The Pioneer Football League’s Presidents Council on June 13 voted unanimously to accept Mercer University for membership, marking another important milestone in the University’s resumption of competition in intercollegiate football in the fall of 2013. Mercer, which played the University of Georgia in the state’s first intercollegiate football game in 1892, last fielded a team in 1941.
Stetson University, also resuming competition in intercollegiate football in 2013, will join Mercer as the newest members of the PFL, expanding the league to 12 institutions.
“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 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.”
The Pioneer Football League is a football-only conference made up of colleges and universities that participate in NCAA Division I non-scholarship football. Its current members include Butler University (Indiana), Campbell University (North Carolina), Davidson College (North Carolina), the University of Dayton (Ohio), Drake University (Iowa), Jacksonville University (Florida), Marist College (New York), Morehead State University (Kentucky), the University of San Diego (California), and Valparaiso University (Indiana). The Pioneer League is one of three conferences – the others being the Ivy League and the Patriot League – composed of institutions fielding non-scholarship football teams. The PFL is the only one of the three that is a football-only conference.
Mercer currently shares conference affiliation with both Stetson and Jacksonville in the majority of its other sports in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Campbell departed the A-Sun, which does not sponsor football as a conference sport, at the conclusion of the 2010-11 season to join the Big South Conference.
The PFL will maintain its current structure of an eight-game slate of league contests when Mercer and Stetson join the fold. Teams will have a total of four non-conference games on their schedules.
“We want Mercer football to belong to Macon and the entire Middle Georgia region, and the Pioneer Football League is a big step with that identification process,” said Mercer Director of Athletics Jim Cole. “It is our intent to have the exciting atmosphere and rivalries of college football, and to provide an affordable, family-oriented experience for our fans.”
Mercer began exploring the reinstatement of football during the 2007-08 academic year and announced its intent to resume competition in football on Nov. 19, 2010, following a unanimous vote by the University’s Board of Trustees. On Jan. 20, 2011, Mercer took the next major step on the road to the return of football when former Furman University coach and Georgia native Bobby Lamb was introduced as the Bears’ 19th head coach.
“Membership in the Pioneer Football League is right in line with the mission of our football program and the vision of Mercer University as a whole,” Lamb said. “We want to field a quality football team that is fan-friendly and adds to university life, while keeping academic success at the forefront of anything we do. Academic achievement has always been a hallmark of my teams during my coaching career, and I am excited to continue that philosophy with Mercer in the Pioneer Football League”
Mercer program signed its first recruiting class in February and has been practicing this fall.