School ditches football for farming

At Paul Quinn College in Dallas, it’s hard to tell the school once had a football program. Yes, the goalposts still stand where the field once was — but the hashmarks and logos have been replaced by sweet potatoes, kale, cilantro, even a chicken coup.

According to Yahoo!, Michael Sorrell embraced a hard reality when he took over as Paul Quinn College’s president in 2007: His school simply could not afford to field a football team.

Paul Quinn is a private, historically black college in the middle of Dallas. It enrolls just 250 students. The football team was popular with co-eds, but the program was hardly a moneymaker. Facing gobs of institutional debt, Sorrell offered a deal to the students and other football supporters: If they could raise $2 million to save football, he would match it.

"To date," Sorrell told Yahoo!, "no one has raised a dollar."

The program folded soon after — but it still had a 6,300-square-yard patch of land, which equates to about 1.3 acres, to its name. Paul Quinn’s campus doesn’t have any nearby grocery stores or restaurants — and with 80 percent of its students eligible for Pell Grants, this isn’t a student body with much disposable income in the first place.

So, the administration decided to farm the football field. With assistance from PepsiCo, Paul Quinn launched the WE Over Me Farm in 2010. Students make $10 per hour for their work on the college’s farm.

It took a couple years to turn a profit, but soon the football field was producing enough produce that Paul Quinn struck a deal with the Dallas Cowboys. George Wasai, the director of food and beverage at Legends Hospitality at Cowboys Stadium, is an alumnus of Paul Quinn and even played football for the school. With his assistance, the Paul Quinn farm will sell 17,500 pounds of food to be used for concessions at Cowboys games this year alone.

The $600,000 per year Paul Quinn once dedicated to football is now applied to academic scholarships, and a school that once had a month’s worth of cash on hand now has run a budget surplus of six or seven figures in four of the last five years.

"We turned our football field into an organic farm," Sorrell said. "It’s made us a national leader on this issue. There are no regrets. We didn’t have the resources necessary to change and really build a football program in the way we wanted to do it. This is what was right for us."