SIDELINE OBSERVATIONS: Football at West Florida makes sense

Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 04:55 PM.

I have long believed that the University of West Florida needed a football team.

Pensacola gave the football world Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith. The city also has produced more than its fair share of football talent.

The wait will so be over as beginning in 2016, the school will field a football team in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II, West Florida announced Sept. 4. It will play in the Gulf South Conference, in which the school's athletic teams are now competing.

There will be no mistaking West Florida football for games in the Southeastern Conference. Most Division II athletes are a few pounds lighter or a step or two slower than the so-called Big Time programs are seeking.

Division II schools are allotted 36 total football scholarships as opposed to the 85 Division I Bowl Subdivision schools have or the 63 that the Division I Championship Subdivision can offer.

Thirty-six scholarships for a varsity football team might not seem like much, but for a young man dreaming of playing the game each of those scholarships the Pensacola school offers will represent another opportunity to play college football.

Northwest Florida is a hotbed for high school talent stretching from the Alabama-Florida state line east to Panama City. But most young men who take the field in local stadiums on Friday nights never again play organized football after they graduate from high school. Maybe the addition of a team at West Florida will open the door for some of those kids to play college football close to home.

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