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Siena Heights counting on gains from football

ADRIAN - Officials at Siena Heights University want to increase excitement about and enrollment in their institution.

They think it is possible through football.

The Catholic university announced a decision Monday to make football its 16th intercollegiate athletic program. As a member of the governing body NAIA - similar in structure to the NCAA - the Saints will begin playing in 2011 with a junior varsity schedule. Jim Lyall, a longtime successful coach at Adrian College, has been appointed to lead the program. "Pretty exciting stuff," Lyall said.

Construction for a $3 million to $3.5 million multipurpose outdoor stadium for football games and other sporting events is to begin this summer.

The decision to add the program came after a five-month study. Although bringing football aboard will cost the school approximately $600,000 next year, advantages through increased student enrollment and retention are expected to be considerably higher than that.

The study showed that a football program can spike enrollment and positive vibes campuswide. Lyall said two schools reported that they became a "complete university" after adding football.

Sister Peg Albert, Siena Heights president, was on board with the decision.

Fred Smith, the school's athletic director, said he plans for the program to join the Mid-States Football Association for the 2012 season, when the Saints will achieve varsity status. Siena Heights will be the only Michigan school in the league, which is composed of Midwest institutions including Malone and Walsh universities in northeast Ohio.

Lyall's first task is to put together a coaching staff. Jeff Hancock, an assistant under Lyall at Adrian, is in the fold and assisted Lyall in the feasibility study.

Lyall's dismissal at Adrian in November after 36 years - including the last 20 as head coach - was met with angst by alumni of the program. Their display of support for Lyall prompted Adrian athletic director Jeffrey Docking to admit publicly that he treated the dismissal inappropriately. In his final eight seasons, Lyall guided the Bulldogs to a 55-25 record and was 98-91-1 for his career. He is the program's winningest coach.

Unlike at Adrian, which is a member of NCAA Division III, Lyall will be permitted to award athletic scholarships at his new job. He'll use 24 full-tuition rides to spread across the roster and plans to augment that number by offering academic grants to those who qualify. His inaugural team will be made up primarily of freshmen, hence the junior varsity status in the first year.

"You want to recruit intelligent and ambitious young men," said Lyall, who played at the University of Michigan from 1970 to 1973. "I want to recruit as many captains as I possibly can. I don't want to baby-sit. I want men who have leadership ability, want a degree, and also want to win."

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.

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