Goss: Lewis football? It may happen in time
August 31, 2012 7:36PM
Lewis University's new athletic director John Planek. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 3, 2012 6:10AM
The Lewis University sports program successfully has operated through the years as an NCAA Division II mainstay.
However, the Flyers have been without football since 1957.
The new state-of-the-art outdoor facility on the Romeoville campus, complete with an artificial playing surface, is impossible to ignore. A return to football has been and will continue to be considered.
The news conference last week at Neil Carey Arena announcing John Planek as the Flyers’ new athletic director provided the perfect opportunity to discuss the No. 1 topic on everyone’s mind.
“You can’t avoid the football question,” Planek said. “Nobody can miss the 100-yard field with the red ‘LEWIS’ painted in both end zones. I think it will happen in time. But it will be done at a pace that makes sense to Lewis and the finances make sense. It will be done in a prudent way and be cost effective over time.”
Lewis president Br. James Gaffney introduced Planek at the news conference. When we talked afterward, he cited a recent study on how much general support there is for adding football to the school’s athletic mix, and he revealed a somewhat surprising finding.
“I thought there would be more support for it than was shown in our study,” he said. “We will continue to study the possibility, but if we did add football, we would have other matters to attend to.”
For example, compliance with Title IX.
“Football has maybe 80 or 100 players,” Gaffney said. “We surely would have to add at least three or four women’s sports to match that. What would those sports be to where we could have match-ups with our conference (Great Lakes Valley)?”
While the outdoor facility on the Lewis campus is excellent, seating would have to be expanded for football. More parking may be needed. All of that would come with a cost.
Also, the additional students on campus who play football would require housing, “and we are at 100 percent capacity in our housing right now,” Gaffney said. “So we would have to find space for that many more football players to live.”
Gaffney mentioned the possibility of Lewis adding housing at the nearby St. Charles Borromeo building, “but that is not a done deal,” he said. Even if that happened, he said other space still would have to be created to accommodate the additional students from football. So there would be a dormitory construction cost regardless.
On the flip side, football can be a revenue producer and has resulted in significant enrollment increases at schools of various sizes around the country. The GLVC is adding football as its 18th championship sport beginning this fall. McKendree, heretofore an NAIA school, is joining the conference largely because of football.
The thought of football Saturday afternoons and nights on the Lewis campus will not be dismissed lightly.
“Brother James has talked about how he is looking at our enrollment growing to 10,000,” Planek said. “As we grow, all our athletic facilities need to be looked at. We want to be prudent and cost effective, but we also have to ask how we are measuring up to other schools.”
Whether football eventually will become a marquee factor in that growth, the answer is maybe.
Even if the Flyers do not play football, however, another possibility down the road is attracting the Bears for their annual summer training camp.
“We would have the facilities for the Bears, but what we do not have is the athletic building we would need,” Gaffney said. “We would need a large, new one if we were to get them here.
“We also would need a new dining facility. Of course, that would be something that would be of use to our entire student body.”
Again, the answer on the Bears also is maybe. They currently train at Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais “and they are happy where they are,” Gaffney said.
“Still, it is no secret this location would be much better for them.”
Lewis football? The Bears training on campus?
It all remains a dream. Of course, dreams have been known to come true.
The final chapters of this story have yet to be written.