Cover Story: Houston Baptist University Dives Into the Big Business of College Football

A little over a year ago, Houston Baptist University was mostly known for high academic standards and a men's gymnastics squad that achieved success in the 1980s.

After a $10 million investment that helped pay for a football field, a full-fledged coaching staff and enough manpower to examine 300 additional transcripts from recruits, HBU, which a lot of people only know from the ubiquitous green sign on Southwest Freeway near Fondren Road, hopes that they'll be recognized for its brand-new football team.

The Christian university in Sharpstown hopes that football can help grow the sleepy institution -- which, in the 2013-2014 academic year, enrolled the most students in its 50-year history -- from approximately 2,900 students to about 10,000 co-eds. HBU's venture models a nationwide trend, where even tiny liberal arts colleges with enrollments of 1,000 or fewer are starting football in order to try and attract more attention.

With proven winners in HBU's athletic department that includes athletic director Steve Moniaci and head football coach Vic Shealy, the Huskies have installed a steady foundation. This season, HBU is playing a developmental seven-game schedule before hopping to the Southland Conference, the home of Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin State, and Lamar universities.

There's still work to do. A lot of it. In its first game in program history, the Huskies traveled up I-45 to Huntsville's Bowers Stadium, where they played the two-time Football Championship Subdivision runners-up, the SHSU Bearkats. The Huskies tried really hard, but still came up really short, dropping the game, 74-0.

But two weeks later on the road, HBU rebounded with a 52-28 pasting of Wayland Baptist. With a 1-1 record, HBU's first ever home game takes place at 7 p.m. this Saturday at Strake Jesuit Crusader Stadium, 8900 Bellaire Boulevard, against Oklahoma Baptist.

Read about the birth of the HBU football program in this week's cover story.

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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen