Hofstra president: Forced to shut down football program

Ryan Haber of Stony Brook mows down Hofstra's

Ryan Haber of Stony Brook mows down Hofstra's Aaron Weaver on Sept. 5, 2009. Hofstra is expected to terminate its football program on Dec. 3, 2009. (Credit: Newsday / David L. Pokress)

Ending a 73-season football tradition at Hofstra University was painful but the school is not turning its back on athletics, its president said Thursday.

"We are not the poster child for saying that a high-level athletic program doesn't belong on a campus," president Stuart Rabinowitz said.

Low attendance at games, especially among the university's 12,500 students, lack of national recognition in the Division I-AA and the $4.5 million annual cost outweighed the benefits of having a team, he added.

"We are absolutely certain this was the right decision for Hofstra University," he said, adding the school is not suffering financially. "This is not a reflection of an economic crisis at Hofstra. We are doing very well."

Funds saved from eliminating football will mean more money for need-based scholarships and strengthening of academics, particularly the hard sciences, Rabinowitz said.

"We have a new medical school coming on line, we need to take advantage of the opportunities it offers," he said.

Provost of the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University Paul H. Forestell said making such a choice is never easy. Post does not plan any athletic cuts.

"This whole concept of the scholar-athlete is of sufficient importance to us," Forestell said.

Hofstra history professor Michael D'Innocenzo, who had been the university's faculty athletic representative to the NCAA, called the move "a very sound decision, in terms of all kinds of a cost-benefit analysis."

Doug Jacobs, president of Integrated Sports Media, a sports marketing firm based in Hoboken, N.J., said it's very difficult for area colleges to break out.

"We have nine major pro teams in this market and other entertainment choices," Jacobs said, adding the region's media often focus primarily on New York's professional teams.

"No one is calling WFAN about Hofstra football," he said. "If you are not a major program with a big TV contract in a conference, getting to the bowl games, drawing the fans, it is an expensive sport."

But Todd Bell, director of media and membership relations for the American Football Coaches Association, based in Waco, Texas, said eliminating a football program "leaves a pretty big hole in a university's extracurricular activities.

"Football brings people to campus half a dozen times a year," Bell said. "It's your homecoming weekend, parents' weekend and it is the front porch of an athletic department."

Rabinowitz said he had hoped to move Hofstra football to a higher division of play and "try and play schools like Florida and Notre Dame" with national TV exposure and possible financial benefits. "It couldn't be done," he said, adding it would cost millions to build a new stadium to meet NCAA requirements and hire a larger coaching staff.

Hofstra is not alone in eliminating football. Northeastern University recently cut its football program and Fairfield University in Connecticut did so in 2003.

"A lot of schools make a decision to keep a program going and can't financially keep it going to have it be successful," said Fairfield's Athletics Director Gene Doris. "That in my mind is a bad decision. You are better off making the decision Hofstra made rather than have a program or programs that wind up becoming uncompetitive."

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