Following the passage of a successful student referendum to increase athletic fees from $15 per credit hour to $26.25, Division I football is coming to the Rio Grande Valley soon.
Thanks to a financial plan and budget requests submitted to the University of Texas Board of Regents, we now have a better picture of when we’ll see the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros take the field, and what the program will look like when it does.
Now that the program is funded, the first step is to of course hire a head coach. This hire is expected to happen sometime in the next six months, with two coordinator hires to follow shortly after. The remaining football staff will be hired in the following fiscal year, so you’ll start seeing assistant coaches and personnel hires no sooner than 10 months from now. Matt Stepp of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football has reported that UTRGV is in the beginning stages of their coaching search.
UTRGV is budgeting around $700,000 for football salaries this fiscal year which will increase to just over $1.5 million in the following year as the staff expands to full operational capacity. This coaching salary budget should be highly competitive at the FCS level — fellow WAC member SFA spends roughly $485,000 on their head coach and coordinator salaries, so UTRGV’s budget puts them at around a 45% increase over the top program in their conference. SFA’s overall football coaching salary expense in 2021 was $1,144,811, so UTRGV’s full staff salary of around $1.5 million represents just under a 40% increase.
Once the full staff is in place, the program will sign their first recruiting class in 2024. The program will see their first practice reps that fall as UTRGV completes a practice season with 60 student-athletes on scholarship. The Vaqueros will then finally kick off their inaugural season in the fall of 2026 as a full member of the Western Athletic Conference. UTRGV will immediately be eligible for inclusion in the FCS playoffs.
While UTRGV is committed to playing at least one game at Memorial Stadium in Brownsville, Texas each year, it sounds like the administration is zeroing in on playing the majority of their home games at HEB Park in Edinburg. The stadium is less than four miles from the UTRGV Edinburg campus and seats just under 10,000. If approved, the Vaqueros would share the stadium with the FC Toros of the United Soccer League.
HEB Park would provide an extremely unique setting for college football, as the stadium features 39 field-level luxury suites and a shaded roof over chair-back seating on both sides of the stadium. The park is surrounded by 20 acres of festival grounds that will be absolutely perfect for tailgating, while a 2,500 capacity amphitheater provides opportunities for pre and post-game concerts. UTRGV has budgeted for $500,000 in annual rental fees for home competitions, but the university is only in early conversations with HEB Park in regards to a partnership.
Despite there being no communicated plans for an on-campus stadium, the UTRGV administration is committing to building Division I quality facilities for their student-athletes. The Vaqueros are planning to build a 48,000 square foot performance center that will include a weight room, two practice fields (one covered), several team meeting rooms, office space, and a sports medicine facility. This facility will be located just north of UTRGV’s baseball stadium, and will cost an estimated $30 million. Construction costs will be financed by the university to enable an accelerated construction timeline. Based off renderings in a previously-commissioned study, this facility looks to be roughly on par with most Group of Five FBS programs.
In order to maintain Title IX compliance, the university will also add scholarship programs for women’s swimming and diving. This program will train and compete at a modern facility in Pharr, Texas, roughly seven miles from the Edinburg campus.
The university will be the first in the nation (to my knowledge) to support two separate spirit squads and marching bands — one for the Edinburg campus, and one for the Brownsville campus. UTRGV has already hired a band director to oversee this effort, with a second co-director hire to follow next year.
The university has raised $2 million in private fundraising that is earmarked to supporting the athletic department’s development of an FCS football program. This number should be expected to increase, as the athletics department is seeing record growth in external fundraising. Donations of over $50,000 have been received from 17 local donors as a part of UTRGV’s “Rally the Valley” initiative, showing a healthy level of financial support within the Rio Grande Valley.
While there are still many years left until we see the Vaqueros take the field in Edinburg (or Brownsville), it’s clear that UTRGV’s administration is all-in on providing the program with the financial support necessary to compete at a high level in the FCS.
The next step in launching the university’s plan for starting the football program is receiving the rubber stamp of approval from the UT System Board of Regents to implement the student fee increase which the UTRGV student body voted on in 2021. This approval is expected to be issued by November 18th.