With the addition of four new college football programs, the number of NCAA (all divisions), NAIA and independent colleges and universities offering the sport has grown to 777, an all-time high, according to the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame.
With concerns about head injuries and CTE — especially at the professional and youth levels — college football appears to be thriving.
The four new teams hitting the gridiron this year include Dean College in Franklin, Mass., St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, N.C., Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, Texas, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which returns to football for the first time since cutting its program in 2014.
According to the NFF, the number of schools playing football has grown steadily over the years, with an average of 4.8 schools joining the NCAA since 1978. The number of schools playing football at the NCAA level in all divisions was 668 in 2016, an all-time high. Add in NAIA and independent schools, and the number grows even higher.
A 2015 study published in College Planning & Management found that additional sports teams and facilities, particularly football and marching bands, can help boost enrollment.
“No other sport contributes more to the vibrancy of a college campus than football, and we are very pleased to highlight those schools that have added our great game,” NFF president and CEO Steve Hatchell said in a statement. “University and college presidents clearly see the value of having programs on their campuses, and we applaud them for understanding the role football can play in the educational experience of all their students.”