William Breazeale is serious about seeing a football program installed at his alma mater.
He’s so serious, in fact, he said he put together a committee of other Francis Marion University alumni to explore the possibility. And one of those on the committee, Breazeale said, knows former Clemson coaching legend Danny Ford and is trying to see if the former Tiger coach would have any interest in coming out of retirement just to get a program at FMU started, as far out of the realm of possibility as that might sound.
Breazeale said he’s gotten no word on whether coach Ford wants to temporarily give up life on the farm to do that.
But Breazeale wants to find out just who is interested in starting up football at FMU, a question that has been raised informally by many folks through the years.
Breazeale, who said he is a 1990 graduate of Francis Marion, said Tuesday he believes given the chance, FMU students and sports fans in the Pee Dee would wholeheartedly support a football program at the school.
Breazeale said he has inquired of FMU officials in the past about the possibility of starting a program, but was quickly rebuffed.
So, he has decided to take a different route.
“In the history of Francis Marion, not once has anyone from that school asked its customers — the students — or its bosses — the citizens of South Carolina — if they want a football team,” Breazeale said. “We are a committee with the sole goal of just asking that question, forcing the question to be asked of our region, ‘Would you like to see this?’ Unfortunately, it’s taking a committee of citizens like us to make it happen because Francis Marion has failed to make it happen.”
There’s a good reason for that, though. Francis Marion officials are not interested in making it happen, a university official said Tuesday.
The official said the university simply has no interest in pursuing football at this time because there are too many other important things academically going on that require attention and financial resources, including the upstart engineering program, a downtown health sciences facility and a satellite campus in Mount Pleasant.
And even if the university did think football was a good idea, it would be an enormous fiscal undertaking, the official said, estimating the program would operate at a loss of a few million dollars each year and that the cost of a new stadium might be as much as $20-25 million.
The university spent more than $11 million, not including private donations, on the Griffin Athletic Complex, which opened in the spring of 2012 to house playing venues for baseball, softball and soccer.
Breazeale said he thinks Francis Marion and Florence School District 1 could partner to put money into Florence Memorial Stadium to bring it up to NCAA standards and allow FMU and Florence’s high schools to share the facility.
Breazeale, and FMU officials, as well, made it clear that Breazeale’s undertaking is an independent one and that other than the fact he is an FMU alum, he has no current connection to Francis Marion.
Breazeale said he contacted FMU athletic director Murray Hartzler on Monday to talk about the possibility of Breazeale and his committee partnering with the university on the task, but got nowhere.
So how does Breazeale plan to move forward on the issue? He’s going to try to get some public feedback through a website that will be up and running about the middle of February.
On the site, Breazeale said he and his committee plan to ask a few simple questions, like whether site visitors are in favor of FMU starting a football program, are they willing to support the program financially and, if so, how much money are they willing to pledge?
Breazeale said the site also would provide visitors a chance to offer suggestions.
Breazeale said he wanted to make clear the committee will not be soliciting financial support, only trying to get an idea of how much support might be available.
Breazeale said his committee will have a private meeting on Jan. 18 and hopes to have a news conference in mid-February.
He said members of the 12-person committee would be revealed at that time.
When it comes down to it, Breazeale said there are a number of alumni who think FMU is being “left in the dust” by other colleges and universities in athletics. He cited the rise of athletic programs at Coastal Carolina and the College of Charleston, which competed against Francis Marion in the old NAIA District 6, but which have since risen to NCAA Division I competition. He also pointed out that UNC Pembroke, a member of the Peach Belt Conference in which FMU plays, has a football program now, as well.
“We’re doing this for our school and for a lot of high school football players that never get a chance to play at the next level,” Breazeale said. “There will be 50 or 60 people that may go to college that never would have, otherwise. It excites us that we can do those kids a service.”
Breazeale, a commercial airline pilot who lives in Orlando, Fla., said he plans to move back to Florence soon so he can help take care of his ailing mother and so he can more easily devote time to his football project.
His father, Dr. William H. Breazeale, was one of Francis Marion’s founding faculty members.