A burning question for the Flames has been answered — at least for the next five years.
Lee University officials announced Wednesday that the school will not be adding football in the near future. That had been a subject of speculation and study since the Cleveland school decided to leave the NAIA and join the Gulf South Conference, which is one of the top football conferences in NCAA Division II.
"There is lots of enthusiasm for football at Lee, and I think one day we will probably have it," Dr. Paul Conn, Lee's president, said in Wednesday's release. "But the board thinks the timing isn't right to start it now, and I agree. We will take another look in 2019, and at that time we may be better positioned to add football.
"I personally love college football, and I would enjoy seeing it played on the Lee campus by Lee students," Conn added. "We expect Lee athletes to play at a very high level and compete for championships. That's our goal for all our sports, so football can't be an exception. If we ever begin football, it needs to be at a time when we can be very good very quickly."
Conn told the gathering of "the entire university family" Wednesday morning that four factors in particular worked against football for now. The school is starting a nursing program this year and still has pressing financial demands in developing its "south campus" between Sixth Street and Central Avenue, and the implications of football for Title IX compliance and the completion of full Division II membership brought other pressures.
"Although there will be some disappointed individuals, I feel this is the right decision at this time," said Lee athletic director Larry Carpenter, adding that he looks forward to "revisiting" the possibility later.
The board of directors' decision followed 18 months of work from a committee considering the feasibility of football for the Flames. It included faculty, administrators, alumni and students as well as athletic leaders. The group was chaired by Dr. Mike Hayes, vice president for student development.
"Our feasibility study sought to gather information from key constituent groups to evaluate the mission-relatedness of football for our university," Hayes said in the release. "Our objective was to present a balanced report by looking at reasons to adopt for not adopt a football program. ... Ultimately, the committee recommended against developing a football program at this time. After listening to people in the community, various groups on campus, our alumni and prospective students and their families, we felt that it wasn't the right time to pursue it."