Details remain murky as excitement for football builds

“We’ve talked with a significant number of current and prospective students who are really excited about football,” Vice President for Enrollment Strategy Lauren Jensen told Chimes in an email. “Students are already talking about Homecoming Week and celebrating the end of the week with a fun-filled football game.”

The launch of Calvin’s first-ever football program has generated excitement among both students and donors, according to Jensen and Vice President for Advancement Gregory Elzinga. The football program is expected to eventually roster around 120 students, but it is not yet clear how long it will take to see that number reflected in enrollment.

Provost Noah Toly previously told Chimes that at comparable schools, football program launches attracted 0.1 to 0.25 additional students for every football player “because of other connections that football helps you make and the interest that non-players have at being at a school with football.”

If Calvin enrolls 120 football players, then, it could also expect to enroll up to 30 additional students due to interest in football. In total, this could mean an additional 150 students — more than enough, if they all come in the same year, to bring struggling undergraduate enrollment numbers up to budgeting goals. Tuition of 150 additional students could total over $5 million.

That plan seems to be working, at least to some extent. “[Football] is bringing positive attention, connections, and new high schools into our orbit who want to collaborate with us,” Jensen said. “We have even noticed more growth in applications, visits and interactions since football was announced.” Chief Financial Officer Dirk Pruis told Chimes that the addition of new athletic offerings has created new “pathways” to Calvin for prospective students that Calvin may previously have been losing out on.

Administrators did not respond to a request for information about the time frame for Calvin reaching football-related enrollment targets or current recruitment numbers.

Football is one of a number of significant investments Calvin is making in its Strategic Plan for Athletics over the next few years. Administrators told Chimes in November 2022 that adding football was intended to increase enrollment and help to diversify the student body. “This is really about strategic growth. [Football] is one of the biggest ways that we can grow undergraduate enrollment in a very short period of time,” then-Chief Financial Officer Tim Fennema said.

The Development Office is hard at work raising money to fund the program and build the planned outdoor stadium. “Progress is being made on raising start-up costs to launch the program,” Elzinga told Chimes in an email. The major gifts team is working to get the word out to a variety of donors about the need for funds for the football stadium.“We’ll soon expand that to include the entire Calvin community to help us put up this new stadium,” Elzinga said.

Administrators did not respond to a Chimes request for the total annual anticipated cost of the program nor to a Chimes request for the total anticipated annual revenue to be generated by the program once operational. As of September 2022, about $4 million in university funds was earmarked for Calvin Athletics investments this year and about $15 million planned for Athletics investments over the next three years, but it is not yet clear what proportion of that funding will go toward the football program and the stadium and what will go toward other programs and infrastructure investments.

“The investments we are making as part of the athletics strategic plan are ones that will enhance the student experience and open doors to learners who may have previously checked Calvin off of their list because we did not have an offering, like football, that was important to their college experience,” Pruis said.