Why does UMBC not have a football team? Did the university ever consider having one?
—Lisa Price ’87
The fact that UMBC does not have an intercollegiate football team is one of the defining elements for the university (and, perhaps, its social life) since its founding in 1966. The UMBC Bookstore even sells t-shirts with a Retriever paw inside a football that proudly proclaims “UMBC FOOTBALL: UNDEFEATED.”
Records of various discussions of a possible intercollegiate football program at UMBC are scattered throughout the university archives. We likely have not found them all, but we did identify three key points.
1. At the beginning, there was no intercollegiate football program. According to an issue of The Retriever Weekly published on September 1966, an organizational meeting was held to gauge the interest of potential players on campus. But the bigger athletics controversy at that moment was the administration’s decision not to create a basketball team for the 1966-67 season.
As late as 1969, UMBC Athletics Director Richard Watts told The Retriever Weekly that while student interest in a program was prevalent, a lack of facilities and funding made it impossible at that time. Yet there was a strong culture of intramural and touch football on campus. Flip through the Skipjack yearbooks of that era, and you’ll see numerous photos of students playing on campus – including marathon touch football games for charity.
2. In the 1970s, there was a definite plan for a UMBC football team. In an article published by The Retriever Weekly on September 1, 1972 (“Gridiron Squad Promised for 1974 Competition”), Richard Watts stated that UMBC would hire a head football coach in 1973. The plan was for that coach to build a program over that calendar year and field a UMBC football team in 1974. Watts also said that he believed the program would be worth the wait, but the wait for intercollegiate football never did end.
3. In the 1980s, the spirit was willing, but the budget was weak. We could not find the origin of discussions about intercollegiate football during the UMBC presidency of Michael Hooker (1986-1992), but we did find an exchange of communication between Hooker and Dean of Arts and Sciences Richard F. Neville dated June 30, 1987.
Hooker asked Neville for his thoughts on a letter from the president of Old Dominion University, which laid out estimates for the costs of starting programs at the Division III and Division I-AA level. The letter noted that starting a program would cost $960,000 for a Division III team (in 1990 dollars) and $2.67 million to create a Division I-AA team. These sums did not include estimated capital costs of $1.76 million.
Neville replied, “I strongly support a I-AA football option but not at this time.” He mentions the uncertainty surrounding the reorganization of the University of Maryland in that era as one significant factor against immediate action, along with additional funding needs across the campus and what he termed the “precarious” budget situation in Physical Education.
Neville did add: “The notion of building a sense of place and traditions in accord with the principles espoused by the Ivy League football program is much to my liking. A schedule consisting of Colonial and Ivy opponents is fully consistent with our mission and nature.”
The skyrocketing cost of fielding a college football team in 2015 – let alone starting one from scratch – and the domination of the sport by major athletic conferences make it likely that UMBC football will remain undefeated for the foreseeable future. But Neville’s support for strong intercollegiate athletics at UMBC that align with the school’s mission is a vibrant element of our campus athletics today in all the sports in which UMBC does compete.
— Richard Byrne ’86