The old adage “when one window closes, another one opens” could apply to a change at the beginning of the University of West Florida’s 2020 football campaign.
The Argonauts — rated No.1 in both Street and Smith’s and Lindy’s preseason Division-2 polls — were originally set to kick off defense of their national championship against West Virginia Wesleyan. But the Bobcats’ conference, the Mountain East, had other plans.
“Their conference had a meeting last week and came out and said they were only going to play conference games,” said UWF Athletics Director Dave Scott. “And Wesleyan unfortunately — no fault of their own — had to drop us due to league requirements.”
To get the Argos and Commerce on opposite sidelines for Week-1, there were some dominoes that had to fall.
“Texas A&M Commerce had a home opener with Simon Fraser, who is actually in Canada – and the Canadian border is not expected to open for a while, maybe to mid-August,” Scott said. “That game was not going to happen, and it opened it up for them.”
The teams meet on Thursday, September 3, at Bayfront Stadium. Commerce is ranked No. 3 in the nation by Street and Smith’s, and beat the Argos 37-27 for the D-2 national championship in December, 2017.
“The home schedule is starting to be a ‘Murderers’ Row,’ but a great one for the fans,” said Scott. “You have the 2017 national champs in Commerce; you have the 2018 national champs in Valdosta State, and us being the 2019 national champs. You get a couple of national champ rematches at home here in Pensacola.”
Formerly known as the Mountain Lions, Commerce is now called the “Bois d'Arc” (bow-dark), defined by Miriam-Webster as a form of wood. The teams will play a home-and-home series – Bayfront Stadium this year and in Commerce, Texas in 2021. Scott adds that there’s still time to book a 10th game for the upcoming season, which could be in week eleven.
“We do have the eighth weekend too; we will keep our ears open, but most people are in conference play and it’s a tough time to find a game,” said Scott., “So we don’t expect at this time to pick up a tenth game, but I’d never rule anything out.”
Only four home games are scheduled, compared to the usual five or six. Fewer home games mean less revenue for downtown Pensacola. A study by the Haas Business Center of the 2018 season — the latest available — shows UWF football generated a total of $9.7 million in sales throughout Escambia County. Amy Newburn at Haas says the report uses multiple inputs.
“The spending by both the football program and the share of athletics that would be attributed to that,” said Newburn. “Ticket and merchandise sales, concessions, and visitor spending from attendees; day campus and recruitment days as well as the visiting teams that come to the region.”
UWF football’s economic impact was placed at just over $6 million in value added to the economy, generating about $4.6 million in personal income. About 40% of revenues created by the program is associated with visitor spending.
“They’re spending new money in the region; some of them are staying overnight, but they’re typically making a day of it,” Newburn said. “They’re going to bars and restaurants, they’re going shopping before and after [the games], and so they’re bringing net new money into our region.”
And, while that $9.7 million figure counts all of Escambia County, Newburn says the chief beneficiary was downtown Pensacola.
“We do try to understand how much of this spending was happening downtown; and so we asked individuals to estimate how much of their spending in that region,” said Newburn. “We know about $1.2 million in sales is happening in downtown, and then around the football program.”
“Its been just an unusual, unprecedented time; you hear those words all the time,” said UWF Athletics Director Dave Scott.
“We’re excited to be able to get back into it; we’re hoping that the fall is more normal,” Scott said. “It will be different — we know that — but gets back to some normalcy with students back on campus and getting back to the mission of educating and building champions for life for our student-athletes.”
UWF’s 2020 home schedule includes three Gulf South Conference games – Shorter on Sept. 26, Valdosta State — ranked third by Lindy’s and 5th by Street and Smith’s — on Oct. 10, and West Georgia on Halloween.