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Photograph By JÉSICA GONZÁLEZ

Featured, from left: Mack Brown, former football Head Coach of the Texas Longhorns, and Oliver Luck, Executive Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for the NCAA, accompanied by Manny Mantrana, Head Coach of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley baseball team, on Thursday, May 19, 2016. Brown and Luck participated in throwing out the ceremonial first pitches at UTRGV Baseball Stadium in Edinburg.

Photograph By JÉSICA GONZÁLEZ

Mack Brown and Oliver Luck, two national college and professional sports figures, are helping guide a special football feasibility study committee, organized by Dr. Guy Bailey, UTRGV President, and Chris King, UTRGV Director of Athletics, which held their first session, behind closed doors, to meet with and hear from the UTRGV leadership and the blue-ribbon group that will have a major say on the prospects for a NCAA college football team for the university.

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Football, nation’s most popular college sport, has potential to increase UTRGV enrollment and revenue, and unify athletics and academics, say committee leaders Mack Brown and Oliver Luck

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Mack Brown, the former football Head Coach of the Texas Longhorns, and Oliver Luck, Executive Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for the NCAA, on Thursday, May 19, 2016, brought their experiences and insights to Edinburg as part of a potential plan to start a college football program at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The Edinburg EDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, among its many duties, lobbies the UT System Board of Regents and the Texas Legislature on major issues that benefit UTRGV and its School of Medicine.

The Edinburg EDC Board of Directors is comprised of Mark Iglesias as President, Harvey Rodríguez, Jr. as Vice President, Ellie M. Torres as Secretary/Treasurer, and Mayor Richard García and Richard Ruppert as Members.

Agustín García, Jr., is Executive Director of the Edinburg EDC.

Mayor Richard García and Agustín García, Jr. are not related.

Brown, whose achievements include the 2005 National Champions, and Luck, whose ties to the Valley include helping set up the affiliation between the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros soccer team in Edinburg and the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer, both had high praise for the university and equally high hopes for major college football in deep South Texas.

“I know in Austin there’s not a pro football team, so I always felt like the Longhorns were kind of like the pro football team in Austin. In the Valley, there’s not a pro football team,” said Brown, whose visit to the Valley was a first for him. “So I do think that it would be so much fun for the Valley if it does work, and if it ties together where everybody believes in it and moves forward. Could have a first-class program.”

Brown has been involved with college football as both a player and coach since 1969. He served as head coach at Appalachian State (1983), Tulane (1985-87) and North Carolina (1988-97), but he is best known for his stint with the University of Texas (1998-2013), where he won a national championship in 2005 and played for another in 2009. Brown retired in 2013 and now serves as a Special Assistant to the Men’s Athletics Director and President at The University of Texas, and as a college football analyst for ABC and ESPN.

Luck, whose credentials in major college and pro sports are extensive, and whose son, Andrew Luck, is the starting quarterback for the NFL’s Baltimore Colts, pointed out the advantages of a successful college football program.

“I can tell you that football is hugely important for numerous universities around the country. It is the most popular college sport, it brings alumni together, it serves often as a glue between disparate (different) parts of the university, it enhances the academics,” Luck said. “It is very attractive to young people, high school kids who are thinking about where they want to go to school. Very often they say they want to add that big-time football experience. There is a whole list of issues as to why football could be very helpful, and has been very helpful, to a major university.”

In addition to his role as an Executive Vice President for NCAA, Luck also is former Director of Athletics, West Virginia University; President and General Manager, Houston Dynamo; former Vice President of Business Development and President and CEO, NFL Europe, former quarterback for West Virginia University and the NFL.

FOOTBALL FEASIBILITY STUDY COMMITTEE HOLDS FIRST MEETING

Those two national college sports figures are helping guide a special football feasibility study committee, organized by Dr. Guy Bailey, UTRGV President, and Chris King, UTRGV Director of Athletics, which held their first meeting, behind closed doors, to meet with and hear from the UTRGV leadership and the blue-ribbon group that will have a major say on the prospects for an NCAA college football team for the university.

Brown is the chairman of the committee, while Brown is serving as a key special advisor.

“We’re very excited to be here. It was a fun day. We had a great committee meeting,” said Brown, who along with Luck spoke with reporters following the private session with Bailey, King and the football feasibility study committee. “Oliver and I will just be here to try to help out anyway with can as we look forward to the future and feasibility study and the university growth and see where football fits.”

Luck said he anticipates a fast pace for the group, which will include the hiring by UTRGV of a consulting team with expertise in starting sports programs at the collegiate and professional levels.

“This group will meet throughout this summer and the fall. We will rely on (UTRGV Athletics Director) Chris (King) and his team to put us together. I think the next step is really the consultants to come on board, to get their scope of work, to begin a lot of the legwork that will be collecting the information the committee will need to make a recommendation ultimately to Dr. Bailey,” Luck said. “I think it will be a fairly busy summer and fall. I imagine that Mack and I will be down here a couple or three times as we go ahead into the early fall. It is a fairly tight timeline, but I think the consultants who will be hired will be first-class, they should be able to pull the information pretty quickly.”

Luck recounted some of his impressions of the meeting with UTRGV leaders and the football feasibility study committee.

“It was an hour and a half, with an agenda that the university put together. Chris and Dr. Bailey talked a lot about the university, the stage it is in. Dr. Bailey emphasized – and this is very important – that this is a part of the larger strategic plans, strategic vision of the community. Great representatives in that room,” Luck reported. “I sensed a lot of momentum, not just for football but for the university as a whole, and that’s very important.”

EDINBURG AND UTRGV CAMPUS: “IT’S BEAUTIFUL. IT’S GORGEOUS. I WAS SURPRISED.”

Brown said he, too, was impressed with the Edinburg campus of UTRGV and the vitality of deep South Texas.

“It’s gorgeous. It’s beautiful. I was surprised. Never been here. Never been on campus. It’s big. To think there’s that many students was unbelievable for me. This baseball stadium (UTRGV Baseball Stadium) is outstanding. It’s just amazing to see what Chris and the university have done in the last several or so years,” Brown observed. “Obviously, joining a conference – the WAC – and moving forward in that area, it’s a fun time. I reiterate what Oliver said, too. We heard ‘growth’ a lot – growth in the community, growth of the university, growth of the academics. Huge gift yesterday: $15 million (from Robert Vackar, CEO, Bert Ogden Auto Group). All of those things have momentum going forward.”

WAC is the Western Athletic Conference, whose member schools do not field football teams.

The WAC is made up of:

California State University Bakersfield (enrollment 9,000) in Bakersfield, California; Chicago State (enrollment 6,882) in Chicago, Illinois; Grand Canyon (enrollment 11,000) in Phoenix, Arizona; Missouri-Kansas City (enrollment 14,221) in Kansas City, Missouri; New Mexico State (enrollment 17,651) in Las Cruces, New Mexico; Seattle U (enrollment 7,755) in Seattle, Washington; The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (enrollment 28,584) with campuses in Edinburg, Brownsville, Harlingen, McAllen, Rio Grande City, and Padre Island); and Utah Valley (enrollment 31,331) in Orem, Utah.

The possibility of college football at UTRGV first went public on Friday, February 19, 2016, with the announcement of a football feasibility study committee, whose members were selected by the UTRGV leadership several weeks later.

Brown was appointed as chairman of the committee.

The university is in the process of developing its founding strategic and master plans, and the UTRGV president said in mid-February 2016 that the football feasibility study is a subset of those plans.

“This is a very important and exciting time for UTRGV,” Bailey added. “As we work on our strategic and master plans, it is important that we examine all aspects of our future. This is an ideal time for our university to explore the possibility of bringing college football to the Rio Grande Valley.”

The committee, which consists of special advisors, faculty and staff, student leaders and community members, will work with the consultants chosen to conduct the feasibility study. The committee will then present its final recommendations to Bailey.

“Starting the process for a football feasibility study is a major step forward in our goal to elevate UTRGV Athletics,” said King. “It is important that this study take into account all factors, including support in the community, potential infrastructure and funding models, and NCAA requirements for football programs at both the FCS and FBS levels. We are excited that the legendary Mack Brown will use his extensive experience to guide us through this study.”

FCS stands for Football Championship Subdivision, made up of independent NCAA Division 1, four-year institutions whose football programs are not part of a football conference.

FCS football teams in Texas are: Abilene Christian University; Houston Baptist University; University of the Incarnate Word; Lamar University; Prairie View A&M University; Sam Houston State University; Stephen F. Austin State University; and Texas Southern University.

There are 125 FCS programs in the nation for the 2016 season, according to the NCAA.

FBS is the acronym for Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly the D-1A teams. FBS teams play bowl games after their conference championships.

FBS football teams in Texas are Baylor University; University of Houston; North Texas State University; Rice University; Southern Methodist University; Texas Christian University; The University of Texas at Austin; Texas A&M University; Texas State University; Texas Tech University; The University of Texas at El Paso; and The University of Texas at San Antonio.

As of 2014, there are 10 conferences and 128 schools in the FBS, according to Wikipedia.

In the February 19, 2016 news release by UTRGV, the former Longhorn sports leader said he was “thrilled and honored to have been selected to lead this committee.

“The opportunity to build a college football program from the ground up is unique, and I’m excited to be involved in the process. I know there are many passionate football fans in the Rio Grande Valley, and I can’t think of a better place to launch a college football program,” Brown said.

MEMBERS, FOOTBALL FEASIBILITY STUDY COMMITTEE

In addition to Brown and Luck, the football feasibility study committee, whose membership was announced by UTRGV officials on Sunday, April 24, 2016, is made up of the following individuals:

University members

Alberto Adame, UTRGV Student Government Association Representative
Michael Aldape, Program Coordinator, Early College
Dr. Janna Arney, Vice President for Operations, Chief of Staff
Dr. Alberto Dávila, Professor, Economics
Alondra Galván, UTRGV Student Government Association Representative
Verónica Gonzáles, Vice President for Governmental and Community Relations
Dr. Paul Sale, Faculty Athletics Representative
Julia Pérez, Vice President, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Women’s Tennis Student-Athlete
Lew Stallworth, Men’s Basketball Student-Athlete

Community members

Alonzo Cantú, UTRGV Foundation Board Member, CEO, Cantú Entertainment Group
Dan Martínez, CEO, Dan Martínez & Associates LP
David Oliveira, Attorney, Roerig, Oliveira & Fisher, L.L.P.
Val LaMantia Peisen, L & F Distributors, LLC
Dr. Nolan Pérez, MD, Gastroenterology Consultants
Gene Powell, former University of Texas System Board of Regents; CEO, Bitterblue, Inc.; CEO,The Powell
Companies;
Tudor Ulhorn, President, Rio Grande Equipment Co.
Bob Vackar, CEO, Bert Ogden Auto Group
The Honorable Rose Vela, Attorney at Law

Special advisors

Mike Vollmar, Senior Associate Director for Football Administration, University of Tennessee; former Director, Football Operations at the University of Alabama, University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

Alan Marks, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs & Athletics Counsel, University of Texas System

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: MACK BROWN AND OLIVER LUCK NEWS CONFERENCE IN EDINBURG

Highlights of the Thursday, May 19, 2016 news conference conducted by Brown and Luck follow:

Mack Brown

We’re very excited to be here. It was a fun day. We had a great committee meeting. Very, very impressed with Dr. Bailey. He is one of the best in the country, he’s got experiences at all levels in sports in universities, obviously knows what he wants to do, where he wants to go with things.

Chris King has done a tremendous job with this program. So, those two guys are superstars. Oliver and I will just be here to try to help out anyway with can as we look forward to the future and feasibility study and the university growth and see where football fits.

Oliver Luck

I’ll echo those remarks from Coach Brown. What fascinated me was how Dr. Bailey would like this decision regarding football to be the major part of the overall strategic vision for the university. There are lots of plans that are being worked on, have been worked on – this just one piece to the puzzle of creating what could be just an outstanding university in a part of the world that is growing very fast, with lots of opportunity.

The word “growth” may have been used a thousand times today in our various conversations.

But the group Chris King and Dr. Bailey put together is a first-class team. It is an honor for me to be involved and I am sure that Mack would feel the same way. We’re excited to continue to help the university get to the right decision, whenever that decision may be.

Question

Is there a model being used for this? Has this been done before, and if so, where does this stand compared with some of the other early days of football programs?

Oliver Luck

I think I will say this – Chris and his team will at some point very soon have a consultant on board, and that consultant, that team will do the bulk of the work in terms of looking at other universities in all various divisions, conferences, levels, all the issues that need to get sorted out so that as good information to make a good decision. I will defer on those substantive issues to Chris – he’s the athletic director, he has run the show very well. All of that, I think, it will come in due time.

Mack Brown

I was very impressed that Chris has done his homework, he knows the start-up programs, he’s going to hire a consulting group that has been involved in the start-up programs as well as programs at the highest level of sports. These guys know what to do, they’re organized, they want to be great for the university, with the growth, they want to be great for the area, they want to be great for the Valley. I don’t think you will see anything that is not first-class coming out this. If they decide to move forward with football at some point, it will be a first-class program.

Question

What is the timetable?

Mack Brown

I think the biggest thing is, again, the consulting group that will come in with a feasibility study. They will meet with the group that Dr. Bailey and Chris put together. I agree with Oliver. I think he has an all-star group – they’re very, very successful people and people from throughout the university. They get it and know what they want moving forward. The good thing right now is it is in such early stages, they don’t have to worry about “is it next year, is it five years, or is it at all?” That is all ahead of the committee and the feasibility study to make sure they are doing it right.

Question

What can a football team do, not only for the athletic program, but for the school in general?

Oliver Luck

As a former athletic director, I can tell you that football is hugely important for numerous universities around the country. It is the most popular college sport, it brings alumni together, it serves often as a glue between disparate (different) parts of the university, it enhances the academics. There are thousands of stories – in fact Mack told one today – about the increased interest in The University of Texas after the national championship season. We have seen that at a number of schools. It is very attractive to young people, high school kids who are thinking about where they want to go to school. Very often they say they want to add that big-time football experience. There is a whole list of issues as to why football could be very helpful, and has been very helpful, to a major university.

Question

I know we are just in the early stages, but there are a lot of smaller schools that have had football programs, but yet, the money revenue, what does this school have to do in order to not only have a successful football team, but also make money?

Oliver Luck

I will defer to Chris and ultimately to the consultants in terms on the some of the details. There is no question that financial responsibility is going to be very important in this study. The group needs to look, and we will look, at projected numbers and budgets and revenues around the country. The good news is that there have been a number of programs that have taken this step, so I think there will be plenty of data for us to make a solid decision.

Mack Brown

That is part of what has to happen. The community has to buy into the football program, if they have it, like they have the university to make it work.

Question

You mentioned something really important, bringing the alumni together. What does the school or the program have to do in the next few years to start bringing some of those alumni back into the RGV, current students?

Oliver Luck

I’ll defer to the university on that issue.

Mack Brown

I think so, too. Dr. Bailey is so impressive. You look at his background: Texas Tech, Alabama, even in some small universities he’s been to, he gets it. He knows what to do. So, I think Oliver and I may learn some things being down here on this committee. That’s been fun for us. I know in Austin there’s not a pro football team, so I always felt like the Longhorns were kind of like the pro football team in Austin. In the Valley, there’s not a pro football team. So I do think that it would be so much fun for the Valley if it does work, and if it ties together where everybody believes in it and moves forward. Could have a first-class program.

Question

Mack, what peaked your interest in jumping on board as chairman of this committee?

Mack Brown

Well, I love Admiral (William) McCraven (Chancellor, The University of Texas System). He asked me to chair the committee. I’ve known and watched Dr. Bailey from afar, and he far exceeded my expectations when I got to spend some time with him at lunch today and in our meeting. Like Oliver, we’re in the kid business, so any time there’s a possible opportunity to add scholarships for kids so they can stay close enough to home and have a chance to get their education get paid partly because they are really good at a sport.

Question

What have you seen of the campus?

Mack Brown

It’s gorgeous. It’s beautiful. I was surprised. Never been here. Never been on campus. It’s big. To think there’s that many students was unbelievable for me. This baseball stadium is outstanding. It’s just amazing to see what Chris and the university have done in the last several or so years. Obviously, joining a conference – the WAC – and moving forward in that area, it’s a fun time. I reiterate what Oliver said, too. We heard “growth” a lot – growth in the community, growth of the university, growth of the academics. Huge gift yesterday: $15 million (from Robert Vackar, CEO, Bert Ogden Auto Group). All of those things have momentum going forward.

Question

What is the next step?

Oliver Luck

This group will meet throughout this summer and the fall. We will rely on Chris and his team to put us together. I think the next step is really the consultants to come on board, to get their scope of work, to begin a lot of the legwork that will be collecting the information the committee will need to make a recommendation ultimately to Dr. Bailey. I think it will be a fairly busy summer and fall. I imagine that Mack and I will be down here a couple or three times as we go ahead into the early fall. It is a fairly tight timeline, but I think the consultants who will be hired will be first-class, they should be able to pull the information pretty quickly.

Question

As a former coach who won a national title, what advice to you give to Chris?

Mack Brown

I don’t think I need to give Chris any advice. He’s been at Central Florida, he’s been at Alabama. He gets it. He knows what he wants. He doesn’t want a football program to be a detriment to the university or any other sports, which is really critical for people to understand. But he and Dr. Bailey are on the same page moving forward. They are a really good team to look at what is best for this committee, this university. I think that is a fun thing for Oliver and I to be involved because to see something so positive, when everyone in the room would light up when Oliver would talk about what football brings you. We’ve both seen what it does, especially a winning football program, for a community to put together. It not only pulls faculty and athletics together, it pulls a community and a university together. Nothing like a Saturday afternoon when you are tailgating with your buddies, getting ready for kick-off.

Question

Have you ever done something like this before?

Oliver Luck

In different contexts, I’ve been in situation where I have had to run start-up franchises, like the Houston Dynamo (Major League Soccer team). That was the first time I came down here to work with the (RGV) Toros to create that partnership in the field of soccer. I’ve started new sports at West Virginia, where I was athletic director. Starting things is great fun. It’s a heck of a lot of work, but it’s great fun, because you can really watch the development of kids, watch them grow. I served on lots of committees, I know Mack has as well. He’s probably one of the most involved head coaches in the FBS program in all these various committees – AFCA, National Football Foundation, NCAA, you name it – the alphabet soup.

Mack Brown

That’s probably why I have gray hair.

Oliver Luck

We have a great team, here, like Dr. Bailey, Chris – I think they have a pretty good idea of what opportunities, where the challenges are. They are looking at this very realistically because they understand this community. I feel very comfortable, along with Mack, to help chair this committee, because they have their finger upon the pulse of this committee.

Mack Brown

I feel a lot better landing than in the coming, because we weren’t really sure – had some conversations, had some information sent back and forth. These guys are a great team, they put together a tremendous team, and Oliver and I can sit around and try to help them. These guys know what they are doing.

Question

How did this initial meeting go with the committee, and what was that like? What did you discuss?

Oliver Luck

It was an hour and a half, with an agenda that the university put together. Chris and Dr. Bailey talked a lot about the university, the stage it is in. Dr. Bailey emphasized – and this is very important – that this is a part of the larger strategic plans, strategic vision of the community. Great representatives in that room. I sensed a lot of momentum, not just for football but for the university as a whole, and that’s very important.

Mack Brown

Dr. Bailey stressed its the right time to look at it. It doesn’t mean it’s going to have it, it doesn’t mean its going to be tomorrow. But its an opportunity right now for everyone to get together and look at it. Chris is a football guy, and he would love a great football team, as long as it doesn’t hurt the other programs.

Video of the news conference is also available online at:

http://www.themonitor.com/news/local/brown-luck-encouraged-by-prospect-of-college-football-at-utrgv/article_e6c7f252-1e33-11e6-9957-c729d2071130.html

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Patrick Gonzáles contributed to this article. For more information on the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://edinburgedc.com or to http://www.facebook.com/edinburgedc

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