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Here's The Story Behind Online College's Winless Football Program

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Michael Tomsic

There's a new college in Charlotte that's an online school with no campus or accreditation, but it has a football team. In fact, the football coach created the college last year. It's called College of Faith, and it's linked to online colleges with sports programs in Arkansas and Florida.

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College of Faith huddles early in its game with Limestone College.

Some College of Faith football players believed they were finally going to win a game two weeks ago, or at least score some points. But their frustration mounted as their turnovers piled up. They lost to Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina, 45-0.

College of Faith Coach Dell Richardson says even though it was only Limestone's third ever football game, that program has advantages over his.

"They have a campus," he says. "They have a weight room. They have a full-time staff. They have full-time coaches. We don't. It is what it is. We do the best we can with what we got."

What College of Faith Charlotte has is about 60 students, mostly athletes. It's an online school that offers two bachelor's and two associate's degrees, either in ministry or sports ministry. No one has received a degree yet. (The school is only in its second year.)

The closest thing College of Faith has to a campus is a small room in a run-down church in northwest Charlotte. Students plop their football pads in a corner when they come here to go over bible lessons and game tape.

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Credit Michael Tomsic
College of Faith rents a room in a church in northwest Charlotte.

The games can be tough to watch. The football team hasn't scored a single point against another four-year college. It was held to negative 100 total yards against Tusculum College in Tennessee this season, an NCAA record. The final score was 71-0.

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Credit Michael Tomsic
A College of Faith helmet with paint chipped off.

  At practice, some College of Faith players wear hand-me-down pads from other schools. They also wear green helmets with white spots where paint has chipped off.

Recently, about 25 players practiced on a field tucked behind an abandoned middle school with a busted-out sign. Coach Richardson says they also share a field at Turning Point Academy.

"Whatever rule you make, make it consistent, all right?" Richardson said to an assistant coach, who responded, "Yes, sir."

Richardson is constantly teaching the players and the other coaches, who work jobs as bouncers, mechanics and chefs. Richardson works full-time as a teacher assistant at a Gastonia high school. He says neither he nor the coaches have a salary at College of Faith.

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Credit Michael Tomsic
College of Faith players practice running the option.

Practice always ends with a religious discussion.

"Anybody believe there's idols today?" first-year player Will Boling asked the other players. "Let material things go away, because when you die, guess what's going to come with you? Nothing, just your soul. Guys, all I can say today is this, put God first, forget all material things, and always lean on God for everything."

Christianity and football are why this school exists. It's an outgrowth of another College of Faith, an online school in Arkansas that Sherwyn Thomas created.

"You have to be honest, most of them are coming to school because it's an opportunity for them to live their dream and to play college sports," Thomas says. "But for us, we happy for you because we love sports too, but the bottom line is we want you to get a relationship with Jesus Christ."

Thomas says there's also a University of Faith in Florida. He helps create the online curriculum, and the schools operate independently.

Their degrees are not accredited, and College of Faith Charlotte received a religious exemption that allows it to operate without a state license.

The players say their online classes aren't very difficult.

"It's not too much work," Boling says. "Me personally, since I know the bible, I can finish it up within a day, maybe within an hour." And he says that's for the whole week.

Many other players say they spend about two hours per day on their online classes. Dominique Tramaine is in his second year.

"From going to church, they don't teach you everything," Tramaine says. "But this class? Oh, it teaches you everything."

Tuition is listed at $6,000, but Coach Richardson says no one pays that. Most students pay $500 a year.

College of Faith also gets money from playing football games. Other schools are willing to pay for what’s expected to be an easy win. 

Tusculum College wrote College of Faith a $7,500 check for their record-setting blowout this season. Dom Donnelly is Tusculum’s assistant athletic director. 

"We provided a guarantee, which a lot of schools our size will do for schools their size," Donnelly says.

It is a common part of college football. Some powerhouse schools pay small ones hundreds of thousands of dollars for a game.

College of Faith’s paydays are tiny in comparison. Davidson College paid it a few thousand dollars for a game this season, in which Davidson snapped a 12-game losing streak with a 56-0 victory.

"The more we heard about the College of Faith, though obviously a little bit different model, I felt like this was an opportunity to help a local football team get its legs," Davidson Athletic Director Jim Murphy says.

Davidson and College of Faith players went to a soup kitchen together the week of their game, and Davidson donated practice pants and shoulder pads to the new program.

"I hope that the College of Faith is wildly successful," Murphy says. "I don't know whether they will be or not, but I'm pulling for them because I think there's a real purpose that they serve."

Some College of Faith players got in trouble with previous schools or the law. At least two have been charged with robbery or larceny.

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Credit Michael Tomsic
Coach Dell Richardson, far right, teaches assistant coaches and players during practice.

  Coach Richardson says the school has a lot of "second chance guys." 

"That's why we work so hard," he says, "because we want to equip them where they can be able to support their families but also become good people through the word of God."

Several of the players describe Richardson as a father figure. Almost all of them say this is their only shot at college football.

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