Edinburg Vela head football coach John Campbell believes there is no better time than now to bring NCAA Division I football to the Valley.

“UTSA, prior to football, was probably a campus, a school very similar to UTRGV,” the fifth-year SaberCats coach said. “The community down here loves football, loves their athletics and the opportunity for exposure for local kids is tremendous.”

UTSA quarterback Frank Harris looks to throw in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

UTRGV students will vote from Nov. 8-10 on a referendum that, if passed, would bring football, a marching band and women’s swimming and diving programs to the Valley, while also expanding the school’s spirit program.

Upon completion of the voting at 11:59 p.m. Nov. 10, results will be available within five business days, but could be ready as soon as Nov. 11.

Campbell said the perfect template was created 200-plus miles up the road at UTSA. Still an infant program for the most part — their first game was played Sept. 4, 2011, in the Alamodome, with a stunning 56,743 in attendance — the Roadrunners debuted at No. 24 in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings two weeks ago and are currently No. 23. They were one of nine teams in the FBS that remains unbeaten at 8-0 going into Saturday’s games.

UTSA students voted on a similar referendum that increased the student athletic fees and passed the referendum by a two-to-one margin.

Campbell, a San Antonio native, saw the support UTSA was given throughout the region.

“Having a home base so to speak where those kids could establish a footprint on the college level, I think was very important. Not just for the city of San Antonio, but more importantly, for the athletes and football players in the city,” Campbell said.

McAllen Memorial first-year head coach Moses Patterson said having a local college football program will “shine some more light on Valley football down here.”

“I know it’s a college program and they’re going to go out and recruit. But I think we have some diamonds down here in the Valley. I hope it’ll be an opportunity for them to participate locally instead of trying to find somewhere else to go,” Patterson said. “I’m hoping it’s going to draw even more kids out to participate in the local programs. I think they’re going to be able to see it firsthand now just how big football is.”

The referendum seeks to increase athletics fee by $11.25 to students per credit hour, capped at 12 hours. The proposed increase would go into effect in fall 2022 and only affect new incoming students and those outside of UTRGV’s Guaranteed Tuition and Fees program.

The university has said the new programs will create at least 500 new opportunities for students, as well as new jobs.

“Starting these new programs could be very exciting for the whole university because they would help us grow a lot, including with things like more classrooms and expanded housing. That would be beneficial to all of us,” UTRGV volleyball player and Edinburg north graduate Evana Ramos said. “The programs themselves would be really exciting. Football was a big part of my high school experience. I think football would bring more attention to both UTRGV and the Valley. I also think this would help us come together as one institution in Brownsville and Edinburg.”

The football team would begin playing in the 2025 season and would probably play at both H-E-B Park in Edinburg and Sams Memorial Stadium in Brownsville.

Sharyland High quarterback Orly Lopez said he believes there will be a trickle-down effect to the Valley high schools, football programs and athletes.

“Knowing there is a DI university down here, it’s going to push Valley athletes harder to play. I think the competitiveness in the Valley is going to go up,” he said. “Everybody is going to be trying harder to be the best and get looked at so they can play DI ball. If UTRGV does get that football program I feel like the competitiveness of Valley players is going to go up.”

UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor argues a call during an NCAA college football game against Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

UTSA’s first-game attendance set an NCAA record for the highest attended game for an NCAA DI startup program and university officials have said that hiring Larry Coker, who won a national championship with the Miami Hurricanes in 2001, and the overwhelming community support were among the biggest catalysts to the program’s fast climb.

“The establishment of a football program, along with the creation of swimming and diving and expanded spirit programs would be another way for UTRGV to engage with and highlight the regional community to a larger audience,” Michael Aldape, UTRGV director of dual enrollment, said. “UTRGV is the Valley’s university and a key component of our institutional DNA is a focus on community engagement. Programs like these would allow UTRGV to continue building unity among our communities around a shared experience.

“It’s more than just spirit and sports. It’s about community.”

Campbell echoed those sentiments.

“It’s an opportunity for a community to fall behind their university,” he said. “There are a lot of UTRGV grads that still live in the Rio Grande Valley, so to me, all signs point to it being an absolute no-brainer.”