Erskine College is reviving its football program and plans to field a team in time for the 2020 season.
Erskine discontinued football following the 1951 season.
“I think it’s pretty exciting,” Erskine athletic director Mark Peeler said. “I think it’s already — even in the few hours since we put it out — it’s already created a buzz in a positive way that probably we needed as well. I think it’s pretty exciting. There’s a lot of things that still need to be done a lot of things to get accomplished. It’s certainly a shot in the arm that we needed.”
The school announced plans Friday to hire a head coach and two assistant coaches in “the next few months,” then allow student-athletes to enroll as early as fall 2019. The fall 2019 season will be considered a redshirt season for the players.
Erskine also launched its E-sports program Friday by naming Brandon Oberle head coach of the E-sports team.
Peeler, who was promoted to full-time athletic director earlier this year, said in April the school had looked into reviving the football program but decided against it.
Since then, Peeler said he’s had more time to commit more resources toward reviving the football program.
“I mean, honestly, if I was still coaching basketball, I know I couldn’t have done this. I couldn’t be able to pull this off to do it,” Peeler said. “It was a blessing to get out of basketball when I needed. I don’t know that I appreciated that as much at the time as I do today. I just think our perspective has changed over the last few months. And I think our president is supportive of that as long as we can build a program that fulfills the mission of the college, it’s the right thing to do.”
Erskine will become the fifth Conference Carolinas school with a football program, joining Barton, Chowan, Limestone and North Greenville.
According to Conference Carolinas commissioner Alan Patterson, a conference must have six schools playing a sport to have that sport sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Patterson said he is not aware of any plans for a sixth Conference Carolinas football team, which means the conference will not add the sport in the immediate future.
“I don’t see it happening in the immediate future — and when I say immediate future, certainly not next year,” Patterson said. “That’s a time when conversations might start, but it’s a rather complicated situation.”
Conference Carolinas members Limestone and North Greenville offer football programs that compete in outside conferences. For example, Limestone competes in the South Atlantic Conference and this season North Greenville will begin competing in the Gulf South Conference. Barton announced the return of its football program in June, and Chowan will become a full Conference Carolinas member following the 2017-18 school year.
Reviving Erskine’s football program has remained a topic of discussion despite the board of trustees striking it down three years ago.
“It was actually rejected three years ago,” Peeler said. “We made a proposal to the board three years ago. And so for the past three years it really hasn’t been as much a topic. One of the backlashes of not adding football three years ago was that we were put in a situation where our teams needed to get more student-athletes to fill out the rosters. And, to be honest with you, we really overcrowded rosters.”
With the addition of football, Erskine offers 19 varsity sports. But last season’s men’s basketball roster boasted 58 players, and the Flying Fleet’s baseball roster swelled to 74 players.
“I think, more than anything, the overcrowded populations that we have in the sports, that’s a retention issue,” Peeler said. “Kids want to play, and when they’re not getting the opportunity to play they’re going to leave. So ultimately we think this will not only help our admissions but it will also help our retention. That’s critical for a school our size.”
Earlier this year, Erskine announced the addition of three new programs: men’s and women’s track and field, and acrobatics and tumbling. The three programs will begin in 2019-20.
Erskine launched bass fishing and disc-golf programs this school year at the club level, with the hope the programs will evolve into varsity sports.