Marcus: Rabinowitz did, said what was necessary

Former Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes. (Nov. 3,

Former Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes. (Nov. 3, 2009) (Credit: Mario Gonzalez)

Steven Marcus

Newsday columnist Steven Marcus Steven Marcus

Steven Marcus started at Newsday in 1972 and has covered

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Stuart Rabinowitz's finest public appearance occurred during the most difficult moment of his Hofstra presidency. While the football players cried over the demise of their program, Rabinowitz was front and center in explaining why this gut-wrenching moment in Hofstra's history was necessary.

When the names of some famous former Hofstra football players - Wayne Chrebet, Lance Schulters and, most recently, Marques Colston - were thrown out, Rabinowitz didn't flinch.

"We are a university,'' he said. "We do not exist to fill the professional ranks. If we do, that's fine, but it's a byproduct.''

And, he said, it is not worth spending $4.5 million a year, adding: "There really is no concrete rebuttal to what I say.''

The accomplished lawyer had become a judge, and rendered the appropriate sentence.

Rabinowitz was no Robert Irsay spiriting the team away overnight, or, in the usual university manner, issuing a late Friday afternoon news release. He was prepared for the heat, all of it. He knows angry e-mails and calls are forthcoming, yet said, "This program cannot, cannot produce the kind of national coverage and national exposure and excitement that would make it worthwhile to spend that money.''

Hofstra had some big winning seasons in the sport, but not recently. The last NCAA appearance came in 2001, and that 9-2 record did nothing to motivate the fan base. Hofstra's best crowd, 9,381, came in 1999, and most were there to see Connecticut. Even when Hofstra was a critical success on the field, it was a flop at the box office.

The halcyon days of Hofstra football occurred decades ago when just under 8,000 would attend the annual Thanksgiving Day game against rival C.W. Post. There was no 13,000-seat stadium in those days and there were no scholarships. It was low-budget, local and affordable football.

Hofstra could carry football just so long in this day of budget-tightening for all schools, especially tuition-driven private ones. Money spent on athletics needs to go to major I-A sports such as basketball.

"George Mason should have been us,'' Rabinowitz said in referencing Hofstra's disappointment in men's basketball a few seasons ago.

Transparency served Rabinowitz well on the day that football died at Hofstra. It had been a financial drain for years, long before Rabinowitz replaced former president and First Fan James Shuart, who played at Hofstra and has the stadium named for him.

"It will be hard for me,'' said Shuart, 78. "Not so much because it has my name, but for the institution of football.''

But in the area of risk-reward, it was all risk for Hofstra. Rabinowitz figured the price tag was way too high for a program that few outside the team bothered to keep tabs on.

Still, year after year, decade after decade, it prevailed - until the board of trustees undertook a two-year examination of all things Hofstra. Football jumped off the debit page.

"They came to the conclusion, as I did, that our fiduciary duty was to do what's best for the long-term interest of Hofstra University,'' Rabinowitz said. "It was terribly painful, but at the end of the day, you had 22 to 24 people at the table and every single one voted in favor of eliminating football.''

It was sad to see the players milling around, wondering where they will play next season. They didn't want to hear about dollars and cents. But it was a reality that Rabinowitz not only acknowledged but ultimately embraced.