Citing mounting costs and minimal rewards, Hofstra University Thursday announced it had terminated its scholarship-driven football program.
The decision was met with tears and some anger by the players, who were given the news about an hour before an 11 a.m. news conference.
"The cost of the football program, now and in the future, far exceeds the return possible from an FCS [Division I-AA] program, which does not generate significant national interest," Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz said. "Given that, along with the low level of interest, financial support and attendance among our students, our alumni and the community, the choice was painful, but clear."
The university's board of trustees voted unanimously Wednesday evening to abolish football, Rabinowitz said. "No institution has unlimited resources," he said.
Rabinowitz said the decision came after a two-year study of the 73-year-old football program, which had been in a tailspin for much of this decade. Its last NCAA playoff appearance was in 2001 under coach Joe Gardi. Dave Cohen took over in 2006 and produced one winning season, 7-4 in 2007. In Cohen's four seasons, the Pride was 18-27, including a 5-6 finish this year.
Cohen said he was "numb" over the announcement and that his first concern is his players.
"We are all pretty shocked," sophomore quarterback Joe Sidaras of Mastic Beach said. "Everybody is in shock and doesn't know what to do."
Under NCAA rules, the underclassmen players can transfer to another college without sitting out. Of the 84 players, 63 are on scholarship. All who stay will keep their remaining years on scholarship, athletic director Jack Hayes said.
Rabinowitz specifically cited "very disappointing" student attendance at games, with an average of about 500 students (in crowds averaging about 3,500) at the 13,000-seat James M. Shuart Stadium. The stadium is named for Hofstra's former president, who also played the sport at the school.
"What can you say, it was a big piece of history, it was a wonderful history," Shuart, 78, said Thursday. "It was good for the university and Long Island. Nobody talked to me about it, they just did it; what can I say?"
Rabinowitz said the school made efforts to maintain the football program, including looking into moving Hofstra up into the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A). However, after research, the president said that move wasn't feasible.
"In a sense, this subdivision of football is like football purgatory," Rabinowitz said. "You need to spend a lot of money to be competitive, but there are none of the benefits that a robust athletic program produces."
"This decision is not a budget reduction, but rather a strategically driven reallocation of resources," Rabinowitz wrote in an open letter to the Hofstra community on the school's Web site. Rabinowitz has launched a major initiative to begin a medical school at the university.
Hofstra started football in 1937 and had its most success as a Division I-AA team after adding scholarships in the 1990s.