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CURRENT STORIES


SIU ponders football's return

by Danny Carpenter

SPORTS EDITOR

SALEM -- Salem College once had a strong football tradition.

The names of Terry Bowden, Rich Rodriguez, Jimbo Fisher, Orson Mobley, Ed Pastilong and Jack Deloplaine dot the roster of coaches and players who were a part of the program's history. Some went on to play in the NFL. Some went on to coach major college football. Some are now major college administrators.

Many other players used the opportunity to play football as a way to further their education and are now successful businessmen, lawyers, doctors and teachers.

The school's football tradition ended in 1989 after Salem College was bought by Japan's Teikyo University Foundation.

Almost 15 years later and with another new owner, the small school in western Harrison County now known as Salem International University is considering football's return. The school has done a feasibility study and will conduct a number of meetings this week seeking the public's input.

"We're looking at it," SIU interim athletic director Lou Talerico said. "We've set up meetings for five days to see what kind of feedback we get from everyone."

University officials will meet with students, faculty, staff, community leaders and alumni to see what type of backing the program would have.

SIU's study was broken down into four critical issues: Financial feasibility, Title IX/gender equality, impact on the campus community and adequate facilities.

The study's financial feasibility section says the university will need $625,000 for recurring costs and $250,000 in start-up costs for the football program. The plan calls for 30-40 students to sign up for the team but red-shirt for the first year. The team would begin competition in its second year.

Talerico said the goal would be to have 80-90 student-athletes in the program in a two- to three-year period. He said there could be an added number of new students with players' girlfriends and friends attending the school and others who want to attend a college with a football program.

Even with just 80 new students, the study notes that the school could show a net revenue of $550,000 after expenses.

The study's section covering impact on the campus community notes the possibility of 120 new students enrolling at SIU, which would add significantly to the social aspects of campus life.

"Most of the students on the campus are pretty excited," said Jerry Schearer, associate dean of students and director of student life at the school. "Homecoming without football just doesn't seem right.

"Most of the students come from high schools who have football teams, and the homecoming (events) are held at football games."

The study's Title IX section notes the school could reinstate the women's tennis program as a varsity scholarship sport, add a women's golf team or drop the men's golf team.

As for adequate facilities, two of the school's more successful sports this school year may be affected. The men's and women's soccer programs may have to find a new home if the university would choose to renovate Catalano Field. Currently, the two teams are in the top tier of the West Virginia Conference standings.

"We're looking at several options to fit us and the community and take it from there," Talerico said.

As for school alumni and others who have supported the program in the past, they are not as optimistic about reviving the sport.

Bridgeport's John Christie, a Salem College alumnus, booster and a former member of the board of directors, believes reinstating the program will not help the school's situation.

"They have a lot of backing for it with some people who have some money," Christie said. "I wish they could (revive the program), but I can't see that happening."

Al Tarquinio, a 1965 alumnus and president of the Salem College Football and Cheerleader Alumni Association, said the group was excited, but would insist on some guarantee that any financial help would be earmarked for the football team.

"We would want our money in a foundation (for the football program)," Tarquinio said. "Dr. (Richard W.) Ferrin (SIU's president) recognizes a good, clean program can be successful, but there are still a lot questions."

Tarquinio brought up the idea of playing football at the Division III level with the likes of Waynesburg, Bethany and Grove City in the Presidents' Athletic Conference.

"That's a good conference, and all the schools have good academics," he said.

But the bottom line is the possibility that the football program could be profitable, according to the feasibility study. And by adding more students and revenue, the program could help the struggling college regain its financial stability.

"In an ideal world, you want more students on the campus," Schearer said. "If (reinstating football) helps with the numbers, you are able to have more activities and more student involvement to attract more students."

Sports Editor Danny Carpenter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail dcarpenter@exponent-telegram.com.