The feasibility of football

After calling all the plays when Walter Payton set the single-game NFL rushing record, serving as an interim head coach in the NFL and being head football coach at Catholic University of America, Fred O'Connor decided to step back and take some time off from football.

He worked for fitness clubs in Washington, D.C., and Florida for a number of years, but he could not stay away from the gridiron forever.

After helping Howard Schnellenberger raise money to build a football program from the ground up at Florida Atlantic, he joined Schnellenberger's coaching staff and has been with the Owls since 2000.

Within the past 10 years both Florida Atlantic and Big East member South Florida have raised the funds to add Division I-A football programs.

Old Dominion, which had a football program from 1930-'40, is considering revising its team and playing at the Division I-AA level if it can raise $8 million by June 1, 2006.

O'Connor has a theory on why schools would want to push forward and add a program.

"To play on national television millions of people know where you are from," he said. "Does that make you any better of an institution academically? I would argue it does because it brings in prestige in terms of public identity to your degree.

" … The campus itself has come alive, our student body, our cheerleaders. There is so much more energy on campus, and of course our enrollment is increasing every year."

Old Dominion is looking to revive football for a similar reason.

"We see it as a way to bring the campus community together," said Debbie Byrne, the university's associate athletic director — public relations.

At one point in time Marquette, which had a football team until 1960, also considered bringing back football.

"It was a topic several years ago," said Athletic Director Bill Cords. "When you realize the obstacles — we don't have a facility to play in, we don't have a practice facility or a large enough training room — it is just not possible."

Cords also said that if Marquette were to add 100 football players, it would need to add 100 women athletes to remain Title IX compliant.

"That's not a feasible thing to do," he said.

Florida Atlantic overcame the gender equity issue by increasing the number of scholarships it awarded to female athletes. If Old Dominion goes ahead with football, the Monarchs plan to add women's volleyball, crew and softball to balance things out.

Either way, it all comes back to one thing — money.

"I would say it cost us between eight and 12 million," said Ed Hayward, Florida Atlantic's associate athletic director for compliance, when asked to estimate the start-up cost. He added, "You can never have enough money. You should not proceed until you have two times the amount of money you think you need."