Student Government pushes to revive football at American University
University not interested in adding a football team, officials say
Football is on the American University Student Government spring 2022 election ballot.
Question three of this semester’s ballot includes a referendum asking the student body if they want a football team at American University. Students can respond with yes, no, undecided or abstain.
The genesis of the referendum began with SG Vice President Javon Darrien. Darrien, a junior in the School of Public Affairs, said he played football in high school and had a good experience.
When he joined SG as a junior, Darrien said SG’s events that were organized alongside the AU athletic department spurred on conversations about instituting a football team at AU.
“Through that, I saw the potential a program would have at AU with engaging students,” Darrien said
Darrien, who is not running for reelection, recommended that Class of 2025 Senator Miles Levin look at the issue. Levin, a freshman in SPA, also played football in high school and said that he felt it would be a positive addition to campus.
“I think there are three important things to college life: school community, a common thing that brings everyone together and academics,” Levin said. “AU definitely is a place where people do well academically, but I think when you look at the school spirit and what’s bringing us together, those things aren’t really there.”
Levin also said he spoke to other students before he introduced the resolution. Although most of the people he spoke to were in favor of adding a football team, some voiced concerns about adding a football team.
“They cited stuff like head injuries, they cited stuff that money could be going to adjunct professors, which I’m working on,” Levin said. “There are a lot of ramifications of adding a football program, but I think a lot of people are more intrigued by the idea — that’s most of the conversations I had.”
One dissenting voice is Class of 2023 Senator Brian Kramer, a junior in the School of Education. Kramer, who is not running for reelection for SG but instead for vice president for the School Education Undergraduate Council, said he opposed the resolution.
A Maryland native, Kramer said the scandal surrounding the University of Maryland’s football program— where a Terrapin football player died during practice and the former head coach was found to have created a toxic environment — and the expense of fielding a football team made him vote against the bill.
“Coming from somebody who wants to be a teacher, when I saw our football coach at Maryland is the highest paid employee, I'm looking at the cost of just paying this one person, not to mention all of their staff and all the players,” Kramer said. “I think there's better ways to do community than focusing on the football team. If we're doing a cost-benefit analysis, I just see the cost completely outweigh the benefits.”
Despite the concerns, Levin, alongside fellow SG senator for the Class of 2022 Jorge Aponte-Álvarez, Campus At-Large Senators Tyler Brown-Dewese and Brandon Harris, wrote a resolution calling for the University to establish a Football Exploratory Committee to study whether a football team at AU is viable.
The motion passed the Undergraduate Senate on Feb. 20 and went to the AU administration. As with any piece of SG legislation, it merely serves as a recommendation for the University, and the administration is not obligated to implement it.
Levin said he did not speak with the University before the motion passed because he believed they would shut the initiative down, and the administration did not form an Exploratory Committee. Levin said he would call for the creation of a referendum if the committee was not created by the University, and the referendum was added to the ballot at an SG senate meeting on March 20.
Kramer said he did vote in favor of the referendum during the SG senate meeting, as he said he is personal friends with Levin and always supports referendums because it gives the students the ability to decide policy. Despite this, Kramer voted no on the ballot.
Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the University is not interested in adding a gridiron to the athletic department, officials said.
"American University is not considering the addition of football at this time,” Assistant Athletic Director for Communications and Digital Media Karen Angell said in October and confirmed again to The Eagle in March. “The financial, personnel and infrastructure investment for such an initiative is prohibitive."
Aside from AU’s disinterest in the sport, the cost is a systemic hurdle to adding a team to the University. The NCAA reported in 2013 that all but 20 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision programs made a profit on their programs, the gap between cost and revenue was increasing at an accelerating rate and the majority of schools used institutional subsidies to sustain their programs.
Starting a Division I program is also an expensive task to undertake. In 2016 Wichita State University considered reviving its football program, and the school commissioned a study to determine how expensive starting a team would be. CBS Sports reported that it would cost WSU $75 million to institute a program and, as of 2022, a Shockers football team has not taken the field.
Another hurdle for an American University football team would be where they would play. AU does not have a football stadium, and although WSU did have a stadium in 2016, there are no fields on campus suitable for the playing needs of a football team. AU’s last major construction project, the creation of East Campus, cost the University over $100 million, according to The Eagle.
Levin said he still wants to see a committee examine the possibility of a program at AU, specifically a cost-benefit analysis of a football program, but said he would be content with whatever a potential committee’s finding would be.
“I would pose, is there a way we can start working towards getting to a position where we then could have a football program?” Levin said. “But if football isn't what AU needs in the 2020s as it's going to a post-COVID world, then I'll accept it.”
AU has not had a football team since 1941, and the program was canceled after World War II due to a lack of men on campus. While the University has had a club and intramural teams, the University has not had a school-funded team in 80 years.
SG voting will close Wednesday at noon.
Editor’s Note: Brandon Harris is no longer part of student government, but was at the time Levin wrote the resolution.