- Associated Press - Saturday, October 17, 2015

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Football could return to Haskell Indian Nations University.

But probably not soon, and definitely not without a lot of money secured first, Haskell’s new athletics director told the university’s Board of Regents during its fall meeting Oct. 8 - days before the university’s first-ever homecoming weekend that wouldn’t include a football game.

“If we can’t do it right, I’m not interested in it,” athletics director Todd Davis said of reviving football at Haskell. “It’s too much of a gamble to put it out there if you’re not ready.”

Davis has been working on his athletics plan since arriving at Haskell in late July, about two months after the university announced it would suspend the football program for this season, primarily because of a lack of funds, the Lawrence Journal-World (https://bit.ly/1VMqA9R ) reported.

In April, Haskell announced that all sports would play independently this year because the conference it had been a part of, the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference, was dissolving.

In his report to Haskell Regents, Davis addressed football, the conference and the future of the 11 remaining sports programs at the university.

His tone was optimistic but realistic.

“The cupboard is not bare,” he said. “There are some challenges.”

What would it take to revive football at Haskell?

Davis estimated it would cost $500,000 per year to properly fund a “competitive” program, including coaching staff pay and properly outfitting players - which he called critical for athletes’ safety.

Before attempting to bring back the program, Haskell really should secure five to 10 years of future funding, which adds up to $2.5 million to $5 million, Davis said. “You’ve got to be able to sustain the program.”

Facilities-wise, the turf and track at Haskell Stadium would need replacing, too, Davis said.

With a solid plan and effective fundraising campaign, Davis said he believes it’s possible to get those things in place, but it will take years.

He estimated three to five, or even five to seven years - including one for recruiting a new team - before Haskell would play a game.

Davis said he agreed with the choice to suspend football and that Haskell President Venida Chenault “made it very clear” that there must be financial stability.

“What I’ve seen, it was the correct decision,” he said. “The passion for football and the desire to have football did not meet where we needed to be financially.”

Without a conference, Haskell sports teams are playing under the Association of Independent Institutions this year, which means even though schedules are more spread out they can still advance to postseason play, Davis said.

Joining another conference is a future possibility, he said, but the process takes multiple years and needs more study.

After the 2015-16 school year, Haskell will probably take another look at its remaining sports programs, too, he said.

When evaluating whether to keep them, quality will be more important than quantity.

The goal is not to have “the most sports,” Davis said. “I don’t need 15 or 20 sports. The ones that I want to have I feel like are the ones that have a chance to be successful.”

For context, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics requires a six-team minimum, Davis said.

For now, the most likely candidates for six “core” sports programs at Haskell appear to be volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s basketball and men’s golf, according to an informal list coaches agreed on this summer before Davis arrived, he said.

Programs that may be more difficult to sustain are softball and track (which includes men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor teams).

Last fall, the Haskell football roster had 61 men.

Davis said some players who would have been back this fall left Haskell to play for other schools instead. He met with those who stayed, who told him they came back because they loved Haskell and wanted to get an education.

That’s another component of Haskell’s future athletics success that Davis and Regents discussed: academics.

“I’m about more than wins and losses,” Davis said. “At some point, unfortunately, you’re going to be judged on the wins and losses … I want to look at the character of our student athletes because they represent Haskell regardless of if they’re on the court or off the court.

“And at some point you better have an education, because the chance of you doing much without an education is pretty limited.”

Regent Ron Twohatchet said he’s heard from student-athletes who aspired to be high school coaches - not an uncommon career goal - but had to go elsewhere for the certification they needed.

Twohatchet suggested Haskell look at adding a sports and exercise-related bachelor’s degree, or a degree in a widely teachable subject such as history, that would appeal to athletes who want to teach and coach, so they could spend their four years of eligibility also getting a degree to enable that career.

Currently, Haskell offers an associate degree in recreation and fitness management. Bachelor’s degrees are offered in four subjects: American Indian studies, business administration, environmental science and elementary education.

Haskell’s athletics budget has been going down for years.

The university’s entire budget for athletics was $791,000 for fiscal year 2015 (which coincides with the 2014-15 school year), according to a Haskell budget report presented this spring. In 2014, it was $816,000.

In 2013, it was $964,000, according to a report Haskell prepared for its reaccreditation this year. Prior to 2013, the athletics budget had been more than $1 million annually.

At least one sizable gift earmarked for Haskell football did come into the newly revived Haskell Foundation in the past year: $100,000 from the Seminole tribe of Florida.

For now that money is frozen, foundation executive director Marisa Mendoza said. She said the foundation has contacted the tribe to ask whether some money could be used for other athletics needs but has not yet received an answer.


That’s what Davis said he thought when he first saw the stately Haskell Arch, built in 1926 to honor Haskell’s 415 World War I veterans.

“One thing that Haskell’s got that no one - I’m telling you no one - has, that’s about as iconic a stadium as there is in the country,” he said.

Davis’ report to the Regents concluded with his ideas for what the stadium could someday look like if Haskell can successfully revive its football program.

And, of course, raise the money.

Sketches include an adjacent two-story football building, with locker and weight rooms on the first level and academic space upstairs.

The stadium has space outside entrances for music, festivities and tailgating prior to football games, plus a more picturesque fence.

Right now it’s chain link and looks kind of like “The Longest Yard,” Davis said, joking about the prison football movie. “We want people to come in - and they can leave.”

The Haskell track is only four lanes and nowadays it takes eight for an official track and field meet, Davis said. But it can always be a place for athletes to work out and the community and Haskell students and staff to walk or jog.

Davis said realizing such a plan would be a long ways off and would have to happen in phases, but maybe it’s something the community can get excited about.

“The foundation’s there,” Davis said. “By actually having a plan in place … hopefully this will give you some idea of what can happen.”


Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, https://www.ljworld.com

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