College options expanding for AZ prep football players

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                </div>Just graduated from high school in Arizona and can’t find a college football program?  Maybe you aren’t looking in the right places. If you’re a good, but maybe not great, […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Just graduated from high school in Arizona and can’t find a college football program?  Maybe you aren’t looking in the right places.

If you’re a good, but maybe not great, football player who isn’t ready to hang up the pads yet, there are more options than ever for continuing to play another four years – while picking up that coveted college degree.

According to the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF), there have been 28 new college football programs that have sprung up since 2008.  Since 1978, the NFF says the number of schools playing NCAA football has steadily increased by 154 schools.

And this year there will be another five new college teams on the field.

And 17 more are coming on line between 2013 and 2015.

New programs are being added at all levels, in every region of the country.  They’re good for the schools because they help attract new enrollment, maybe pick up a little extra national publicity, expand the donor bases at the schools, and hopefully have a successful incubator program that will soon be invited to join the bigger, more established conferences – and get even more national exposure.

“It’s exciting to see the launch of these programs because they are giving high school players the opportunity of playing at different levels in regions of the country where those options did not previously exist,” explains NFF President & CEO Steven J. Hatchell.

But not enough high school players have tuned in yet to all the new opportunities.

Just a couple of weeks ago, an article in the Houston Chronicle spotlighted the issue of good players in Texas still looking for an invitation to play at the next level, as summer begins to wind down.  A number of players who had participated in the state’s All-Star Game were still without plans for a college football career.  Many were just looking for an opportunity to continue playing the game they loved.

And that’s in Texas, no less, the hottest of the hotbeds of prep football.

So, if Michigan or Ohio State aren’t likely to come knocking, there are plenty of smaller college programs – and some very interesting options among the new arrivals.

The University of Texas at San Antonio, for example, launched a new program last year and drew more than 56,00 fans to its first game.  Georgia State got its program off the ground in 2010, drew more than 30,000 in its debut, and will soon move from the FCS level to begin play in the FBS Sun Belt Conference.

Old Dominion University in Virginia got its start a year earlier than Georgia State, posted a 10-3 record in 2011, and reached the second round in the FCS playoffs in its first year of eligibility.   The Monarchs draw just shy of 20,000 fans a game.

Some programs were dropped years ago and have suddenly re-emerged.  Campbell University in North Carolina reinstated its football program in 2008 and is now playing at the FCS level in the Pioneer League – and going gangbusters.

“The return of college football has energized the entire campus community,” said Campbell’s athletic director, Bob Roller.  “We have enjoyed tremendous support from our students, alumni, and the surrounding counties.”  Roller says the school will be adding lights to its field this season and expects an uptick in game attendance.

The University of New Haven reinstated its football program in 2009 and since then has won back-to-back Northeast-10 Conference championships.  And Lamar University in Texas brought back its FCS football program in 2010 after 21 years, and that school now leads the Southland Conference in attendance.

Here are the five new programs that will be launching this season, courtesy of the NFF:

Bluefield College in Virginia, a NAIA school that plays in the Mid-South Conference; Lindenwood University-Belleville in Illinois, a NAIA program that will play an in independent; Misericordia University in Pennsylvania, a Division III school that will compete in the Middle Atlantic Conference; Point University in Georgia, another NAIA independent; and Wayland Baptist University in Texas, an NAIA competitor in the Central States Football League.

A list of the 17 schools ready to launch new programs beginning next year can be secured from the NFF at www.footballfoundation.org.

Good hunting.