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Energy Boom Helps Texas Commuter School Launch Football Program

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And there's a bit of a boom in college football this year. A dozen colleges have added football programs that are now competing in the NCAA - a record number of new teams. And now as Tom Michael of West Texas Public Radio reports, even commuter colleges, satellite campuses of bigger universities, are getting into the game.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

W. DAVID WATTS: I am privileged and honored to make an announcement about football at UTPB. Yes, you may applaud.

(APPLAUSE)

TOM MICHAEL, BYLINE: That's the president of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin earlier this fall, announcing the launch of the school's new football team.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGHT'N FALCONS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Fight'n Falcons, mighty falcons.

MICHAEL: The school band strikes up a rousing round of "Fight'n Falcons." Lyrics sheets are passed around because few at this commuter school of about 5,000 students even know there's a school song. After some frantic waving, black, orange and white balloons are released from the rafters. Here to celebrate is Russell Moorman, a senior in mechanical engineering.

RUSSELL MOORMAN: Had no idea it was going to happen until I was driving through campus last spring and I saw a bunch of Lamborghinis and Ferraris in the parking lot.

MICHAEL: Those were the cars of the executives who raised nearly $10 million to set up the program. They include Kirk Edwards; he's from Odessa. He played football as a kid and runs an oil investment company here.

KIRK EDWARDS: I bet you we bring in a thousand new students just from the football players that come in and their friends and the bands.

MICHAEL: The birth of the new team may not be that surprising in this state. And this city, Odessa, is home to the high school in the movie "Friday Night Lights." But there hadn't been college football in this part of Texas until the oil boom created a new class of investors. Again, oil executive Kirk Edwards.

EDWARDS: We've been blessed in West Texas with our economy and our oil business and people give back.

MICHAEL: The hope is that football will bring more students and more alumni dollars.

WELCH SUGGS: Most people look at the glitz and glamour of a Saturday afternoon, and they think that athletic departments are rolling in money.

MICHAEL: Welch Suggs is an associate professor at the University of Georgia who has studied the profitability of college football.

SUGGS: There are about two dozen schools in the country that have any chance of actually turning a net revenue on athletics, or, you know, turning a net profit. But other regional universities - no.

MICHAEL: UT Permian Basin is even diverting the student union fee to fund the football program. And 80 percent of the student body voted yes on that. Here's UTPB Junior Brandon Manning.

BRANDON MANNING: I don't know what it is with football 'cause everyone just wants to have a football team 'cause they love it. I don't know. I love it. I love watching it. I would be huge fan even if we're not the best.

MICHAEL: The school now needs to hire coaches and recruit players. The T-shirts in the bookstore says Falcons Football: Still Undefeated, but players won't take the field until 2016, in a stadium borrowed from a high school off-campus.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGHT'N FALCONS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) We've got you in our sight. We're here to win the fight for the orange, black and white.

MICHAEL: For NPR News, I'm Tom Michael in Odessa, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.