Whatever It Takes: Houston Baptist University Turns to Football to Build a Name

Houston Baptist University decides the best way to grow is to start a football team for the first time in its 50-year history.

Only a few players, such as University of Houston transfer Darian Lazard, have college football playing experience. "Some of the guys are wide-eyed," says the redshirt junior, who, after playing a limited role as a wide receiver at UH, figures to be one of the Huskies' best players.

Along with on-the-field challenges — against SHSU, the Huskies ran 22 second-half plays for a total of zero yards — HBU's expensive venture will be challenged to capture attention in Houston's crowded sports scene.

That doesn't necessarily concern Moniaci, who says that HBU has removed a negative from its reputation. "If you're in Texas and you're not playing football, it almost begs the question, 'Why aren't you?' " he says.

HBU athletic director Steve Moniaci, who worked at Rice University for 26 years, was instrumental in bringing the $10 million program to the 50-year-old school.
Photo by Michael Starghill, Jr.
HBU athletic director Steve Moniaci, who worked at Rice University for 26 years, was instrumental in bringing the $10 million program to the 50-year-old school.
A former assistant at Baylor, Kansas, UNLV and Air Force, Vic Shealy was hired as Houston Baptist University's first football coach in April 2012. With Houston's reputation for producing college football talent en masse, the 52-year old thinks that HBU will become a destination spot for local athletes.
Photo by Michael Starghill, Jr.
A former assistant at Baylor, Kansas, UNLV and Air Force, Vic Shealy was hired as Houston Baptist University's first football coach in April 2012. With Houston's reputation for producing college football talent en masse, the 52-year old thinks that HBU will become a destination spot for local athletes.

In a state where "football" is often uttered immediately after "God" — and often before — he might be right.
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It was three days before the beginning of HBU's fall practice, and everyone was scrambling. The city had only earlier that morning certified that the team's locker and weight rooms complied with regulations, and the hassles — somebody forgot to install toilet-paper holders in the bathrooms — seemed endless.

"When you're going through one of these, you really have to be okay with duct tape and bailing wire for a while," says upbeat Moniaci, who seemed to be dealing with that day's crisis just fine as he spotted an assistant coach in the football office hallway and playfully slugged him on the shoulder.

Founded in 1960, Houston Baptist College opened in 1963 with 193 freshman and 30 faculty members. When Sloan took over HBU's presidency in September 2006, he vowed to bump enrollment at the modest 100-acre campus up to 10,000 students over the following ten to 12 years. The school, which became Houston Baptist University in 1973, has an endowment of approximately $84 million.

Under Sloan's watch, HBU, which accepted 35 percent of applicants in 2012-2013, has unveiled an undergraduate program in cinema and new media arts and a master's program in philosophy. An online-only master's in education, a pre-law program and a doctorate in philosophy are also in the works.

Moniaci explains that football is key to making HBU an attractive college option. "Also, we needed and still need more engagement with our alumni," he says. "Unfortunately, we have a history of our alums not coming back to campus very much."

In its short history, HBU's athletic reputation has been made with its men's gymnastics and men's soccer teams. However, gymnastics has never recovered from its 1990 NCAA probation for major rules violations, while men's soccer, which will remain in the Western Athletic Conference because the Southland doesn't sponsor the sport, has taken a nosedive in terms of wins and losses. (HBU men's soccer head coach Steve Jones didn't respond to the Houston Press's interview requests.)

Starting a college football program isn't cheap, especially if a school has never played the sport. Unlike Lamar University, which already had a football stadium when it resuscitated its 21-year-dead program in 2010, HBU faced costs that were on the extreme high end.

Moving forward, Moniaci estimates that the program's annual operating cost, which includes coaches' salaries, will be roughly $1 million, "the majority of which will be funded from the income brought in from the tuition, room, board, books and fees of the members of the football team," he says. "Any revenue generated from the football team in excess of what is needed to fund the program will be dedicated to offsetting college costs for all students at HBU, many of whom are on some sort of financial aid from the ­institution."

According to the National Football Foundation, 2013 is a record year for new NCAA football programs. Unlike the late 1980s and early- to mid-1990s, when Lamar, the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, and Boston University shuttered football due to waning interest and high operational costs, 33 football programs were added between 2008 and 2012.

Don't look for the trend to slow down anytime soon: Between 2014 and 2016, 11 more institutions will add pricey football programs to their budgets.

They include Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas, with an enrollment of 600; Paine College, a historically black college that hosts 900 students on its Augusta, Georgia, campus; and the 1,042-student College of Idaho in Caldwell, a liberal arts school that used to be called Albertson College of Idaho (in honor of the founder of the grocery-store chain).
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"When I first came in here, I told some of our coaches that I want to line up against a couple of people and literally get our lips knocked in," says Shealy. "Our players need to know how hard it is to win a ball game and how much it takes to be good."

A month before the SHSU game, Shealy — whose father, Dal Shealy, is a former assistant at the University of Tennessee, Iowa State University and Auburn University — sat at his desk inside his office at the former site of the Memorial Hermann Wellness Center. A royal blue jersey draped the back of a chair, and the floor was covered with squat cardboard boxes filled with uniforms that the coach hadn't had time to go through.

After a stint on his dad's coaching staff at Baylor and success at small and large schools all around the country, Shealy found himself in a frying pan at Kansas when he took over as co-defensive coordinator for Carl Torbush, who had abruptly retired to fight (and eventually beat) low-grade prostate cancer. The Jayhawks, who rarely compete with the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners in the elite Big 12, allowed the most points in the nation and finished 2-10.

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8 comments
susanwilliams407
susanwilliams407

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scottscott
scottscott

Football is not needed in the world. I have checkers and a board.
But if they want football, that's great. We are only here for a moment in time.

letsgetbizet
letsgetbizet

What would be even better than putting money into existing programs is not cutting existing programs from the university completely to funnel money into the football program. The author of this article doesn't seem to realize that it was announced that the entire HBU instrumental program was going to be cut during the 2010-2011 school year. At the time concerned music students were told that there would be no football program for "a long time". I guess at HBU time is of the essence only when it benefits their athletes.

roguebotanist
roguebotanist

Shoot, might as wallow in the money trough like the big boys and suck the life out of  academics to fund it.

Margaret Bott
Margaret Bott

They need to put the $$$$ into their wonderful art department and art gallery instead of starting a football program. Even just a portion of those funds would make a huge difference to the students and faculty and the community in SW Houston.

Jeff Hill
Jeff Hill

Football at HBU. That's high school 4A, right?

le_creole_vacher
le_creole_vacher

@letsgetbizet HBU barely has a music program...I swear dont you people realize a strong mind and a weak body doesnt match?  I thought you supposed intellects would value a balance but obviously you would prefer being the fat tuba player that plays WoW on his days off.  Besides that, you should be proud that HBU demands its athletes to be scholars as well....no degree in communications here...

tony.b
tony.b

@Jeff Hill Is it? I though with their enrollment, it would be 5A,...

 
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