Football is alive and well in the United States.
The trend can be seen on a small scale in the continued growth at the high school level in Maine, but it has been even more dramatic at the college level.
Critics of the high cost of collegiate athletics invariably target the elimination of football as the solution to the problem.
Football, with the largest rosters of any NCAA sport, requires bigger coaching staffs, lots of high-end protective equipment, expensive travel and lodging, and other concerns.
However, there are many benefits that continue to make football a valuable addition to college athletic programs.
The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame on Tuesday released information that points to the continued proliferation of the sport.
Since 2008, 28 new football programs have taken the field at the college level. Between 2013 and 2015, another 17 are slated to join the fun.
Statistics reveal that 154 schools have added football since 1978, which brought to 653 the number of NCAA member institutions that sponsored the sport last fall.
As of 2012, there will be 82 NAIA football programs, pushing the total to 735 at all levels.
The appeal of football in the United States is undeniable.
The National Football League dominates Sunday TV sports action in the United States from September through January and the Super Bowl is among the most-watched events on TV. And Fans fill huge college stadiums on fall Saturday afternoons.
Universities have plenty of reasons for sponsoring the sport.
According to the NFF release, small colleges are able to boost their enrollment significantly and, in some cases, address gender imbalances.
Among the larger schools, football is seen as raising a university’s profile and attracts research grants. All institutions cite enhancing the campus community and giving alumni a means to connect as key dynamics of having a team.
Some recent examples point to the impact football can have on a college campus.
Georgia State, which kicked off its program in 2010 at the Football Championship Subdivision level — the same as the University of Maine — has reported its annual athletic donations grow from $32,000 with 230 members in 2009 to a projected $600,000 and 1,200 boosters this year.
It is also headed to the Bowl Championship Subdivision, home of the nation’s biggest, most influential programs.
Lamar University in Texas and Campbell University in North Carolina, which sponsor FCS programs, have seen their enrollment rise dramatically. Lamar’s grew from 9,906 in 2006, when talk of adding football was gaining momentum, to 14,021 in 2011.
At Campbell, applications almost doubled, going from 3,259 in 2007 to 12,000 (for approximately 1,100 openings) in 2011.
At Division II University of New Haven (Conn.), which reinstated football in 2009, its enrollment has grown from 2,500 in 2008 to 4,607 in 2011. The Chargers also did well at the gate, reaching 96 percent of capacity.
The growth of college football also is spanning all levels of play. Among the 17 teams targeted to begin fielding teams during the next three years, six are NCAA Division I programs, two are Division II, five are Division III and four will compete at the NAIA level.
In fact, within the 2008-2014 window, the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame’s data show the largest growth among NAIA schools, which account for 17 (34 percent) of football programs added.
That ranks ahead of 12 in Division III (24 percent), seven each (14 percent) at FCS and Division II schools, and five Football Bowl Subdivision teams, which represents 10 percent of the total.
Despite the high cost and the significant rate of injuries, football is proving a good fit on college campuses around the country. It is a trend that shows no signs of slowing.