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Baseball: UNT’s financial issues put baseball on hold

Profile image for By Brett Vito / Staff Writer
By Brett Vito / Staff Writer

North Texas officials are continuing to work toward reviving the school’s baseball program while the university sorts through financial issues that could delay its debut until 2016.

UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal, C. Dan Smith, the chairman of UNT’s capital campaign for athletics, and Don Lovelace, a co-chair of the university’s baseball steering committee, said late this week that the school remains committed to fielding a team.

“Baseball is still part of our plan,” Villarreal said. “Nothing has changed. We still have people who are committed to help financially with the stadium. We have to wait and see what our options are going to be as the university moves forward.”

UNT officials believe they are close to adding baseball to the school’s lineup of sports largely to the work of Don and Dillon Lovelace. The pair have helped lead UNT’s fundraising efforts for a baseball program and have been involved with the early conceptual work on a stadium that would sit on what is currently an empty field across from Apogee Stadium.

Members of the UNT athletic department and the baseball steering committee have visited several stadiums in the state and across the country and have plans in place for a venue that would seat at least 2,600. The venue would also include a 6,000-square-foot indoor batting cage area, coaches offices, meeting rooms and four luxury suites.

Don Lovelace said the committee has more than $1 million but less than $4 million committed of the $8 million school officials believe the venue will cost.

“We have a pretty good idea of what we want,” Lovelace said. “Rick has done a lot of homework in terms of visiting stadiums. We talked to the people who played major roles in TCU and Dallas Baptist building their stadiums.”

UNT’s plans for a new stadium include design elements that would help it tie in visually with Apogee and Lovelace Stadium, UNT’s softball venue that would sit next to the school’s new baseball park. The Lovelace family purchased the naming rights for UNT’s softball stadium that opened in 2007.

UNT included $600,000 in its 2014 budget to fund the start-up costs for a baseball program, including hiring a coaching staff. UNT officials said last fall while discussing the budget that they hoped to announce the revival of its baseball program that was disbanded in 1988 this spring.

Smith said that he was hoping UNT would have a coach hired at this point, but that the school’s timeline for adding a baseball program has been affected by the university’s ongoing financial issues.

UNT released documents on Thursday that show the school has potentially overstated its financial position by $23 million due to misreporting.

“It looks like it will move into 2016,” Smith said. “We are still going to move forward on construction of the field.”

UNT would have to hire a coach a year to 18 months before it fields a team to allow him to hire a staff and recruit. Smith said that UNT would have to break ground on a new stadium in early 2015 if it is to be ready for use in 2016.

UNT is currently looking at potential coaches in addition to moving forward with other aspects of starting the program.

“We are doing what we can to keep the process going,” Villarreal said. “We continue to field interest for the coaching job, look at resumes and keep a list of people we would consider. We are also working on costing and equipment lists. We are moving forward so that when we get to that point where we are ready we can turn it loose.”

Villarreal, Smith and Lovelace all emphasized that new UNT President Neal Smatresk has supported the school’s effort to revive its baseball program and that he will have the final say in the timeline for its return.

UNT officials have long believed that the school is in a unique position to quickly field a highly successful program.

Baseball is an equivalency sport that divides a total of 11.7 scholarships between all members of its team.

The cost of playing for the Mean Green would likely be substantially lower for players who receive partial scholarships when compared to programs like TCU, Dallas Baptist and other private schools that UNT officials see as potential rivals.

“We can attract a lot of good players if we get the right coach with the right facility,” Lovelace said. “We could have a winning program in a few short years.”

UNT has tried to move toward that goal in the past. The school partnered with the Denton Outlaws of the Texas Collegiate League and hoped to have a stadium built in time for the summer of 2005 that school and the summer collegiate team could share before that deal fell through.

UNT has completed several athletic facilities since, including Apogee, Lovelace Stadium and the Erie Kuehne Basketball Practice Facility.

UNT officials believe that once the school’s baseball committee is given university approval, it will be able to quickly break ground on a baseball venue and get a program in place.

“As soon as we find out where the university is, it will go pretty quickly,” Lovelace said. “We think it can be a successful program and are excited about it.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.