MACON, Ga. — The sights and sounds of intercollegiate football will be returning to the Mercer University campus after a 70-year absence. The University’s Board of Trustees today unanimously approved a plan to resume competition in football in the fall of 2013. Mercer currently fields 15 men’s and women’s sports and is the only private university in Georgia to compete in NCAA Division I athletics.
“This was a well-thought-out, carefully deliberated decision by the board that followed more than two years of study and discussion,” chairman W. Homer Drake Jr. said at a University Center news conference following the trustees meeting. “The board’s action today reflects the trustees’ support for President Underwood’s ongoing efforts to further strengthen the University’s academic profile, reputation, and level of student engagement.”
Mercer President William D. Underwood told a packed news conference audience that the University is seeking membership in the Pioneer Football League, a football-only conference made up of colleges and universities that participate in NCAA Division I non-scholarship football. Its current members include Butler University, Campbell University, Davidson College, the University of Dayton, Drake University, Jacksonville University, Marist College, Morehead State, the University of San Diego, and Valparaiso University. The Pioneer League is one of three conferences – the others being the Ivy League and the Patriot League – composed of institutions fielding non-scholarship football teams.
“This kind of college football will enhance our academic reputation by aligning us with other outstanding universities that compete in Division I non-scholarship football and by making Mercer even more competitive in attracting the most sought-after students,” Underwood said. “By attracting and retaining outstanding students, by aligning the University with other leading colleges and universities, and by raising the visibility of the University through the exposure that a football program brings, the sport will play a role in achieving Mercer’s aspiration of being more widely recognized among the ranks of America’s finest private institutions.”
Although Mercer has not competed in football since 1941, the University at one time had a rich football tradition. The first intercollegiate football game in the state – and one of the first in the Southeast – pitted Mercer against the University of Georgia in January of 1892. Georgia Tech’s first football game was against Mercer in November 1892, a 12-6 victory for the Bears. Mercer’s last football game was against Chattanooga.
“As a former Mercer student-athlete, I know the benefits of competing in intercollegiate athletics at a University like this,” said Diane Owens, newly-elected chair of the Board of Trustees.” There are many outstanding young men around the state and the Southeast who want a rigorous, liberal arts-based education, but who also want to continue to compete in football. Like other former Mercer student-athletes, many of Mercer’s future football players will go on to become leaders in their communities and their professions. I am very excited about the return of football to my alma mater,” Owens said.
The University expects to form a search committee for a head coach within the next few weeks and begin a national search in early 2011. Mercer also is exploring several possible sites for a stadium, including an on-campus location, and has begun fund-raising for the facility.
“Over the next three years, we will need to complete our fund-raising, build a stadium, hire coaches and recruit student-athletes,” Underwood said, “but today’s decision by the board puts in motion Mercer’s return to the gridiron.”