The University of Texas at Arlington hasn’t played a snap of football in nearly four decades and the first step to bringing it back has been taken. Students at UT Arlington participated in Student Government elections with a referendum on the ballot that would begin the process of funding a football team.
UT Arlington football began in 1919 when the Arlington campus was called Grubbs Vocational College. The school joined the Southland Conference in 1964 as a charter member and remained there until the program was folded after the 1985 season. The Mavericks won three conference titles in 1966, 1967, and 1981 but the cost of running the program was too much as then university president Wendell Nedderman stated the cost of football was $1 million per year in 1985. UT Arlington was a member of the FCS (then called I-AA) from 1982 through 1985.
The most recent referendum asked for an increase in the athletics fee from $115 to $250 for full-time students and is the first step in what might be a long process. The most optimistic timeline would see football return in 2025 but additional roadblocks await. A feasibility study needs to be prepared followed by numerous approvals from the University of Texas Board of Regents, Texas State Legislature, and potentially another student vote.
There have been several attempts to bring back football to UTA but none have succeeded despite growing support on social media. As recently as 2018, there was a belief that football would come back after a report from The Dallas Morning News. While that did not happen, UT Arlington has made several realignment changes in the last decade. The school left the Southland Conference after the 2011-12 season and joined the WAC for the 2012-13 year. Following that, they joined the Sun Belt in 2013-14 for nearly a decade before they moved back to the WAC in 2022.
If UTA does indeed bring back football, they would be joining an FCS conference in need of football programs to keep automatic qualifier status. The WAC will have only five members in 2023 – Abilene Christian, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton State, and Utah Tech (formerly Dixie State) – with UT Rio Grande Valley‘s newly formed football program arriving in 2025. All of that assumes there are no further defections from the WAC and the timeline for UT Arlington’s football return doesn’t face any obstacles. As of now, the WAC has partnered with the ASUN to ensure all teams have access to an FCS Playoff automatic qualifying bid.
Photo courtesy of the University of Texas Arlington Athletics