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Sundays with Sacco: Football continues to grow

There is really no question that America's sports passion is football. We love it, can't get enough of it, and from about 1962 to the present, every Harris or Gallup poll taken has listed football as the nation's favorite sport.

There is no question that the NFL is at the top of that food chain, and of course the Denver Broncos rank very high within that hierarchy.

But while many people may feel that growth and expansion is at an end, that the game cannot get bigger, statistics show that on the college and university level just the opposite is true.

I am proud to represent the Broncos on the Colorado Chapter board of the National Football Foundation, and every year the NFF does a survey on the state of the game on the collegiate level. And guess what, football is growing!

This year a record 774 colleges and universities will be playing football at the NCAA, NAIA or independent levels, giving thousands more students and fans their "own" team for which to root.

I am all for this. The Broncos have lots of fans, as Broncos Country is far from just the season ticket holders filling the stands, but includes millions more watching on television every Sunday. But that is Sunday.

Meanwhile, colleges play on Saturday, one of the greatest traditions in America's sports history.

And this year five more schools will start football programs, and six more are set to begin play in 2017 or beyond.

The new football programs this year are Cincinnati Christian University, Davenport University of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Morthland College of West Frankfort, Illinois, the University of West Florida in Pensacola, and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, located in Odessa.

Cincinnati Christian and Davenport University are on schedule with plans to construct new multi-sport stadiums.

In the years from 2011-15, 36 schools have started football programs, and of the 55 added from 2008-15, two have won national championships, 20 have claimed conference titles and 27 have appeared in postseason play.

With John Elway, Russell Okung and Mac Freeman on hand to host a panel, the Broncos hosted the Global Sports Innovation competition before the finals in Rio. (photos by Ben Swanson)

Schools set to start football programs as soon as 2017 include Texas Wesleyan in Fort Worth, which last played football before World War II but will restart its program after a 75-year absence.

Also starting play in 2017 is the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which is only a year old but has a 28,000-student enrollment (the school was formed from two smaller institutions).

And let's not forget Clarke University of Iowa, Indiana Wesleyan and the University of New England, all of which will begin play next year.

There are even preliminary discussions, to revive the program at Wichita State--if that should happen, it would return a unique and outstanding nickname to college football, the "shockers."

So it looks like there is going to be even more traveling on the horizon for scouts from the Broncos and the other 31 NFL teams, as you never know where you might find talent and you can only find it by giving it a chance under a watchful eye.

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