End of Hofstra football program shocks players

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)

Hofstra freshman running back Miguel Maysonet, last year's Hansen Award winner from Riverhead, didn't attend the meeting Thursday morning that would signal the end of football at Hofstra. He had no idea how important the gathering of his teammates would be.

"My coach sent me a text saying we are having an urgent meeting," Maysonet said. "I said, 'I have class, I can't make it.' He said 'This may be a little more important.' I still blew it off thinking it can't be nothing too crazy and I just went to class.''

He found out after class that coach Dave Cohen had informed the team of the program's demise. "I saw players and their eyes were all watery,'' he said. "I said to myself, 'This is the real deal, they just cancelled our football program.' "

Players attending the meeting found out about an hour before a news conference, headed by university president Stuart Rabinowitz.

"The cost of the football program, now and in the future, far exceeds the return possible from an FCS [Football Championship Subdivision] program, which does not generate significant national interest," he said.

Several former Long Island high school stars, led by Maysonet and sophomore defensive back Brock Jackolski, will be affected by the decision. Under NCAA rules, all underclassmen will be eligible to transfer to another institution without sitting out. Hofstra will honor the scholarships for 63 of the players on the team for their remaining years should they choose not to transfer, athletic director Jack Hayes said. Cohen's contract will also be honored.umni and the community, the choice was painful, but clear."

The program, which has a net cost of roughly $4.5 million annually, had been in a tailspin for much of this decade, with its last NCAA appearance coming in 2001 under Joe Gardi. 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 record in 2009. "I'm disappointed and shocked,'' Cohen said. Cohen said he asked the underclassmen for a list of five schools they would be interested in transferring to. "They [players] are emotional, this is a family. They are distraught . . . I'm numb.

Jackolski, the former Floyd star, said, "I thought it was all a joke at first. I'm not sure whether to go to a bigger school. I just don't know.''

Kwabena Assante of Westbury, a sophomore running back, said, "I cried, it's my team, they mean everything to me. I have no plans right now. I'm trying to see what my options are or just finish up here.'' Then he added, "I just want to play football, that's all I want to do.''

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris, who played at Hofstra
from 1994-97, called the move a “sad state of affairs,” in an interview with the AP. “It was weird because it kind of happened out of nowhere,” he said.

Other factors Rabinowitz referenced were "very disappointing" student attendance on game day, with an average of 500 students attending games at the 13,000-seat capacity Shuart Stadium and the fact that the football program does not participate at the Bowl Championship Subdivision level.

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. "The football program, the largest of the athletic programs, is by far the most expensive. In the end, we could not continue to justify the expense of football compared to the benefits it brought to the University."

Hofstra started football in 1937 and had its most success as a Division I-AA team after adding scholarships in the 1990s. The Pride produced such NFL players as Wayne Chrebet, Lance Schulters and, most recently, wide receiver Marques Colston of the undefeated New Orleans Saints.

"Athletics is a vital part of campus life, and we are proud of the contributions all our student-athletes make to our community," Rabinowitz said. "This was not an easy call, but for the future of the University, we believe it was the right one."

Hofstra's announcement follows closely Northeastern's decision to shut down football. "It is very shocking,'' senior defensive end Joe Akabalu said. "It really hurts that your alma mater isn't going to be in existence.''
 

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