsity football program that will play its first game in the fall of 2018. Alvernia’s team will compete at the NCAA Division III level, within the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC), playing against the likes of Lebanon Valley College, Stevenson, and yes, cross-town rival Albright.
“During the past five years, we’ve made large 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.”
According to Flynn, Alvernia is ideally positioned academically to accommodate the 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 — complementing its already high-profile healthcare sciences programs.
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’s athletics culture is already very strong,” said Alvernia Athletic Director Bill Stiles. “We don’t need football to come in and fix it. We need football to enhance and build on what is already a strong culture here.”
Within the MAC conference in which Alvernia teams compete, the university’s athletes consistently rank at or near the top for academic performance, with both men’s and women’s athletes regularly receiving the conference’s top scholar-athlete awards. In addition, Alvernia student-athletes perform more community service, maintain higher grade point averages and graduate at higher rates than non-athletes. Many are also part of a special leadership program for student-athletes.
A national search for Alvernia’s first head football coach is already underway. “It’s a rare opportunity for a football coach to build a top NCAA program from the ground up,” said Stiles. “Alvernia’s athletes are top performers both on and off the field, and we fully expect that our football program will make that tradition a priority.”
In preparation for kickoff in 2018, beginning next summer the university plans significant additions to turf seating and renovations to 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, along with a new 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.