HANCOCK - Finlandia University is enthusiastically charging into a brave new world as far as athletics goes.
The university recently announced plans for implementing several new programs, including a football team for the 2015 season.
And sports like tennis, nordic skiing, wrestling, women's and men's lacrosse and men's volleyball are slated to follow in the next five years.
Additions to McAfee Field are a key to the existing - and future programs - at Finlandia.
"We're moving forward toward completing the second phase at McAfee Field," Finlandia Athletic Director Chris Salani commented. "Those changes are going to benefit not just football, but our entire athletic program."
The changes, which Salani feels can be finished by the Lions' Sept. 5, 2015 opener at home versus Alma College, include the 25,000-square foot "Lions Den" Fieldhouse.
Its facilities can house more than 250 student athletes, coaches and training staff in its locker rooms, offices, training rooms and sports medicine suite.
McAfee Field's capacity will be around 1,000, according to projections. There will also be a state-of-the-art press box at the facility.
"The Lions Den will accommodate the steady growth of current sports programs," Salani said. "It will be a prime asset Finlandia can be proud of, helping us successfully recruit, enroll and retain more students and student/athletes."
A regulation softball field and tennis courts at the McAfee Complex are also planned. Spokesmen said the lighted field could be used for girls and women's softball teams in the area.
Funding for the project is being sought through a sponsorship program for possible donors.
Starting the football program was the key to going forward, according to Salani.
"Football was the so-called gorilla in the room," he said. "Getting football started here is also important in our gaining a conference affiliation, which will help all of our programs."
Salani said he'll be attending meetings in the very near future to accomplish that goal.
"We still have a lot of work to do, but we'll certainly be working on it," he said.
Becoming a member of a NCAA Division III athletic conference would boost Finlandia's student-athletes, both academically and athletically.
The Upper Midwest Athletic Conference appears to be the most feasible option for the Lions. The conference has eight full members (10 for football) and would give the Lions an opportunity for locking schedules in virtually every sport.
The FU hockey teams are already in a conference, the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association.
Without conference affiliation, Finlandia teams -notably the basketball squads - have been forced to play larger Division II schools to fill out their schedules.
"The UMAC would be a good fit for us," Salani noted. "We already play against a lot of of the teams in the league. And I believe we would have a main rival in Northland College.
But we don't have any guarantees ... we have an anticipation ... of having that affiliation."
Seven of the eight full UMAC members are located in Minnesota, Northland being the only one located in Wisconsin.
Bethany Lutheran, Minnesota-Morris, Crown College, College of St. Scholastica, Martin Luther College, North Central College and the University of Northwestern-St. Paul.
The expansion of athletic department has the full support of President Philip Johnson, who like Salani and Driscoll, has talked about "developing the vision."
That could well be the key to the athletic success Finlandia has in the future.