By David Gordon, News Editor
University President Stuart Rabinowitz announced the elimination of the University's Division I Football Championship Subdivision intercollegiate football program at a press conference on Thursday, December 3. The move was made after the Board of Trustees, acting on Rabinowitz's recommendation, voted unanimously Wednesday night to end the program, effective immediately.
"This was a painful decision for me and the Board of Trustees," Rabinowitz said during the press conference.
A variety of reasons were cited for the elimination of the program, including "low student, community and media interest, attendance and financial support," according to a Frequently Asked Questions page posted on the University's website.
The page also compared the football program to the men's basketball program in terms of ticket sales. In 2009, the football program sold 172 season tickets, as opposed to 750 season tickets for men's basketball. Student attendance at the average football game is "about 500," compared to 900 for basketball games. The James M. Shuart Stadium seats approximately 13,000.
"The board believes that the benefits simply weren't worth $4.5 million a year and rising," Rabinowitz said. In a statement on the University's website, he added, "The football program, the largest of the athletic programs, is by far the most expensive.
The $4.5 million will now go towards funding new faculty lines, academic programs and need-based scholarships. "In the long run, we can touch and improve the lives of more students by investing in new and enhanced academic initiatives and increasing funds for need-based scholarships," said Rabinowitz's statement. When asked how many students will now be able to receive this financial aid, Rabinowitz said, "We haven't computed that."
No other sports teams will be eliminated. The 84 football players, who were informed of the decision shortly before the press conference began, will be able to keep their scholarships, should they choose to stay at the University. If they chose to leave to continue to play football, advisors will be available to help them "communicate with other institutions and make their transition as easy as possible," according to the F.A.Q. page.
Head Football Coach Dave Cohen will have his contract honored, according to Melissa Connolly, Vice President for University Relations. "His contract goes for another year, so his contract will be honored, unless he finds another job in the next year," she told The Chronicle.
Connolly expounded on the role of the Board of Trustees in making the decision. "The Board of Trustees' role is to look at the budget of the University overall, so it has been part of a long term look [at the expenses of all programs, not just athletics], but that's an ongoing look, too. But looking this closely at the expenses of the athletic program was something in the last year," she said.
This season, the football team finished with five wins and six losses. "I would think that what would have made more a difference, were student attendance or donations, than the actual record. The actual record would have been interesting. I don't even want to go there," Connolly said. She, too, cited a lack of community interest as a reason for the cancellation of the program.
"There are people who do group ticket sales," she said. "One of the reasons that the ticket sales were in the 3,000-4,000 range on average was because they do a good job of bringing youth groups in who come and get to go on the field. That's the reason it was as high as 3,000-4,000; we'd get 1,000 boy scouts at a game because they all got to go on the field and do the halftime stuff."
As far as the usage of Shuart Stadium in the future, along with the University's lacrosse team, will be high school championship games, as well as the NCAA quarterfinals, which Connolly said provided "the most attendance." "We want to host more things like that because lacrosse is something people around here are really interested in."
Meanwhile, students, faculty and alumni are dismayed and outraged. As of press time, a Facebook group called "Help Save Hofstra Football," has 7,862 members. A second group, "Save Hofstra Football," has 1,050 members.
"It kind of hit me and my heart stopped for a little," said Student Government Association Spirit Chair Victoria Vullo, who found out when she was in class. "I honestly didn't believe it at first. My mind went straight to Homecoming. That's my job as spirit chair."
At the press conference, Rabinowitz assured the gathered crowd that Homecoming will continue, perhaps in a different season and/or focused around a different sport like lacrosse or basketball. Vullo is already hard at work planning, though admits she's not a fan of the idea of homecoming in the springtime or around basketball. "Honestly, it's completely different...I've spoken to many students and they're not really into it."
Mickey Kwiatkowski, the Head Coach of the football team from 1981-1989, when it was then a Division III team, thinks the decision is "absolutely disgraceful."
"It's not the decision that I'm angered about; it's the fact that we got to this decision without any discussion [from outside sources]. As I go down Hempstead Turnpike, I think the sign says ‘Hofstra University,' not ‘Stuart Rabinowitz University,'" Kwiatkowski said.