By John Zenor
The Associated Press
MOBILE, Ala. — South Alabama’s fast track from no program to college football’s top division has helped boost revenues, name recognition and perhaps even enrollment in a state where the sport is king.
Now, the Jaguars are hoping that joining the other four Football Bowl Subdivision teams in football-crazy Alabama will bring bowl berths and championships to the port city. Less than six years after deciding to add football, South Alabama is entering its first season as a full member of the revamped Sun Belt Conference.
“Football has, in my humble opinion, shed a whole different shade of color and of perception of who we are,” athletic director Joel Erdmann said. “We have a great university. We always have. We have a great athletic program, and we always have. But the addition of football has just framed it and provided that little extra jolt, that I think if you step back and look at those qualitative things that are hard to put numbers on — school spirit and school pride and how we’re perceived by the public and how we’re perceived nationally — I think it’s been enhanced.
“I think we’re at a whole different level.”
In 2007, when trustees approved the creation of a football program that debuted in 2009, South Alabama’s athletics program had operating revenues of $9.03 million. The fiscal year ending last fall saw revenues leap to $17.7 million with football breaking even, according to documents posted on the U.S. Department of Education website.
Higher student fees have paid a portion of the bill.
Enrollment has climbed about 1,000 to 15,000 students since fall 2007, university spokeswoman Jennifer Eckman said.
“We definitely think (football’s) been a factor among many other factors,” she said.
The money remains small change for the Southeastern Conference’s Auburn and Alabama, each several hours away but casting a long shadow. Emphasizing the gap, during South Alabama’s four seasons of football, the century-old programs combined for all four national titles. The state’s football schools also include five-time Sun Belt champion Troy and Conference USA’s UAB.