HANCOCK - Finlandia University has opened a search for the coach of its first football program and announced a target date of fall 2015 to begin competition.
"We're excited," director of athletics Chris Salani said in a press release. "This has been our goal since the first phase of development began with McAfee Field. And now, in Phase II, we are seeing all of our efforts and planning come to fruition."
Finlandia is currently accepting applications for the head coaching position, with a stated preference to those received by March 24 and an intention of making a hire by mid-April.
The football program will ramp up through the 2014-15 school year, with an allowable spring practice period in 2015. The target roster size would be 70 by the time the program plays its first varsity games that fall.
The program would play home games at McAfee Field, which was opened in 2011 after extensive renovations to the former Condon Field facility. The artificial surface was built with Finlandia insignia on it and has hosted the school's men's and women's soccer teams in addition to the Hancock Central High School varsity and junior varsity football programs.
The move is part of a greater effort to expand the university's athletic offerings through seven new programs as part of an effort to secure Finlandia the general conference affiliation it has lacked since becoming a member of the NCAA's Division III in 2006.
Salani spoke directly about an application to join the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, which has eight full members (10 for football). Seven of the eight full members are located in Minnesota (the eighth is Northland College in Ashland, Wis.) with the league's current football footprint reaching into Illinois, Iowa and Missouri.
"Our long term planning and now execution of, and in concert with the UMAC's growth model, presents the perfect opportunity for us to become a viable member of the regional conference," Salani said.
Other programs planned in this expansion process include tennis (2014-15), nordic skiing (2015-16), wrestling (2016-17), women's lacrosse (2017-18), men's lacrosse (2018-19) and men's volleyball (2019-20).
The process is also expected to include improvements to both Paavo Nurmi Center and McAfee Field. Those include a planned fieldhouse with locker rooms, coaches' offices, strength and conditioning facilities, seating for 1,000 spectators, and a turfhouse practice facility.
"I am convinced that growing our NCAA Division III programs reaps benefits for all our students, our entire campus community. It is good for all of Finlandia. It is good for the Copper Country. It is good for the Upper Peninsula. So let's do some good," Finlandia President Phillip Johnson said.