Friday, May 4 at 6:50 PM
For years, those of us who write about the San Antonio sports scene lamented the fact that the city did not have a Division I football program.
After covering games in such sprawling metropolises as Waco and Lubbock, we wondered how it could be that the Alamo City had no major-college football team to call its own.
All that seems so long ago now.
UTSA, which played its inaugural season as an independent in the Football Championship Subdivision last year and will move into the Western Athletic Conference in July, got approval from the University of Texas Board of Regents on Thursday to join Conference USA in all sports at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
On Friday, UTSA announced it has entered into an agreement with C-USA tp join the league in July 2013.
"Today is another outstanding day to be a Roadrunner," Romo said during a news conference. "We are very excited about our new partnership with Conference USA. It is a great fit for us, and it is a significant step forward for the university and the entire city of San Antonio.
C-USA competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I-A, and will span from El Paso to Virginia in 2013 after it reconfigures.
"It's more shocking than surprising," UTSA coach Larry Coker said, referring to how quickily the Roadrunners secured membership in a conference they targeted long before they played their frst game. "It's a little bit of a surreal moment because to go Division I as fast as we did was unbelievable.
"But being in this league is just going to be super. I don't think I could have drawn up the league any better."
C-USA will include North Texas, Rice, Texas-El Paso
UTSA, Charlotte, Florida International, Louisiana Tech and North Texas will become C-USA members on July 1, 2013.
Starting in 2013-14, the rest of the C-USA will include East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Southern Mississippi, Tulane, Tulsa, Alabama-Birmingham and Texas-El Paso.
But the way the landscape is changing in college football, the conference could add more teams before the dust settles.
"This is yet another historic day for UTSA," athletic director Lynn Hickey said. "Today's invitation is a realization of a lot of hard work by so many different people, and we couldn't have done it without the support of the city and its community leaders.
"This truly was a collaborative effort. It's another great moment for the city of San Antonio, our university and the athletic department. Everyone truly is excited to be moving to Conference USA.
UTSA is like that new, bright kid at the office moving up the ladder quickly. If the Roadrunners can move that fast on the football field, they'll be in good shape.
It's mind-boggling how things can change so dramatically.
Coker, who guided Miami to the 2001 BCS national championship, marveled at how quickly the Roadrunners have ascended to the FBS.
Building football workout facility a priority
"Now we've got to compete from the standpoint of facilities, get those built up," Coker said. "We've been able to recruit, we feel, pretty well on a vision, on nothing. Now, to have this league to recruit to and the addition of facilities, I think we'll be fine, but it's going to take some time and take some work."
UTSA plays its home football games at the Alamodome and practices at Farris Stadium, owned by the Northside Independent School District. There are plans to build a workout facility at UTSA's Park West campus.
San Antonio didn't even have a scholarship football program for years until Incarnate Word added the sport in 2007. Trinity gave football scholarships until moving into Division III in the early 1980s.
UIW played its first season in 2009 as a Division II independent before moving into the Lone Star
Conference a year later. The Cardinals got the go-ahead from the school's board of trustees last year to start making the transition from Division II to the FCS, formerly Division I-AA.
While UIW was preparing for its first season, UTSA got approval from the University of Texas board of regents late in 2008 to add football to its athletic program. In March 2009, Hickey hit a home run by hiring Coker.
The Roadrunners played their first game in history last year at the Alamodome, drawing a crowd of 56,743 that broke the NCAA record for a start-up football program's home opener.
UTSA also broke the NCAA record for a start-up program’s average home attendance. The roadrunners drew a total of 213,126 fans in six games for an average of 35,521. That broke the previous record of 33,038, set by South Florida in 1997.
Hickey, Romo shared a vision
Playing with a team composed mostly of freshmen and redshirt freshmen, UTSA finished its inaugural season 4-6.
Hickey and Romo have charted a bold course for the Roadrunners. So far, their vision and commitment have paid off.
But much work lies ahead. The road will be rocky for UTSA football, but the program has great potential, great upside.
Recruiting talented players who can stay in school is the key to any successful college program, but in UTSA's case, raising money to build a permanent practice facility will continue to be of paramount importance. Building a new basketball arena also will be critical.
On the plus side, UTSA plays its football home games at the Alamodome. While the Alamodome never measured up to NFL standards, it's an outstanding venue for a college football team. It will be interesting to see what kind of crowds the Roadrunners draw this season.
In the meantime, Romo, Hickey, the UTSA student body and the city's movers and shakers, including former mayor Henry Cisneros, deserve credit for getting the Roadrunners this far so quickly.