Florida Atlantic University football program has a low attendance rate, a six-year bowl drought, and is playing schools with top football programs to pay off the $70 million stadium. Is this hefty investment paying off?

Howard Schnellenberger was the man who won national coach of the year in 1983. He also won four national collegiate football championships, and holds the best record in NFL history as the offensive coordinator for the 1972 Miami Dolphins. He transformed the University of Louisville and University of Miami football programs.

Building a football team cost millions of dollars to start and to continue. The state of Florida unanimously approved the decision for the football program, but provided no funds. Private donations and student fees are what started funding the team.

Twenty private donors have pitched in $50,000 or more, including the first founder of FAU’s football program, Howard Guggenheim, senior vice president of investments at Smith Barney’s Boca Raton office. Guggenheim said when he knew Schnellenberger was planning to build the FAU football program, this was a project he had to be a part of. “I stepped up and went to Schnellenberger and said here is my commitment, here is my $50,000 donation, and I will help you raise $13 million for the program.”

Students’ athletic fee is currently $17.27 per credit hour, up from $16.45 in 2012. The 5 percent increase was a pledged to Regions Bank in the funding of the stadium. FAU athletic budget is $27.4 million and is funded with $10 million in student fees, which is the second-largest revenue stream for FAU. The fee increase will generate approximately $508,400 annually towards a football program that has a 68-92 all-time record.

Sophomore Landie Marc said, “It’s ridiculous that we have to pay all this money for an athletic department that isn’t successful; all the money that is being spent towards the football team and with nothing to show for it.”

Schnellenberger thinks FAU is in an ideal spot to recruit Division I athletes, and build a solid fan base. Guggenheim said, “I don’t believe the university has reached out to the community. You have to embrace the community. They haven’t done a very good job with raising money, and that’s their biggest downfall. Fundraising is the key. The football program has lacked recruiting. Carl Pelini was not a good example, as a coach. If you look at any successful program starting with universities like Michigan, Florida, and Ohio State, they have a lot of alumnus that give a lot of money and this university has very poor record of that. You have to raise money and it’s all about reaching out to the community. ”

Schnellenberger responded by saying, “We went through the worst financial economic time this country has ever had. It was four years in a row the state didn’t give us any funds and cut us back $6 million from the budget. This football program has become greater and faster than any football program ever.” The 2007 New Orleans Bowl made Florida Atlantic set an NCAA record by becoming the youngest program ever to receive an invitation to a bowl game. FAU won back to back bowl games, winning in 2007 and against the Memphis Tigers in 2008 against Central Michigan Chippewas.

Schnellenberger helped raise money to build the $15 million Tom Oxley Athletic Center. He persuaded Hooters to donate $200,000 to FAU’s women’s athletics program. Florida Coca-Cola Bottling Company paid tribute to FAU new football program by releasing special eight-ounce contour bottles commemorating Florida Atlantic University’s Inaugural Football Season.

From an article written by Palm Beach Post writer Elizabeth Clarke in 1999, Schnellenberger envisioned filling the 22,000 seats at Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium for two years. He dreamed of cramming a 40,000-seat on-campus stadium beginning in 2003. He expected to jump from Division I-AA to Division I-A in two years, the shortest time allowed, and predicated FAU would compete with the likes of Florida, FSU, Miami, Notre Dame, and Southern California by 2008. He said he’ll go from playing teams like Slippery Rock to Florida State. Instead of begging prep stars to take scholarships he’ll be turning them away. “People think I’m smoking pot in my pipe, but they don’t remember Louisville,” (Clarke, 1999) Schnellenberger said.

After four seasons, FAU moved to Division I-A and the Sun Belt Conference. At the start of the 2013-2014 season, FAU started to compete in Conference USA. FAU stadium has a capacity of 29,419, but is already designed to seat 40,000 in three months if needed and can expand up to 65,000 in one year. FAU stadium is the only stadium in the United States that offers a view of the Atlantic Ocean. FAU’s first home game at FAU stadium was on Oct. 15, 2011, a 20-0 loss against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers with an attendance of 29,103. The home attendance of the stadium for the 2011 season was 17,565. On Sept. 2007, FAU defeated its first Big Ten opponent with a 42-39 victory over the University of Minnesota. FAU played University of Florida on Nov. 2007, as Schellenberger predicated, but lost 59-20. Schnellenberger said during his era the team played 25 teams that were better than them. “We play teams that are a lot better than us for two reasons; you don’t get better playing people that are not as good as you are. You get better playing against better players. The second benefit is you know win or lose, you will get paid $1 million. I played 25 games and beat one, Minnesota. We have gotten better playing all 25.”

Community outreach is something the program has done since the announcement of building the football program. Schellenberger said, “I would do three speaking engagements per day, one for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Former FAU President Mary Jane Saunders said, “The Athletics Department and the Division of Advancement and Community Affairs worked with local community leaders, high schools, media and community supporters to both evaluate our athletics programs, and encourage support of FAU student athletes.” Second and Seven is an event where student-athletes read to second grade students and each student gets to keep a book.

Jared Allen is the first out-of-state player to receive a scholarship to play football for FAU as a quarterback and currently the director of player personnel/external relations. Jared Allen shared, “We are the only school in Florida and in the nations that has the most South Florida commitments, we have over 10. We just had two draft picks last year, and another one maybe two draft picks this year, and we have four current guys in the NFL and Head Coach Charlie Partridge has a great plan in recruiting.”

The success of football programs is often measured by wins and losses, but the bigger picture is its impact. Schnellenberger said a quality of life could improve with football; football gives alumni a point of pride and a reason to return to campus. Schnellenberger said, “Football brings people together. In 1869, students would come out and watch boys play unorganized football. It started off as boys watching them, and then girls, and then the student that graduated came back to campus and watched old classmates play football. It was to bring the alumni back to campus to see what’s going on, not just the football team, but also school of engineering and law. It brings out students who want to relive their days on campus. It gives the alumni a chance to bring their families on campus.

FAU football has greatly benefited the university. Allen said, “This campus will not be where it is today without football.” Schellenberger said, “Before we started this program, they couldn’t care less about this university. The community acted like we were nonexistent. Nobody in the United States knew who we are. Now we are on a global platform, you can’t buy that without football. Now we are known as one of the rising stars.”

Students may be attracted to FAU, but are not graduating. FAU has lost $5.2 million in state funding due to low graduation rates. Twenty percent of FAU students’ graduates in four years and 40 percent graduate in six years.

FAU’s football program provides athletes with scholarships to give players a chance to play collegiate football and receive an FAU degree; however, FAU has the ninth lowest graduation rate (54 percent) in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision reported on October 2013.

Former FAU running back Anthony Jackson received a degree in communications. He is now working with student-athletes and their families to enroll into Prep and Sports, an organization that helps kids through education and sport. “The football program has taught me how to survive in the real-world. It taught me discipline and hard work and gave me a chance to play football closer to home. I was one of the guys that started the program, and I have seen it grow from nothing to something. I am so happy to represent FAU’s football program.”

Scholarship offense lineman player Mikingson Marsaille feels the program is family oriented. “The coaches have invited us to Thanksgiving dinner, and they really have connected with us.”

Allen stated. “It’s really cool to see where we are so far, even in short time.” Schellenberger said, “The addition of Athletics Director Pat Chun, President John Kelly, and Head Coach Charlie Partridge and I as ambassador at large, we are on the verge of explosion.” The FAU football program will always be known as “The house that Howard built.”

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Published by: Daphnie Auguste

Have a story idea or want to be featured on the site: Email me daphnieauguste.com “Sports Meets Life" is the name of my blog site, and is what one may compare to a fruit salad. It is an expression of my thoughts, experiences, opinions, and views. It's a balanced combination of sports, current events, and entertainment, as well as documentation of my journey to success. I express my trials and tribulations, and leave readers with room for discussions and debates, as well as a space for positivity. Philippians 4:13 Follow me on my social media! Facebook, Instagram,Snapchat: DaphnieAuguste

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