On Thursday, Jan 10 and Friday, Jan 11, Saint Leo University held a series of focus groups to begin the process of bringing a football program back to the school. This is the latest step by University President Jeffrey Senese to grow Saint Leo’s attendance. These focus groups are not a guarantee that the school will bring a football program, but are more set as a groundwork to test the feasibility of re-fielding a team.
The focus groups were led by Russell Wright, the managing director of Collegiate Consulting, an Atlanta based consulting firm dedicated to helping universities expand their athletic departments. They have had success in the past, having worked with the University of West Florida to establish their football program in 2016, a program that finished as Division 2 national runners-up in 2017. The company has also successfully worked with Troy University and Florida A&M, to name a few.
This would be a return of football to Saint Leo, as the school once had a football program, dating as far back as 1945.
This feasibility includes some expected challenges, such as the cost of staffing such an undertaking and the expenses that come with updating and improving the infrastructure for the team, as well as gauging the interest level the student and faculty have in the team’s existence.
Walking around campus seems to answer the interest level. Discussing the idea with a number of students, the interest has been overwhelmingly positive. One student, a junior Psychology major, views a football program as a good way to expand the visibility of the school, while another student, a freshman English major from Brooksville, spoke on the excitement he had, noting his initial disappointment that the school did not already have a football program in existence.
The feasibility also brings some unique difficulties as well. Saint Leo currently plays in the Sunshine State Conference, which has no football programs at this time. One option would be to move to the Gulf South Conference, where the Lions would be able to face teams. However, Wright noted that this would only be a short term solution, as the only Floridian university in the conference is West Florida, located up the panhandle in Pensacola. The rest of the conference is scattered in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee. Logistically, the travel would make Saint Leo’s football program unsustainable and so the best option would be for other schools, closer to Saint Leo, to start their own football programs to make the distances more reasonable.
It is one thing to form your own football program, but now Saint Leo needs to convince other universities, five in total per Wright’s suggestion, to form their own as well. It is not impossible, as Wright noted that there are already a few schools doing their own research, including Embry Riddle University and another SSC school.
There will be another series of talks in a few weeks, and further exploration into the possibility of football at Saint Leo, so it will be an intriguing few months at the school.