In an unusual move for a Division I institution, Northeastern University is today announcing that it is eliminating its football program, which will have played for 74 seasons.
The economic downturn has led many colleges to cut some of their teams, although football has rarely been among them. Northeastern officials stressed that the decision was not simply about saving money, but about where the university should spend money. A review determined that sustained multi-million investments would be required to build up the program -- and the university decided that wasn't appropriate.
"A broad consensus developed behind discontinuing football and focusing future resources on programs — both academic and non-academic — where the university can achieve and sustain leadership," said a statement released by the university this morning. Team members were informed Sunday and have been told that athletic scholarships will be honored as long as they remain enrolled at the university. But the statement acknowledged that they will need "flexibility" as some may transfer to play elsewhere.
Joseph Aoun, president of the university, said in his statement that the decision involved setting priorities. “Northeastern has always been guided by the principle that we should focus on our opportunities for leadership,” he said. “This approach ultimately leads to difficult choices, but leadership requires that we make these choices. This decision allows us to focus on our existing athletic programs. At a time when higher education is critically important to rebuilding our knowledge-based economy, universities have an obligation to invest resources in areas of strength — whether they are competitive athletic programs or cutting-edge academics.”
The Boston Globe noted in an article that the football program has for years operated in outdated facilities, which didn't help the team, which hasn't had a winning season since 2004 and this year averaged fewer than 1,600 fans at home games.
Two years ago, The Huntington News, the student newspaper at Northeastern, quoted the athletic director as saying that there was a "possibility" that the team could be eliminated, and the paper quoted the then-president of the student government vowing to fight any such move.
The university statement noted that Northeastern will continue to have 18 different intercollegiate sports, more than 40 club sports, and hundreds of intramural teams. The university recently renovated its arena for basketball and hockey teams, which have had more athletic success and fan backing than has football. Northeastern is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association.
The athletics director, Peter Roby, issued an open letter explaining the university's rationale. "The decision was a difficult one, made all the more difficult because of the respect and admiration I have for our coaches and players. Despite my personal feelings toward them, I am convinced that this decision is in the best interest of the university," he wrote.
On the discussion board of the Diehard Dogs Web site (a Northeastern fan site for which registration is required), considerable criticism has been posted this morning already. Those posting comments speculate on where the money will go, and suggest that the football program could have been improved. "This is a horrible decision. I will now cease any donation to the school forever until a football team is reinstated," said one comment.
But comments coming in to the student newspaper's site are more mixed. When one comment suggested that those happy to see football go were those "who got cut from JV football in 10th grade," several responded in praise of the university's decision.
One response: "wow, this is clearly a comment from a football player who's too stupid to succeed in anything else. why is it so difficult for you guys to realize that lots of people don't care about football or sports AT ALL? and it's not like playing for nu is a stepping stone for pro football careers. that has always confused me - do nu's football players actually think their nu football careers will lead to any level of success in football beyond college? if so, that's delusional at a whole new level. if not, what are they wasting their time and OUR money for? school spirit? great job there fellas! 70+ full scholarships for these clowns? good riddance. don't let the door hit you on your way out."
Another said: "We had a football team? Assuming the money doesn't go towards another 25% raise for Aoun, step in the right direction!"