“I’m actually very open to the idea,” Cabrera said, adding that he is working on drafting a new vision for George Mason, which will be implemented during the next decade.
Will football be a part of that vision?
“It’s a pretty expensive proposition,” said Cabrera, who left his presidency at Thunderbird School of Global Management, a top-ranked international business school in Arizona, to become GMU’s sixth president.
“In an environment where we have so many pressures and demands to increase quality [and] to remain affordable for our students, we have to be very careful about it,” Cabrera said. “If I told you that establishing a football program would mean an increase in student fees of $1,000 a year— I’m not saying that’s the figure — but suppose I said that, would you want football or not?”
Football at Mason is a $65-million-plus question, according to a 2010 internal study conducted by the senior vice president’s office and the school’s athletic department. The study looked at the cost of fielding a Division I team. A similar study by an outside consultant was conducted in 1998. If the costs were divided among the more than 33,300 students expected to attend Mason this fall as a one-time expense, each student would pay about $1,950 for football.
The figure was too high for Cabrera’s predecessor, Alan G. Merten, who was an avid supporter of Mason athletics during his 16 years at the Fairfax school.
“When I came to Mason, my goal was to have a really good basketball program,” Merten said in May. “I thought we could pair a really good athletics program with our academic programs. If you do athletics the right way, it brings a lot of positive attention.”
Merten said football is a high-risk, high-reward decision with cost implications that could impact academic programs.
Beyond the cost, the million-dollar question might be overshadowing questions Cabrera hopes students, faculty and the community would ask.
“I would love it if people said, ‘How are we going to improve the quality of our programs or increase our research portfolio,’ or if people are as excited about the amazing research that some of our colleagues are doing in the biomedical sciences or in economics as they are about athletics,” Cabrera said.
Since taking office in July, Cabrera has been on a listening tour, visiting Capitol Hill, the governor’s office and local governing bodies. He also has staged town hall-style meetings with each of the schools within Mason and regularly fields students’ and staff’s questions via Twitter. The goal, he said, is to gain feedback on the expectations and needs the community has for Mason, and use that to create a direction and vision for the university.