LITTLE ROCK — Half joking with the Lyon College athletic director, I suggested to Kevin Jenkins that he take out a help wanted ad in his search for somebody to start and oversee a football program.
As a matter of fact, he said, before forwarding the lengthy notice crafted for the Batesville newspaper.
According to the ad, the primary responsibilities of the head coach include “building a football program, hiring coaching staff, recruiting, conducting practices and scheduling games.” Applicants “must have successful coaching experience and an understanding (experience preferred) of recruiting student athletes at a small, liberal arts college.”
Beginning an ambitious undertaking from the ground up, specifics are a high priority. Woven into the ad are the pluses of Batesville and the high GPA and ACT scores of entering freshmen.
Barely a week after Jenkins confirmed the school’s decision to have a football team for the first time since 1951, there was positive reaction on several fronts.
On the Sunday following the announcement, Jenkins could hardly turn around at church without running into locals excited about a college football program — a reaction that dovetails with the impetus for the undertaking. “We’re always looking for ways to build community support, to build school spirit,” Jenkins said.
Ripples include queries from potential coaching candidates, hits from prospective student-athletes, and praise from coaches in the area.
I have no idea who Jenkins will hire, but the man’s resume might be similar to that of Jason Burianek, employed four months ago to start up a program at Missouri Baptist University. A former player at Colorado, Burianek was special teams coordinator and coach of the defensive backs at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill. Like Lyon College, Missouri Baptist is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and the American Midwest Conference.
Other NAIA members that have started football programs told Jenkins the move was good for enrollment. They also surprised him when they said that the number of players signing up for a new program have ranged from 75 to 125.
“It is going to open some doors for more kids who might not have that opportunity as Division-I or Division-II players,” Rose Bud coach Steve Rose told the Searcy Daily Citizen. “I can think of several kids who maybe weren’t quite as tall as they wanted them on some of those levels, or maybe a running back who wasn’t as fast but had great vision.”
Athletes who fit those parameters will play because they love the game and don’t want their football days to end. Jenkins says football will not take anything away from academics at a school where entering freshmen have an average ACT score of 26. The athletes will be good students who might not have considered Lyon College in the past and will not be deterred by the fact that NAIA schools are limited to 24 scholarships, parceled out in bits and pieces. They will also be aware that some employers see membership on a football team as proof that a job applicant can work with others.
Jenkins says 50-60 players on campus in the fall of 2014 is the minimum and that he’s hoping for more. They will practice and scrimmage in what amounts to a redshirt year, but will not play any games until 2015.
Personally, the fact that more than 80 NAIA schools play football was a surprise. Only five of them have more than 3,000 students. Lyon has an enrollment of about 600; at least five have fewer.
At some point, Lyon will have to look around for another conference affiliation since none of the nine teams in the American Midwest Conference field a football team. Lyon could play some NCAA Division III schools such as Hendrix in Conway or Rhodes College in Memphis or Division II member Harding in Searcy.
First things first, such as hiring a coach and acquiring equipment.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.