Alvernia University’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously in October to introduce varsity football as a sport at its Reading, Pa., campus beginning in the fall of 2018. The team will compete at the NCAA Division III level, within the Middle Atlantic Conference, known as the MAC.
At a news conference announcing the decision, Alvernia President Thomas F. Flynn said he expects the addition of football to not only enhance the university’s historically strong athletic culture but also attract students to majors in key liberal arts and professional fields that will complement its large, high-profile healthcare sciences programs.
“During the past five years, we’ve made significant investments to hire and support additional faculty and expand our undergraduate and graduate programs, while enhancing teaching and learning facilities and residential life,” Flynn said. “Our launch of football now is part of a logical evolution for the university at a time when we are well situated to expand athletic and recreational opportunities for our students.”
According to Flynn, Alvernia is ideally positioned academically to accommodate enrollment growth forecasted to accompany the addition of a football program. National data shows that the top programs currently studied by student-athletes playing football include athletic training, business, criminal justice and sport management— all areas in which Alvernia has well-established, successful academic programs. The university also anticipates increased interest in its liberal arts fields, such as communication, history, political science, and psychology.
Within the MAC conference in which Alvernia teams compete, the university’s athletes consistently rank at or near top for academic performance, with both men’s and women’s athletes regularly receiving the conference’s top scholar-athlete awards. In addition, Alvernia student athletes perform more community service, maintain higher grade point averages, and graduate at higher rates than non-athletes. Many are also part of a special leadership program for student-athletes.
The decision to launch a football program followed a comprehensive study that engaged members of the entire Alvernia community and included rigorous assessment by both campus and trustee task forces. The study also incorporated research with a number of similar sized colleges that recently introduced football.
Alvernia simultaneously announced a national search for its first head football coach. “It’s a rare opportunity for a football coach to build a top NCAA program from the ground up,” said Athletic Director William Stiles. “Alvernia has an extraordinary athletic culture and we fully expect our football program will continue to enhance that tradition.”
The first Alvernia football game will be played in fall 2018. In preparation, beginning next summer the university plans significant renovations to Alvernia Stadium and the school’s Physical Education Center not only to prepare for football but also to enhance support for other sports that will share the venues. Included are significant upgrades to locker rooms and additional stadium seating along with a press box and hospitality suite.
Earlier this fall, Alvernia shared plans for its largest-ever expansion with creation of a 100,000 square foot academic and Recreation, Wellness and Health Sciences Complex, called “The PLEX” as the highlight of a new East Campus. The PLEX includes a 70,000 square foot field house that will support student recreation and varsity athletics programs and be available to the community.
It also features a 35,000 square-foot academic wing to house leading-edge interprofessional education in the health sciences, an area for which the university has developed a reputation for excellence within the region.