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Naples Daily News (Florida)
Florida Gulf Coast University students Matthew Landers and Max Costanzo think they can do what some FGCU leaders are unwilling to try - bring football to the school.
Landers and Costanzo are on a mission to start a student-run club football team. Their hope is the team will be the seed that leads to FGCU one day starting a NCAA team.
"To be completely honest, sometimes at FGCU I feel we don't get that real college experience, like Florida State and all the bigger schools who have the football teams," Costanzo said. "It's not bad. I love being at FGCU, and I love how it's more tight-knit compared to those bigger schools, which is what I love."
"I just wish we had some of the bigger aspects, like the football team and all that."
The students' goal is to field a team by the fall of 2018, but there are many obstacles they will have to overcome. The issues range from finding a field to play home games to figuring out how the team will get to away games.
Their goal is to raise $20,000. The money will go toward buying helmets, pads, jerseys and equipment. The students have raised about $200, Landers said.
"It does get overwhelming at times," said Landers, who came up with the idea to try and start a team. "Most of the time I don't mind it just because I love this sport, and I love this school. I want to see everything grow, and I want to see this happen."
In 2011, FGCU decided it was not ready to start an NCAA football program. The school commissioned a study that found it would need to spend $90 million on a 15,000-seat stadium and $5.9 million annually on scholarships for players and the additional women's sports the school would have to create to maintain gender-equity.
"I never want to discourage any student or organization from doing something that they have a goal in life to do, but it will be a hurdle for them, I would think, in trying to do," said Robbie Roepstorff, a member of the FGCU Board of Trustees. "But who knows?"
FGCU alumni Harry Casimir likes the prospect of students possibly starting a team.
"I love sports no matter what kind, and I know many of my friends, we have to drive hours just to watch a college football," said Kasmir, a 2005 graduate.
"I would love to see that, and I would absolutely support them in any capacity that I can."
Some schools don't want club football teams
Universities nationwide, including FGCU, offer club sports. The student-run teams are not regulated by the NCAA or NAIA. FGCU has 24 club teams, including hockey, lacrosse, baseball and a cheer team.
Landers and Costanzo have spent the past several months trying to raise funds, getting the word out about the team and doing research. They have attended freshmen orientation sessions and created a GoFundMe page.
If the team becomes a reality, it plans to join the National Club Football Association. The association is a 26-member league that includes a team from the University of Florida.
Teams pay a $1,300-a-year fee that includes liability insurance coverage, said Sandy Sanderson, the CEO and president of the National Federation of Collegiate Club Sports.
Sanderson said a football team in the league needs a minimum of 22 players and can get by on a shoestring budget of about $15,000.
Sanderson said many students never get the chance to see if they can be successful.
"Three out of every four teams that try to get started, the school shuts it down before it starts because they are afraid of the liability ..., which is a shame," he said.
Sanderson said in the past students have wanted to start club football teams with the grandiose idea that it would become a university's varsity team.
"I don't see the two of those being correlated at all," he said. "There is such a difference between a club football team and a varsity football team because you are talking about building stadiums, multimillion dollar coaching staffs, recruiting, scholarships."
Will students attend club football games?
At FGCU, a student-ledSport Clubs Council oversees club sports.
Getting the council's approval to be a part of FGCU's Sport Clubs Program may not be easy for Landers and Costanzo.
The council has turned down applications in the past but has given the groups second chances to prove they are ready to be a program member, said Amy Swingle, director of Campus Recreation.
Clubs that get the FGCU Sport Clubs Council's approval are eligible for funding. The money comes from student fees.
The sport club teams must make budget requests each year, but there is no guarantee they will get any money. The Sport Clubs Council's budget for the 2017 school year is $271,500.
The club hockey team gets the most funding - roughly $84,000. Student government agreed years ago to pay for FGCU students to attend the team's off-campus games and for the rental of the facility where the team plays and practices, Swingle said.
The quidditch team gets the least amount of funding - about $2,500.
Swingle said some club teams, including lacrosse, rugby, and hockey, have big followings. She said if the football team becomes a reality, it will be interesting to see if it has similar fan interest.
"You know students want to see good competition, and the other thing they want to see is their friends play," she said. "Depending on that dynamic, if they hit that right mix, the students will come out."
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