As a 10-year-old university with a campus on the far South Side of San Antonio, Texas A&M-San Antonio can have trouble capturing attention and keeping it, both from prospective students and the wider community.
Part of President Cynthia Teniente-Matson’s efforts to combat the visibility problem
“It builds tradition, it builds spirit, it builds a sense of gathering for all of our current students, our alumni, our faculty and staff,” Teniente-Matson told the Rivard Report in early May. “It brings us together to rally to, and for a common purpose. So we are currently actively in pursuit of developing an intercollegiate athletics program.”
Students voted overwhelmingly earlier this spring to impose a fee of $10 per credit hour up to a maximum of $120 per semester on themselves in order to create and fund an intercollegiate athletic department. Teams in soccer, softball, and men’s golf could begin play in fall 2020 if state lawmakers approve and the Texas A&M Board of Regents approve.
Student Government Association President Marissa Lyssy said 13 percent of the student body (876 students) voted, with 757 in favor and 119 opposed. Lyssy said she believes part of the reason the fee was approved so overwhelmingly by students was the time student government leaders took to educate fellow students and answer questions.
Enrollment at TAMU-SA, which will mark its 10th anniversary this year, stands at 6,700 students.
“I think the students really appreciated that and I think they’re just really excited for more things to be happening on and around campus,” Lyssy said. “Sports is that one commonality where everyone gravitates towards. So I think it’s time for A&M San Antonio to start and athletics program and building from there.”
The school now awaits word from the State Legislature, which must give approval to institute the fee and start a new athletics program. House Bill 1439 passed on April 26 and is being considered by the Senate Higher Education Committee.
If the bill is approved by the end of the legislative session, the school will seek final approval for establishing athletics from the Texas A&M Board of Regents in the fall with competition in esports – competitive video gaming – possibly beginning as early as spring of 2020, school vice president William Spindle said.
New teams in men’s and women’s soccer, women’s softball, and men’s golf would begin play in fall of 2020. The student population is 60 percent women and 40 percent men and under federal Title IX laws, the sports offerings must reflect those percentages. Spindle said the plan for the initial programs does that.
“One of the things we think it will do for us is get our name out there,” Spindle said. “We’re kind of hidden on the south side of town, and sports is a great way to get to know a university. We think it’s a great way to promote leadership. My history with student-athletes is very positive. They’re really hardworking kids that have to find time to be athletes and academic folks.
“We’re not doing this to grow professional athletes. We’re doing it to help round their education and also to represent our school.”
Texas A&M-San Antonio already has a mascot in General the Jaguar. Spindle said at the beginning of every school year students go to a tower on campus and pay respect to the jaguar. It’s one of few traditions that exist at the school, but more are likely to evolve out of athletics in the future, Spindle said.
A consultant hired to study the feasibility of adding athletics recommended that TAMU-SA join the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), which permits schools to offer athletic scholarships, instead of the NCAA’s Division III, which does not allow scholarships.
Spindle said offering scholarships is important because it would enable the school to attract higher-caliber student-athletes and enhance the school’s reputation through recruiting. It also would allow the school to seamlessly transition to NCAA Division II and Division I in the future.
The consultant also proposed that TAMU-SA pursue membership in the Red River Athletic Conference, which currently has 12 members, including Our Lady of Lake University.
Tony Stigliano, commissioner of the RRAC, said he has had no contact with Texas A&M-San Antonio officials about joining the conference. If the school was admitted to the NAIA, it would qualify for membership in the RRAC, he said.
Spindle said few avenues exist for bringing the school’s current students and its 8,000 alumni together. To him, intercollegiate athletics is the obvious answer.
The school has talked with peer institutions around the country that have recently added athletic programs or are considering doing so, including the University of North Texas-Dallas. Spindle said that school offers a great example because it is a commuter school located in a major city.
UNT-Dallas has employed a part-time athletic director for several years as it has explored the best way to proceed in adding an athletic department, spokesman Paul Corliss said.
While Spindle said he was surprised so many students supported instituting a fee on themselves for athletics, he believes it speaks to the hunger for more activities on campus.
The student fees are expected to total approximately $1.3 million in the first year and grow to $2 million per year by the fourth year, because the school is anticipating increased growth in enrollment. That money will allow the school to start the athletic department, including hiring an athletic director, compliance director, athletic trainer, and coaches for the new teams, Spindle said.
He said the school plans to build an on-campus rec center with the ability to host men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball teams in the future with as many as 1,200 seats.
Spindle said faculty also have been widely supportive of the idea of adding athletics, which isn’t always the case in higher education.
“I think our motives are very pure,” Spindle said. “We see the advantages of athletics. It’s not going to be a huge thing, but it will be important to our identity. … If I have anything to say about it, it’s not going to be a big financial burden. That’s what can happen with athletics.”