Pioneer Football League Commissioner Patty Viverito announced that Mercer University and Stetson University have accepted the league's invitations for membership. Both institutions will begin play with the 2013 season, bringing the league’s membership to 12 teams at that time.
Mercer, located in Macon, Ga., announced the return of its football program in 2010. The Bears have not competed in football since 1941 but its history includes playing the first football game in Georgia against the University of Georgia in 1892. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia with NCAA Division I membership.
“A key component in the decision of our Board of Trustees to resume competition in intercollegiate football was the opportunity to affiliate with the Pioneer Football League,” said Mercer University President William D. Underwood. “Mercer has much in common with the current league members, most notably a commitment to providing a superior academic experience for student-athletes. We are pleased to be joining the Pioneer Football League, along with our sister institution Stetson University.”
Stetson, located in DeLand, Fla., will return to the football gridiron for the first time in 57 years after a 2011 decision to reinstate the program. The Hatters last competed in football during the 1956 season, however the program’s roots can be traced back to the first organized football game played in Florida.
“Stetson University is proud to join the prestigious Pioneer Football League as we re-introduce Hatter Football in 2013,” said Stetson University President Wendy B. Libby. “The other colleges and universities in the Pioneer League are similar to Stetson in academic excellence, values and enrollment and we believe we will be a good fit for the league, both on and off the field.”
With the addition of Mercer and Stetson, the Pioneer Football League expands is footprint in the Southeast where they will join current members Campbell, Davidson, Jacksonville and Morehead State. They also continue the PFL’s tradition of attracting institutions beginning a football program who are committed to the principles of the league’s model, which began with Jacksonville in 1998 and continued with Campbell’s addition in 2008.
“The Pioneer Football League has been committed to non-scholarship Division I football since the league’s inception and has actively sought like-minded institutions to join us,” said Viverito. “With Mercer and Stetson, we add two great institutions that share our football vision.”
The league, which began with four members upon its inception in 1991, will expand to 12 members in 2013. With the additional growth, the league foresees increased scheduling opportunities for its members which should further limit the impact of travel-related costs. To that end, league members recently agreed to implement an eight-game conference schedule beginning with the 2013 campaign, but have not determined the schedule’s structure at this time.
The Pioneer Football League is the nation’s only non-scholarship, football-only NCAA Football Championship Subdivision conference. The PFL is a truly national conference with members on each coast and throughout the nation’s heartland. The league still retains four of its charter members – Butler University, the University of Dayton, Drake University and Valparaiso University, plus the University of San Diego (joining in 1992) – which were joined in 2001 by Davidson College, Jacksonville University and Morehead State University. Campbell University joined the PFL in 2008, its first season of intercollegiate football. Marist College, which joined prior to the 2009 season, further extended the league’s footprint into the northeast.
In January 1991 the NCAA passed legislation to require Division I institutions to sponsor all intercollegiate sports at the Division I level. The five charter members (Evansville the fifth before dropping football in 1997), each dedicated to the enhancement and sound management of intercollegiate football as an integral part of the student-athletes’ collegiate experience, joined together to form the Pioneer Football League. From the league’s inception it has been a proponent of the creation of a non-scholarship football classification within Division I and adopted the moniker of Pioneer based on the intent to become the first league in that new division. The PFL’s original membership was comprised of NCAA Division I universities that previously sponsored intercollegiate football at other levels.