Athletics

Rising, Growing, Winning

By Ted Allen, September 20, 2022

Flames Nation is stronger than ever as athletics programs reach new heights

Liberty University Athletics ranks among the fastest growing athletics departments in the nation with the majority of its 20 NCAA Division I programs experiencing unprecedented success on a national level over the last few years. 

Last year, Liberty celebrated its Golden Anniversary in style on the fields and courts. The university’s NCAA teams captured eight conference championships, Flames Football won its third straight bowl victory, and Liberty led all Division I programs in the Commonwealth of Virginia in winning percentage, all while student-athletes earned a 3.27 cumulative GPA.

Wide receiver Noah Frith makes a catch against Eastern Michigan at the LendingTree Bowl on Dec. 18, 2021. Liberty beat Eastern Michigan, 56-20.

“I am grateful to our student-athletes, staff, coaches, and senior administration for the overwhelming support that we received,” said Director of Athletics Ian McCaw. “We thank Flames Nation for its incredible support and generosity that has manifested itself in record donor and donation numbers.”

Last fall was highlighted by phenomenal seasons from the football and field hockey teams. After moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level in 2018, Flames Football became only the second program in NCAA history to win bowl games in its first three seasons of eligibility when it beat Eastern Michigan, 56-20, in the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile, Ala. On the field hockey pitch, the Lady Flames won a nation-high 20 games in 2021, including their first BIG EAST Championship tournament, defeating nine-time-defending champion Connecticut in the final on its home field, 1-0. The 11th-year program went on to become Liberty’s first team in any sport to advance to an NCAA Division I championship game.

As a whole, Liberty Athletics placed 74th in the Learfield Cup standings, an annual ranking of all NCAA Division I programs based on their respective teams’ postseason performances. 

“We were the 13th-best non-Power Five program out of well over 60 schools, so the fact that three years into FBS, we’re in the top 15 in that category is truly amazing,” said Flames Club Executive Director and Associate Athletic Director Mike Hagen.

Liberty’s field hockey team became the first team from Liberty to compete in an NCAA Division I championship game, facing Connecticut last November.

The Flames Club, the department’s primary booster organization, has been a driving force behind Liberty Athletics’ rapid rise.  Membership has grown more than sevenfold over the past decade — from fewer than 600 members in 2012 to more than 4,350 today. Liberty Athletics raised a record $4.1 million during the 2021-22 school year, including $526,450 on Giving Day in November. That total is up from just over $1 million in 2015-16 and more than twice the previous high mark of $1.85 million in 2020-21.

“It is hard to find one of our programs that is not reaching new heights, and we are blessed that our fans are responding accordingly with their support in donations, Flames Club memberships, and season ticket purchases,” Hagen said. “Ian McCaw coming on board (in 2016) really helped to cast the vision for that growth, and now to be on pace where we are raising more funds to support our student-athletes than other well-established programs really shows how far Flames Nation has come in a short period of time.”

Putting an excellent product on the field and creating an exceptional game day atmosphere in state-of-the-art facilities, such as football’s Williams Stadium and the basketball teams’ Liberty Arena, has sparked an increase in season-ticket sales.

“Last year, we set a record with around 5,200 football season tickets sold, and we’re over 8,200 this year,” Hagen said at the end of August. “We’ll have 700 people at the pregame tailgate Fan Fest in the Indoor Practice Facility, and we’ll feed about another 1,000 people on the third floor of Carter Tower (Club Pavilion) and the suites, which have continued to be sold out since Carter Tower was built. This year, as our fan base has grown, we’ve added five more parking lots. Every parking space from Macado’s (restaurant) to Liberty Arena on game day is taken over by a donor, which is a great visual of what it takes to support this program.”

He said the renovation and landscaping of Williams Stadium’s south berm with overflow ground seating and 23 cabanas will make the Flames Football fan experience even better this season.

“We have a high expectation that we provide an unbelievable family atmosphere for all of our fans,” Hagen said. “Last year, we sold out of all premium seating in Williams Stadium for the first time ever. We’re on pace to do that again this year, and we’re very close to doing so for men’s basketball as well.”

He said Liberty’s mission and the original vision of founder Dr. Jerry Falwell have come to fruition and are being reflected through every athletic facility and sporting event on campus, as well as each player donning a Liberty red, white, and blue uniform and boldly representing Christ.

The new south berm of Williams Stadium has overflow seating and 23 cabanas.

“It really does speak to Liberty’s investment and acknowledgement that athletics can showcase the university. And at Liberty, that means showcasing Christ and bringing recognition to Him,” Hagen said. “We really do see ourselves as an avenue to, through athletics, honor and glorify God, and a lot of our donors understand that this is a chance to spread the Word (of God) and bring national recognition to Liberty by helping our teams succeed on the field.”

As they help Liberty Athletics’ more than 550 student-athletes to thrive spiritually, academically, and athletically, Flames Club members receive preferred seating for season tickets, away games, and postseason tickets as well as priority parking and access to exclusive Flames Club events throughout the year.

“The more they contribute, the more they earn in benefits,” Hagen said. “Our internal goal is to grow (the Flames Club) to 10,000 members in the next few years. They are truly the team behind the team. We need everybody to come together — to get off the bench and get into the game.”

“To compete at the level that Dr. Falwell envisioned — and we all know it’s to be the Notre Dame and BYU for protestant evangelicals — we have a long way to grow, still, and that requires everyone to play their part,” Hagen added. 

Already for the 2022-23 academic year, 2,644 Flames Club Annual Fund members have donated and pledged $1,825,813, a 31-percent increase compared with the start of last year’s annual fund campaign.

Hagen said legacy gifts are another excellent way for alumni and their families, faculty and staff, and faithful fans to help strengthen the foundation of Flames Nation.

“There are 19 arches out in front of Williams Stadium, and we’ve had local families of current students who love Liberty and want to leave a legacy when they graduate contribute $50,000 to carve their names in those arches,” Hagen said, noting that all the arches now feature sponsors’ names.

Other naming rights range from $1,000 for individual lockers and $5,000 for athletic offices to $2 million for the indoor football practice facility. 

“There are always plenty of ways and opportunities for people to give,” Hagen said. “Our role with the Flames Club is to match a donor’s desires, passions, and expectations with their giving. If their passion is football, we can get them great seats at Williams Stadium, and if their desire is to leave a legacy for their family or a loved one and put their name on Athletics (facilities), we can make that happen as well.”   

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