UT-Rio Grande Valley is taking the next step in building the regional legacy: Division I football

Seven years after being formed from two current UT campuses, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is stepping up its student engagement efforts—and a regional legacy—by creating a football program.

The UT System Board of Regents gave UTRGV officials the go-ahead last week to develop a Division I soccer team, women’s swim team, marching band, and spirit program, all supported in part by student fees that will increase to a maximum of $132 per semester and won’t apply to most students until 2026.

“We can offer our students a lot of great programs, and great faculty,” Jay Bailey, president of UTRGV, said in an interview before the vote. “What we can’t offer them now is a traditional college experience.”

Combined, the four programs are expected to provide more than 500 new participatory opportunities for the more than 31,000 students who attend UTRGV, but officials say the reach and impact will go beyond those who join the teams.

In a border region with high poverty rates and an economy dependent on agriculture and international trade, priority is yet to come
Merger of Utah Pan American in Edinburgh and Utah Brownsville
The Faculty of Medicine was launched in 2016.

Next year, university officials will hire a football coach and begin recruiting a team for games expected to begin in 2025. The fee increase, which students approved last year, will become effective in the 2023-2024 academic year, and only for incoming students.

“Most people don’t know that the old Edinburgh Community College, which was our ancestor in the 1920s and 1930s, had a football team, so it’s interesting that (the community) didn’t have a team that long ago,” Bailey said.

It was Billy
The president of the university since before the start of the study
in 2015 and stressed the need to get students involved in a school community that could connect two major campuses, more than 60 miles apart.

“It’s very exciting,” Jose Herrera said.

Bailey has worked in organizations with and without a football program and believes he makes a difference.

He was the dean of the University of Texas at San Antonio from 1998 to 2005, long before he took up football. Today, UTRGV points to UTSA’s investment in athletics as an example to follow.

Universities whose students “live on campus, work on campus… who participate in student activities have better retention and graduation rates,” Bailey said. “So this is really a key part of student engagement, which we believe will lead to better academic success.”

Timing

UTRGV opened in the fall of 2015, two years after the legislature approved its formation and the composition of the medical school.

Creating a new regional university for the entire Rio Grande Valley required the dissolution of the existing UT affiliates in Edinburgh and Brownsville, which had roots in local institutions and could not benefit from the system’s permanent university fund.

The need for additional funding was related to the goal of starting a medical school. in 2016
UTRGV Faculty of Medicine
It received the first batch of 55 students. Today it has more than 200, and more than 200 medical residents are practicing throughout the region.

With the establishment of the medical school, the administrators are turning to the next priority.

“A lot of it has to do with timing,” said Chase Conkey, UTRGV Athletic Director. “The expansion of our conference, the Western Athletic Conference, was a really big moment for us in January of 2021. And now we have a football arm for our conference, which didn’t exist in 2017.”

Timing is also important for students. Jonathan Dominguez, 22, and Jose Herrera, 21, president and vice president, respectively, of the Student Government Union, said their need for a sense of student identity did not come until their sophomore year at UTRGV. As freshmen, their main concern was getting the hang of their academic life.

They take classes in both Edinburgh and Brownsville, despite the distance, and attend games and activities around the area. Both support the proposed student fee.

“What we hope to achieve … is a sense of community,” Dominguez said. “A community of people who come together to support each other and be there for each other.”

“We hope to have a great presence in our games,” said Herrera. “I usually see match days as a time to relax, where we come together as a family and we’re really proud to be Vaqueros.”

Since its inception, the university has had football, volleyball, and basketball teams. Among UTRGV’s initial growing pains was the creation of a mascot to represent them and the regional nature of the school.

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Boosters both old school and even casual observers had a hard time letting go of UTPA’s beloved Bronc and UTB’s Ozzie the Ocelot. It took a lot of controversy and a student poll to come up with Vaquero, and the decision was still so controversial that it prompted calls for Bailey’s resignation. The fuss eventually died down.

Since year one, UTRGV officials have created events around the district, such as a picnic with the president and a speaker series. But with limited student housing close to the two main campuses, Bailey acknowledges a mentality is prevalent among school staff.

University officials hope that the creation of sports and spirit programs will lead to new student housing projects. They benefited from the Governors’ decision to purchase land the following day, with space adjacent to the Edinburgh Campus for future housing and student life projects.

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Konk said having such a large regional footprint from the start is seen as an opportunity to make a bigger impact.

“We tell our prospective student-athletes we’re not the University of Texas at Edinburgh or the University of Texas at Brownsville, we’re the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley,” Conk said. “There aren’t many institutions that can represent a region as big as us… We are a Division One team here in the Four Provinces region.”

the plan

In 2017, officials commissioned a feasibility study, led by former Longhorns coach Mack Brown, to create a football program. Show that the university can support a Division I program within the Western Athletic Conference.

But with the medical school still going wild, the officials decided to put a pin in it.

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In 2021, just as the impact of the pandemic began to wear off, university officials held a student referendum on whether they would support increasing the current intercollegiate athletics fee from $15 per credit hour to $26.25, with a cap of 12 hours, or $315, per semester. academic.

Some 5,700 – nearly 18 percent of the student body – voted with more than 60 percent in favor of the fee increase.

Starting next fall, only a small percentage of students will see the higher fees. Most of them are protected by the university group
Tuition rate policywhich maintains a four-year rate, a guarantee they only lose if they take more than four years to graduate.

The average cost per academic year for students currently enrolled in UTRGV is about $1,100 – after the financial aid and grants that many get.

“Only about 12 percent of our students pay full tuition,” Bailey said. “Over 60 percent of our students pay nothing, we’ve been able to provide full financial support…so our students are in a very good place and graduate (with) among the second lowest debt loads in the United States among public universities.”

Officials calculate that it won’t be until 2026 that the majority of students enrolled at UTRGV will pay the full fee of $26.25 per credit hour.

“With student debt nationally recognized as close to nil, this has allowed us to be able to work with our student body on a potential path forward to bring these initiatives to campus,” said Conk.

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Investments in new programs will begin in 2023 with a $30 million expansion and upgrade of the university’s existing athletic facilities.

The creation of the first UTRGV Marching Band will also come in 2023, giving graduating students from local high schools the opportunity to join a college band. Football and the women’s swimming and diving team will be the third component.

The women’s swimming and diving team will begin in the fall of 2024, Conkey said. The soccer practice will also begin in 2024, ready to play a full Division I schedule in the fall of 2025.

Initially, the university plans to rent facilities and stadiums located throughout the valley to bring games and competitions to a variety of locations. Eventually he might build a stadium or playgrounds.

“We’ll be able to take our show on the road and do things in Harlingen, in Weslaco, McAllen,” Conkey said. “It’s a great opportunity, as we haven’t had to commit to this kind of investment right out of the gate, and we’re able to take our time.”

The main initial cost for the football program will be the salaries and benefits of a coach and two coordinators, estimated at about $707,000 in the first year. Assistant coaches and support staff are expected to be hired in 2024, increasing payroll to more than $1.5 million.

Once the team is set and the games begin, the university will spend between $3 million and $5.5 million on salaries, student aid, operating expenses, and travel. Officials expect that the additional revenue generated by these new programs will offset some of the costs.

Increasing sports fees, even within their limited reach, is expected to generate $3.9 million in additional revenue in 2024, with each new new category increasing to $5.3 million in 2025 and $7.7 million in 2026.

Once the games begin, the school is expected to start earning $910,000 in athletic department revenue and $320,948 in NCAA conference handouts in 2026.

A component of building college pride is engaging the community at large, particularly the alumni of UTRGV but all of the schools in the family tree—the UT offshoots and their ancestors.

The university recently announced its formation
Football Founders AssociationA group of donors who have pledged a minimum of $50,000 over five years to support the program.

With 29 members as of this month, the association has so far raised $1.5 million to cover initial soccer-related investments. This, along with a $1 million donation by the University Foundation to support all four new athletic and spirituality programs, puts the school $2.5 million on top.

“It’s not what we’re in the process of doing,” Conkey said, “it’s what we’re in the midst of doing.” “Now it comes down to executing our plan… We’ve got time on our side, so we’re really excited about that, because we’ve been able to build a plan that will deliver to Valley University what we promised.”

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