BATESVILLE, Ark. (LyonScots.com) – After a 62-year absence since what was then Arkansas College fielded an intercollegiate football team, the Lyon College Board of Trustees, in a monumental move, voted unanimously on Monday to re-instate the sport with a four-phase approach, fielding the first official squad in the fall of 2015.
The driving force behind the decision is to benefit both Lyon College and the community of Batesville and beyond, according to Lyon President Dr. Donald Weatherman.
Football will add approximately 100 male students to our campus and we hope many of them will come from high schools in the region."
Dr. Weatherman added that collegiate football, which is king not only in Arkansas, but across the country with more than a million high school players annually, is a great way to create growth at the College in a variety of ways, and to also create revenue, both for the College and the local economy.
"First and foremost, we exist for education," he said. "And football will afford us the opportunity to provide that education for more students. It is my priority to maintain our high academic standards and admissions requirements for all student-athletes."
A feasibility study was conducted by a local committee over the past several months, with information based, in part, on studies done by other similar colleges. In addition, the committee considered the opinions of many associated with the College, polling nearly 5,000 faculty, staff, students, donors and friends.
The study noted that Lyon College expects about 65 football student athletes will begin attending the institution in 2014. In the fall of that year the team will practice and participate in scrimmages, but no intercollegiate regular season contests will be scheduled. All players on the squad will receive a red-shirt year, meaning they will still have four years of playing eligibility remaining. The total number of players is expected to rise to about 100 for the squad's inaugural season of intercollegiate play in the fall of 2015.
Lyon College Director of Athletics Kevin Jenkins said these are historic times for the College as the athlete population of currently 173 is expected to grow considerably over the next several years.
"This is a great opportunity," Jenkins said. "I think starting a football program here is a great idea and will bring more school spirit to the College and the community. We hope that it will enable us to draw from the large pool of high school athletes in the state of Arkansas and nearby states to create a great program."
Jenkins said a national search will begin immediately for the program's first head coach in over a half-century. He said he hopes to have a coach in place by the fall.
Perry Wilson, Lyon College Chairman of the Board of Trustees, said the board took a long hard look at the feasibility committee's findings, and saw a number of small colleges across the country are starting football programs because it increases the spirit as well as the size of campus communities.
"I think (starting football) is a great idea," Wilson stated. "And I think as others look at it, they will agree.
"The board is fully and completely behind this (plan) and we are excited about it for several reasons: 1. The fact that it will bring more revenue to the College and Batesville is a huge benefit for both; 2. It will enable us to increase enrollment; and 3. It gives us another way to give back to the College and the community."
Lyon College Student Government Association President Caitlin Campbell, who is a Batesville High School graduate, also sees it as a positive for Lyon and the area.
"I think it's great for Batesville," Campbell said. "I think there are students that go to Batesville (HS) now that would like to continue their football careers. I hope that we will continue to see Batesville – and other area students – here at Lyon and it will give them an opportunity to become not only a part of the football program, but the Lyon College community, as well."
Home games for the Scots will not be immediately played on the Lyon College campus. In a joint effort, Lyon representatives are discussing options with Batesville and Southside ISD administrators to play the Lyon contests on the high schools' artificial turf surfaces. While these agreements are not yet final, the College anticipates the majority of games will likely be played at BHS stadium.
According to the feasibility committee's findings, Lyon College should net substantial revenue over the first four years of the program's existence, despite high start-up costs because of equipment and facility needs. New residence halls and a 5,500-square-foot field house are being planned for the Lyon campus to accommodate the program and its additional students. Fundraising is already underway to help off-set the cost of starting the football program.
Lyon will be the only NAIA institution playing football in the state of Arkansas. There are currently 11 colleges in Arkansas which field intercollegiate football teams, including four NCAA Division I, six in Division II and one in Division III.
FOOTBALL TIMELINE AT LYON COLLEGE
1872 - Arkansas College was founded
1890 - Football first organized at Arkansas College
Oct. 1, 1913 - First official intercollegiate football game played by Arkansas College
1922 - Guard J.C. White became the first Arkansas College football player to be named First-Team All-State
1931 - The first night football game played by Arkansas College
1935 - Football was dropped and later reinstated in 1947 after WW II
1951 - Final year of football for Arkansas College
1994 - Arkansas College was renamed Lyon College
June 24, 2013 - Re-instatement of football is approved by Lyon College Board of Trustees
June 27, 2013 - Lyon President Dr. Donald Weatherman announces return of football at Lyon College press conference
August 2013 - Head Football Coach to be named at Lyon College
Spring 2014 - First Assistant Football Coach to be hired at Lyon College
Fall 2014 - Approximately 65 football student-athletes participate in fall drills (No games to be played)