Lewis to Add New Outdoor Stadium

Posted: February 8, 2011 in News
Students need to rally support should football be resurrected after 55 years


LU Football Pic

Lewis University has not sponsored college football since 1957. Should the school decide to bring back the sport, good things could result for the entire university.

As a student, I enjoy the occasional chuckle from reading the back of the Lewis Football t-shirts.

And as a matter of fact, yes – “We’re Still Undefeated.”

How often do you, the Lewis student, get put in the awkward situation of answering the questions of whether Lewis is getting football again and the only response you can muster up is a shoulder shrug and puzzled look?

There has been significant progress in the department of athletic expansion at the Romeoville campus.

Lewis University is beginning work on the addition of a new outdoor facility that will consist of a nine lane track, a multi-purpose artificial playing surface, and stadium style seating that could hold up to 2,500 patrons. This phase will cost an estimated $4 million and is just one of three phases, totaling $20 million. The second would consist of a 25,000 square foot training facility, even more seating, four practice fields, and additional parking lots that could hold hundreds just to name a few.

 John Noak, Mayor of Romeoville, announced this information at his State of the Village address early in January. “It is our hope that his new facility will one day bring thousands of participants and visitors to our community throughout the year,” commented Noak.

The important thing to take from this announcement is that just because the facility will be there, football is not included in this deal. The field will be there, but the trigger still needs to be pulled to bring forth a team after half a century of no competitive pigskin.

The reason I am writing this piece is to share with the community my beliefs after hours of research of just what bringing football to the student body will do for Lewis as a whole and how it will enrich the Flyer experience.


How This Expansion All Began

The idea for this renovation started in 2007. The project, titled “Vision 2011,” was an idea to bring a football team to the school and all of the requirements that go along with it.

Before this project began, the school had to make sure the students indeed really did want a football squad. According to “Saturday Night Lights to Arrive at Lewis?” which was written by The Flyer’s Donald Woodard in March of 2007, Lewis sent out surveys to more than 3,000 students about what sport they would add.

You guessed it – football was the majority favorite.

Athletic Director Dan Schumacher in that article mentioned some important notes that would go along with the school’s addition of football. First off, no current athletic sponsored event would be cut or would suffer financial support because of this addition. Secondly, every student athlete would be treated the same. Just because football would be the newest sport doesn’t mean they would receive special treatment.

The then wished for stadium, which now is becoming a reality, was thought up with the intention of it being opened to the public when the school was not using it. This would provide a new social element to the weekend activities at the school for residents and commuters alike.

“The [multi-purpose field] will help improve enrollment because it will attract more students, prospective students,” commented Schumacher in 2007. “The stadium may also better the collegiate experience by providing activities such as going to football games on weekends, or going out and enjoying intramurals.”

The message became clear when the idea was thought up. The student body would need to be fully behind this idea and act as the driving force to make any actions actually happen.


How Would Football Improve the School Experience?

There are many reasons to consider the addition of football to this university. Brainstorming for this article, I could not think of any severe negatives to change my opinion on the issue.

First and foremost, football would attract students. The interest in Lewis would be so great, enrollment numbers would reach all time highs. The social aspect which most residents complain does not exist on weekends would be created and thus would lower the number of students who go home simply because they’re bored. Lewis would become much more of a campus and not a “suitcase college.”

Another reason would be the local talent Lewis could attract. The school is located in close proximity to some of the state’s best high school football programs. Schools like JCA, Providence, Lincoln-Way East or Central, Bolingbrook, Naperville North, Wheaton Warrenville South, Sandburg, Lockport, and Romeoville would all be prime locations for Lewis to scout. The talent would be great and would establish a local presence, which is one of the goals of Division II colleges. Lewis would become the perfect school for local athletes who wish to play college ball close to home.

On a blunter topic, football would create an additional form of revenue for the school. Between tickets, merchandise, concession, and endorsement sales, Lewis would be bringing in a cash flow it has never seen before. In a theoretical world, this extra income would satisfy Lewis’s annual need and could lessen tuition for students. A lower tuition cost would certainly be a deciding factor for parents and students who need to loan their tuition money.

Lewis University would also gain some national attention from this move. I’m not saying they’ll become the Notre Dame of Division II, but as time goes on the possibility for larger amounts of exposure certainly grow as well.

The talks about the Bears and where they will call home for training camp beyond 2011 still needs to be settled. According to an August 9, 2010 piece by Chicago Tribune writer Brad Briggs, the Bears are debating staying in Bourbonnais, IL at Oliver Nazarene University or moving to Romeoville to practice at Lewis University. Wouldn’t it be awesome to come to school in June and July to see the Bears get ready for the NFL season? The student body would be highly interested to come support their Bears.

The final point worth mentioning would be the trickledown effect the football team addition would cause. Assuming the move would increase enrollment, those additional students would need more dorms to live in. The school would have to explore more dorms, more parking, more places to eat, and a more diverse class schedule. That would benefit all students. More options is always a good problem to have.


Examples of School Starting Football Programs

Creating college football programs across the country is not the rarest thing to see. There multiple examples though I was able to find that are relatable to Lewis University and could help but into perspective just what football brings to the college landscape.

Mark Papich is the Director of Athletics at the University of Incarnate Word, a small school located in San Antonio, TX. Incarnate Word is a private, faith-based institution which relies on tuition as its main source of funding.

In the August 2007 National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics issue, Papich explained how he went about the complicated process of creating a program at his university. Of those troubles he explained were the concerns of who to schedule in competition and how long it would actually take to get the ball rolling until his school would play its first real game.

These are both issues Lewis would have no problem solving.

If Lewis was to start creating a schedule, many local teams would be available for exhibition or out of conference games. The Flyers would most assuredly join the Great Lakes Valley Conference, the conference the school already competes in for a majority of its sporting programs, to play for championship football. That leaves just finding out of conference opponents.

Here is a list of local area schools that would make sense to play and create true rivalry games against: University of St. Francis, St. Xavier University, North Central College, Benedictine University, Aurora University, Olivet Nazarene University, and even Joliet Junior College. Perhaps some of these schools would not be the most attractive opponents, but again the options are there until something better comes along.

The second issue would be the number of years of preparation. Papich explained in his piece that his school recruited students and had them all red-shirt, so that they could legally practice and work together to build fundamental skills. The next year, Incarnate Word went out and recruited junior college and community college players to establish leadership and experience with the red-shirts.

 That following season, the third year, the team played its first ever game.

Having a blueprint like this would make Lewis, should the announcement happen in 2011, eligible to compete in its inaugural year of football in 2013.

Other school success stories were reported in The News-Herald back in August of 2007. Lake Erie College started a football program and played its first year competitively in 2007. The school’s 2008 enrollment was 32% higher than it was before the sport was added.

The school’s president, Michael Victor, commented on the school’s incredible success by saying that, “[His] research took [him] to a survey of 17,000 high school seniors, 70 percent of whom said they would reject a college that was not physically attractive… Football is a big piece of the puzzle, but it’s just a piece.”

A final example occurred just a few years ago as well. Seton Hill University , located in Greenburg, PA, wasn’t even a coed institution until 2002. The school started a football program in 2005 and already climbed the ranks to Division II status. Not to mention the school’s enrollment also increased a staggering 33% just two years after its inception.

Just think if Lewis was to increase by an approximate 30% just because of a sport, enrollment would jump from 6,000 to nearly 8,000 students.

Attendance has been shown to influx in direct relation with athletic success. Boise State University has become the underdog of Division I football over the last decade. Since the school has received more and more national attention over the last ten years, the school’s attendance has risen 17.68% to nearly 20,000 students. The Broncos during this span have been to Bowl games every year except 2001, including two BCS wins in the Fiesta Bowl.

Butler University, which very few people knew about before the March Madness tournament last spring, also benefitted from national athletic attention. The number of applications the school received from 2009 to 2010 rose an incredible 40%, thanks in large part to the Cinderella run in the tournament.

The final example is extremely close to home. St. Xavier University began its football program about a decade ago. They led the entire NAIA football division in attendance this last season. And they’ve only been playing for ten years.

Football and colleges just work.


Great Lakes Valley Conference Football

As mentioned in the previous section, Lewis would most surely join the GLVC for competitive play. The Great Lakes Valley Conference is adding football as its 18th championship sport beginning in 2012.

The conference expanded in October 2010 to include three new universities just with the intention of football. McKendree University, located in Lebanon, IL, will join the conference in 2013-2014 and become the conference’s 17th full time member. Two partial members, Urbana University and Central State University, will join strictly to compete in football beginning in 2012.

With those three mentioned schools, the GLVC will also absorb six football teams from its current 16 members that happen to play football in other conferences. Those six schools are William Jewell College, Kentucky Wesleyan College, University of Missouri S&T, Quincy University, Saint Joseph’s College, and University of Indianapolis. These six schools are currently spread amongst three different conferences but all have tied to the GLVC.

The new football championship will be the conference’s newest title sport since indoor track and field competition began in 2000.


The Role of Students in This Process

So where do the students fit into this puzzle?

As mentioned previously, just because the school is building an outdoor stadium that could house football doesn’t mean football will actually be coming into the picture.

Lewis students need to build enough excitement that the schools decides this is the right thing to do not just for now but for future Flyers as well. Every chance you get to talk about football with your classmates or student organizations, do it. Mention it to Brother James when you pass by that you’d like to see football games on Saturday nights.

This is not just a benefit for Lewis students now, but it could very well shape the future of the school in more ways than just athletics.

Do your part and spread the word. It’s up to us to show how bad we want this. Make a change and become part of Lewis University history.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Carlo Calma, Brett Lyons. Brett Lyons said: Inside The LYONS Den: @LewisUniversity to Add New Outdoor Stadium; Is Football Coming Too? http://bit.ly/ibumqZ #NCAAF […]

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