Tari Frahm Rhokus Field shines on the Pepperdine Malibu campus Sept. 23. Pepperdine is one of 350 Division I schools that doesn’t have football. Photo by Colton Rubsamen
Fall is a signal of many things, but for some colleges, it’s football season.
Even with the various difficulties in creating a football team — such as location, money and conference play — President Jim Gash wrote in an Sept. 16 email to the Graphic he would not rule out anything with certainty in regard to the creation of another football team.
“I suppose it is possible that another president and another Board of Regents down the road will evaluate things differently, but I honestly can’t conceive of us adding a football program at any time in the foreseeable future,” Gash wrote.
Location, Money and Conference Play
There are several reasons Pepperdine doesn’t have a football program anymore, including location, money and conference play. The school had a football program in the 1940s that at one point was undefeated.
This was possible due to one factor: the South L.A. location, said John Watson, professor of Sports Administration and former director of Athletics from 1998 to 2010.
“We actually had a football field and didn’t have a city with other stadiums around,” Watson said. “We had a very successful program.”
Pepperdine discontinued the South L.A. campus’ football program that ran from 1946 to the 1960-61 academic year primarily because of the institution’s financial needs, Watson said. The football program was struggling to survive, Watson said.
In terms of location now, Watson said there isn’t enough room around the Malibu campus for a football field.
A football team could hypothetically share the field with the Women’s Soccer Team at the Tari Frahm Rokus Field, but there are other factors, such as locker rooms and practice facilities, Watson said.
Additionally, football is an expensive sport — even at the Division III level, Watson said. Azusa Pacific University had to cancel its football program because it was too expensive, according to Azusa Pacific University.
When it comes to Pepperdine’s Athletic budget, although the Athletic Department has not evaluated the cost, Gash wrote he is “confident it would be at least tens of millions of dollars.”
Another factor the University had to consider is conference play. Pepperdine has been a long-standing member of the West Coast Conference — which includes nine private, faith-based schools — since the 1956-57 season, according to Pepperdine Athletics. Creating a new football team would raise scheduling concerns, Watson said.
“Who would you play, and where would you play?” Watson said. “I think the whole logical reason is not that I don’t think there’s a lack of interest in the program, it’s just not that pragmatic for [Pepperdine].”
Gash wrote if Pepperdine decided to play football, they likely would join another conference or be independent like Brigham Young University.
BYU and University of San Diego are the only two schools in the WCC that have a football program. USD is a member of the Pioneer Football League, while BYU plays in the FBS Independent League, according to ESPN.
Potential Barriers with Title IX
Logistically speaking, Pepperdine wouldn’t have to leave the WCC to have a football team. But, adding another athletics program would create further questions involving Title IX, Watson said.
Title IX requires equal opportunities for men and women to participate in sports and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, according to the NCAA. It does not require institutions to offer identical sports but an equal opportunity to play, according to Title IX’s website.
“If you don’t eliminate some of your men’s sports, that means you are ethically required to add some female sports,” Watson said.
The NCAA requires “reasonable opportunities,” like athletic scholarships, for each sex, according to U.S. Department of Education.
At Pepperdine, 112 student-athletes are male and 189 are female, according to collegefactual.com.
Adding a complete football roster at Pepperdine would increase the male athlete participation by up to 125 new athletes, according to a website for sports news called Scott Fujita. This matters because it would mean the number of male athletes would have to increase the number of female athletes at Pepperdine.
Depending on the institution, scholarship opportunities for female and male athletes would change, Watson said.
“It’s whatever the cost [of making a] Division I program,” Watson said. “Staffing elements, the scholarship associated with that, the number of scholarships allowed by the NCAA. You got your travel costs, you’ve got your equipment costs [and] you have your facilities costs.”
The Struggle of School Spirit
American football remains one of four most popular sports, according to World Population View.
With thousands of people watching football, sophomore Sam Jones said the sport brings people together.
“It’s kind of dead on campus [on the weekends at Pepperdine],” Jones said. “I feel like if Pepperdine had a football team, there would be a little bit more campus community on the weekends.”
Jones said he has gone to basketball and volleyball games at Pepperdine, but said football is one of the biggest sports in college, and he thinks more people would go out to football games than any other event.
“I definitely want to go to [football games],” Jones said. “I’ve been to UCLA, USC games. [So I] kind of just miss out on the whole function part of the day, part of like a Saturday afternoon.”
Watson said having a football program expands the opportunities for school spirit because it’s a fall sport.
“It increases the likelihood that new students coming to campus would in fact become more entrenched with the athletic experience,” Watson said.
Having a football program also affects the recruiting circuit, Watson said.
When he was athletic director, Watson said he wouldn’t talk about the football atmosphere because he knew Pepperdine couldn’t offer them this.
“If you’re looking for a quality education, a quality commitment to your athletic program in your sport, you’ll get it here,” Watson said. “But, if you’re looking for that overall fall football experience, obviously we don’t have that.”
Watson said there are numerous reasons students aren’t as involved in attending games.
“A lot of students would much rather be in the comfort of their room or be with their friend somewhere in the world than hiking down the hill and back up the hill,” Watson said.
To combat that problem, Watson said the development of The Mountain is going to be a tremendous asset for athletics and for students in general.
“It provides not only a recreational center in their living environment, but also an event center in their living environment, which will, I hope, build a community that interacts with one another in a variety of ways, not just athletically, Watson said.
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Contact Jerry Jiang via Twitter ( @j_jiang30 ) or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org