The Charlotte 49ers now look like they truly are going to play football in 2013.
And I like that.
For too long, the 49ers’ athletic program has been defined largely by what it doesn’t have: A football program, in an area of the country where Southern college football is a Saturday-afternoon religion.
Now it’s almost surely going to happen. To use a football analogy, Friday’s unanimous vote by UNC Charlotte trustees to continue with plans to field a team in 2013 has pushed the 49ers into the red zone.
In fact, I’d say the 49ers now have a first-and-goal at the 5. The only things that could derail them now will be if somebody does something really stupid or if we all unexpectedly enter another, even worse economic freefall.
Yes, the students will shoulder much of the monetary burden in the form of student fees. That’s not ideal, but seems unavoidable. I think for most future Charlotte students that the enhanced experience of going to a school with a football team – and the sense of community that team will inspire – will make up for the fee and then some.
I still remember something UNC Charlotte Chancellor Phil Dubois said at a 2008 trustee meeting last year when he was pitching football. Said Dubois: “Appalalachian State knocks off Michigan and everyone in North Carolina ‘owns’ App State. Davidson advances in the NCAA [basketball] tournament and Davidson is North Carolina’s team. But when has Charlotte really ‘owned’ UNC Charlotte? Be truthful, and you’ll probably admit it was our run to the 1977 Final Four.”
Yes, it probably was. And while football won’t immediately thread the 49ers and the city together permanently, it at least gives them a chance.
Has this been a difficult process? Oh, Lord. All you have to do is look at how many plan incarnations there have been – it was “Plan E” that the trustees finally approved Friday – to know that it has.
I’m glad that “Plan E” gets the stadium issue settled relatively quickly, with a permanent, 15,000-seat stadium from the outset. (It could be expanded if necessary, but I think that will be more than enough seats in the beginning).
It’s far from a perfect plan. The 49ers won’t get into college football’s big leagues for at least a decade and likely much longer than that under it. If Charlotte hires the wrong head coach, momentum could be stunted quickly.
But at least the 49ers’ athletic program will feel more purposeful now. More complete. And soon, the school will be defined more by what it has than by what it doesn’t.