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Small Missouri college adds football programs to boost enrollment

FULTON, Mo. (AP) — A small college in central Missouri has announced it will add football and women's flag football programs as part of its plan to grow enrollment.

William Woods University will add about 140 students between the two new sports, athletic director Steve Wilson said Monday. Scholarships will be offered to cover a portion of the players’ cost of attendance.

The school's total enrollment was about 2,100 in 2022-23, Wilson said, but fewer than 1,000 attended classes on campus.

“It’s no secret in higher education you need to be creative with enrollment and find ways to have quality students on campus,” Wilson said, “and athletics is that vehicle in many cases. This is going to help the institution.”

The Owls will begin competing in men's and women's wrestling next fall. Men's and women's bowling were added recently, and Wilson said he plans to increase roster sizes in baseball and softball. The school's number of sports will reach 26 in 2024-25.

More than 30 football teams have been added across all college divisions in the past six years, according to the National Football Foundation, and at least eight will start competition this year or next.

Three football programs in Division II and three in Division III were dropped in 2020 because of pandemic-related budgetary constraints, according to tracking by The Associated Press.

William Woods will seek affiliate membership in an NAIA conference for football and flag football and remain in the American Midwest Conference for its other sports.

“I have seen, first-hand, what football — successful football — can and will do for an institution, and I’ve been part of pioneering, exciting efforts in the sport of women’s flag football," Wilson said. “These are terrific additions that will bring a new element of excitement to our campus.”

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