Scholarship football at Nassau CC a smart move?

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Nassau CC announced on Jan. 14, 2010, that

Nassau CC announced on Jan. 14, 2010, that it will begin offering football scholarships in 2012. Photo Credit: Photo by Patrick McCarthy

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John Jeansonne Newsday columnist John Jeansonne.

Jeansonne has been a reporter in Newsday’s sports department since 1970 and has covered 11 Olympic Games and

Is this a good idea? Nassau Community College announced Thursday a plan to award football scholarships for the first time, beginning with the 2012 season, a commitment that will roughly double the current annual cost of fielding a team, to approximately $200,000.

All around NCC are signs of football apocalypse. A month ago and a few thousands yards to the south of Nassau's campus, Hofstra dropped the sport after 73 years, citing the financial drain - $4.5 million a year - that administrators said could better be spent in academic areas. On Thursday in Atlanta, a call for financial restraint in college football at the annual NCAA convention included sports economist Andrew Zimbalist's proposals to seek Congressional limits on college football coaching salaries as well as a significant reduction in the number of football scholarships at the highest level.

As a two-year school, Nassau Community hardly swims in the same waters as NCAA institutions, and certainly not with the likes of national runner-up Texas, which last year generated more than $70 million in football revenue. Nassau's member organization, the National Junior College Athletic Association, consists of slightly more than 500 members, compared to the NCAA's 1,075 - itself divided into three divisions determining their own rules.

But recent studies have made it abundantly clear that spending on college sports - and especially college football - has increased at a faster pace than spending on other academic endeavors. In light of the current economic squeeze and the continually rising costs of attending college, a national debate rages over the appropriateness of large athletic budgets.

In Nassau's case, the football team has been wonderfully successful throughout its 42 years of existence: a perennial top 10 presence, regular appearances in junior college bowl games, a stunning all-time won-lost-tied record of 327-80-1 and not a single non-winning season. All without handing out scholarships. And in spite of being a commuter school.

Nassau's football team has provided academic and athletic polish for scores of players who came out of high school not quite ready for the big time. For decades, it has been a conduit to such major grid powers as Penn State, Syracuse and Georgia Tech.

According to a 2008 Newsday report, Nassau has sent 26 players to the NFL, the result of a proud program that boasted competent assistant coaches for every player position. Too, Nassau sent longtime head coach John Anselmo on to an assistant's job at Syracuse where he is making $200,000.

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Still, Thursday's announcement that Nassau intends to hand out 20 football scholarships in 2012, from money to be raised by the athletic department - no state or county funds will be involved - was presented by athletic director Michael Pelliccia as a competitive necessity.

"We have to" go to scholarships, Pelliccia told Newsday's Steve Marcus. "The terrain has changed. We're losing kids out of the city that we've always gotten before. They are going to Erie, Lackawanna, upstate, everywhere because they are being offered scholarships. Those are kids we used to have in our back pockets."

Will 20 scholarships guarantee more Nassau victories in those recruiting battles? Will they allow Nassau to pick up the occasional Long Island high school prospect who otherwise might commit to Stony Brook? At a school without dorms - though the administration is investigating such a possibility - and thus virtually no student following at games, will the athletic department be able to raise enough money to cover the scholarships? Will scholarships ensure a return to national football prominence that Nassau enjoyed for so long on the junior college level?

An additional $100,000 injected into football hardly compares to the millions necessary to exist on the NCAA level. Still, whether this is a good idea - or the beginning of a dangerous arms race - is something we won't know for a while.

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