Saturday, May 9, 2009

Does leaving the CAA mean see you later football?

Will these be collector's items too?

A plaque commemorating Hofstra’s entry into the CAA in 2001 hangs on a wall in the lobby of the basketball offices at the Arena. The plaque features two logos: The old-school Hofstra one as well as that of the CAA’s.

That sucker could eventually be quite the collector’s item, judging by the reports in Newsday and the New York Post Thursday that Hofstra is interested in leaving the CAA and joining the Atlantic-10.

Here’s another item that could be a collector’s item if the conference switch comes to fruition: A Hofstra football helmet.

I realize this is inconsistent with what I wrote at Thanksgiving, when I theorized Hofstra was too entrenched in the CAA to drop football, a la Iona, even if the administration wasn’t a big fan of the program. But all bets are off if the school leaves the CAA.

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: I don’t want Hofstra to ditch football. While I haven’t followed it as passionately as basketball since I graduated, my fondest memories of student life at Hofstra revolve around covering the Flying Dutchmen football team. I remember what it was like when football was the dominant team on campus, and while I don’t ever expect a return to those days for a variety of reasons, it’d be a sad, sad day if the program ceased to exist.

And there would be more to a conference switch than merely terminating football or deemphasizing it. Let’s face it, while Hofstra has enjoyed a successful stay in the CAA, the perception that it’s never really become one of the boys is an accurate one.

You will never convince me, not in a million years, that Tom O’Connor’s presence on the Selection Committee in 2006 didn’t cost Hofstra an at-large bid. The CAA is a southern-based conference and the core Virginia schools—VCU, ODU, William & Mary, James Madison and George Mason—will always be the ones that dominate the conference, at least at the administrative level. The idea of joining a conference with a more northern identity makes a lot of sense.

But to read the tea leaves and to pay close attention to how the football team is treated is to think that the powers that be would not mind if leaving the CAA also resulted in the diminishing or disappearance of the program.

Have you seen this year’s schedule? The Dutchmen are scheduled to go four weeks between home games twice. That’s pretty hard to do in a season that lasts less than three months. Such giant gaps also make it difficult for a team to build momentum with the ticket-buying public. Scheduling is a tricky thing and maybe the hiccup-like pacing of home games is a coincidence. Or maybe it’s not.

Have you wondered why the football team has its own fundraising arm?

The defenders of the football program note none of the decision makers at Hofstra has ever come out and said he dislikes the football team and views it as a financial train wreck. Well, of course not. Why alienate a small but vocal core before you have to?

But the program is a monetary eyesore. That’s nothing new: It wasn’t a money-maker at the beginning of the scholarship era either. But that’s when the school’s most powerful people were football alums. Now, though, James Shuart and Harry Royle are retired and Joe Margiotta’s influence diminished rapidly in the years prior to his death last November.

Stuart Rabinowitz and Jack Hayes have no ties to the football program, no pangs of nostalgia every time they set foot in Shuart Stadium. It’s a bottom-line entity to them. What do you think goes through their minds when they see acres of empty space at every home game? What do you think they think about the fact Hofstra drew fewer fans in five home tilts last season than Delaware drew in a single game?

Don’t fool yourself into thinking the Division I opponents on the schedule the next few years are an indication the administration is content with the way things are or that it wants to upgrade the program. Those are cash grabs, a way to make back a little of the investment the school has been forced to make in football.

The bottom line is there’s about two million bucks that can be saved by dropping scholarships, and, if a 2004 Newsday story quoted in this post is to be believed, another three million bucks that can be saved if the program disappears entirely.

Trust me on this: There are supporters of the football program on that campus who are very worried about the future of the Flying Dutchmen, who think there’s a lot more on the line this season than just Dave Cohen’s job.

The good news is that even if the worst-case scenario is what Hofstra has in mind, there’s a lot of time between now and The End, and that countless things can happen to derail those plans. As the link two graphs above indicates, this is not the first time since Hofstra joined the CAA that it has been linked to a conference switch, and nothing has happened yet.

And even if the interest in leaving is authentic this time—and I happen to think that it says a lot about Hofstra’s plans that Hayes issued a canned quote in which he said the school has no interest in rejoining the America East—those of you who are old, like me, remember the twisted path the school took from the ECC to the North Atlantic Conference. These things are never easy, and the explosion in Division I schools in the last 15 years means there are more candidates than ever for the few conference openings that exist (you know, just like sports journalism).

The administration could recognize that the university has received millions in free advertising from the NFL success of Wayne Chrebet, Marques Colston, Willie Colon and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris. The 2009 team could channel the 1994 squad and make it really difficult to put the kibosh on a winning program.

Or an administration that has paid pretty good lip service to Hofstra tradition could find a way to keep afloat the oldest athletic program on campus, even if it means dropping scholarships. I’ve got some ideas on how that could happen, along with how a move to the A-10 would work and what the best solution is to Hofstra’s conference woes. Tune in starting Monday for a series I very well may call “Nobody Asked Me, But…”

Email Jerry at And join the Defiantly Dutch group at Facebook today!

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