Lee University’s long-awaited decision on football has been made, and it’s “Not now, maybe later.”
Starting a varsity football program at Lee has been a topic discussed on the university’s campus and throughout the local community for the past 18 months, but the idea is officially being shelved for the next five years.
“There is lots of enthusiasm for football at Lee, and I think one day, we will probably have it,” said Lee President Dr. Paul Conn after announcing the final decision during the annual meeting of the entire university family early today. “But the board thinks the timing isn’t right to start it now, and I agree. We will take another look in 2019, and at that time we may be better positioned to add football.
“I personally love college football, and I would enjoy seeing it played on the Lee campus by Lee students,” Conn noted. “We expect Lee athletes to play at a very high level and compete for championships. That’s our goal for all our sports, so football can’t be an exception. If we ever begin football, it needs to be at a time when we can be very good very quickly.”
Conn explained to Lee employees that four factors discouraged him and the board about starting football at this time, including:
- The launch this year of a nursing program;
- The ongoing process of gaining full membership in NCAA Division II;
- The implications of football for Title IX (gender equity) compliance; and
- The financial demands of the school’s current development of its “south campus” between Sixth Street and Central Avenue in downtown Cleveland.
Larry Carpenter, Lee athletic director, said of the decision, “Although there will be some disappointed individuals, I feel this is the right decision at this time, and look forward to revisiting it (football) in the future.
Dr. Mike Hayes, Lee vice president for Student Development, served as the chairperson for a committee selected to conduct a football feasibility study for the university. The committee then turned its report over to Conn, who in turn met with the university’s Board of directors to reach the final decision.
The committee was comprised of representatives from faculty and administrators from across the institution, athletic leadership, alumni and current students.
“The committee members dedicated themselves to serving the university for 18 months and submitted a balanced, in-depth study in due course,” Hayes pointed out.
Conn thanked the group for performing its lengthy task.
“I appreciate the thoroughness of the Feasibility Committee, and the excellent report written for the board by Dr. Hayes,” Conn said. “The committee did an excellent job assessing the various issues, and its recommendation that we wait for a better time was persuasive to me and to the board.”
Hayes was joined on the committee by Dr. Richard Albright, assistant professor of Psychology; (Larry) Carpenter, athletic director; Dr. Jean Eledge, Language and Literature Department chair; Andrea Hudson, assistant athletic director and head women’s volleyball coach; Richie Hughes, alumni representative, Class of 1988; Dr. Eric Moyen, Health, Exercise Science and Special Education Department chair; Jeff Mullins, head athletic trainer; Loren Otten, student representative, Class of 2015; Duane Pace, director of Accounting Services; Dr. Mark Proctor, assistant professor of New Testament; Eddie Robbins, alumni representative, Class of 1975; Marty Rowe, head women’s basketball coach; Randy Sheek, assistant professor of Music; and Rosie Adams, administrative assistant to the vice president for Student Development.
“Our feasibility study sought to gather information from key constituent groups to evaluate the mission-relatedness of football for our university,” Hayes explained. “Our objective was to present a balanced report by looking at reasons to adopt or not adopt a football program. From the onset of the study, our intent was to provide President Conn and the board of directors with a clear picture of what it would take to develop a program right away or in the near future, even if the recommendation would be to not pursue football at this time.”
He added, “Ultimately, the committee recommended against developing a football program at this time. After listening to people in the community, various groups on campus, our alumni and prospective students and their families, we felt that it wasn’t the right time to pursue it. However, the committee did see that there might be merit in developing a program at some point when we truly could focus on it and discern its impact on the campus culture.”
Hayes said the committee did have a good bit of interest from the community.
“We heard from our alumni, and we also worked with the general leadership at both Bradley Central and Cleveland High schools,” he noted. “Both groups were very helpful. We also did in-depth studies at Carson-Newman and Shorter University, along with collecting football program information from schools around the country.”
Carpenter also credited Hayes and the entire feasibility group for their exhaustive work.
“I would like to thank Dr. Hayes and the committee for the tremendous job they did during this study,” Carpenter stressed. “I was impressed with the amount of information that was gathered and the input we received from the community, faculty, staff, students and alumni.
Carpenter expressed his appreciation as well to the administrators at Bradley Central High School and Cleveland High School “... for their willingness to share their facilities with us.” He also issued a special thanks to the coaches and administration at Shorter University and Carson Newman.
“We visited their facilities, met with their coaches and saw what it takes to run a successful football program,” the long-time athletic director explained.
The Lee athletic teams will enter their second year of competition in the Gulf South Conference and will also enter their third year as they proceed toward full membership in NCAA Division II.