Former Flying Dutchmen football player Chris Cocozziello figured someone was playing a cruel joke on him last Thursday at 10:45 a.m., when the athletic director from another area college called to tell him Hofstra was disbanding its football program.
“I didn’t believe him, I told him it was impossible,” Cocozziello said. “I told him it was impossible but I’d find out, I’d call around. Just not having any notice, I didn’t think it was possible.”
Of course, it didn’t take long to learn the impossible had become reality. “I was dumbfounded, obviously,” Cocozziello said. “And from there, basically, you go through a myriad of emotions. The biggest thing was just an unbelievable sadness. You get so sad about it. You feel devastated by it and you feel betrayed…we just felt very betrayed.”
Now, Cocozziello and hundreds of football alums are determined to find out some answers, if not get their program back. More than two dozen Hofstra football alums attended the press conference Monday hosted in Manhattan by former Flying Dutchmen Cocozziello and Brad Gerstman at The Public House, the restaurant owned by Cocozziello.
Gerstman, a lobbyist with Gotham Government Relations, opened the half-hour session by calling for the program to be reinstated and for a legal review of the process by which Hofstra came to the decision to determine if the University violated either its “…internal bylaws process and procedure” or committed a “…break of fiduciary duty.” He also said he hoped state legislators responsible for securing grants and funding for Hofstra would reconsider their positions in light of the decision to take “…away from our community such an important piece of the institution.”
Cocozziello and Gerstman later expressed disappointment at the secretive style in which Hofstra decided to end football, the lack of alumni input into the decision and the feeling that Rabinowitz has been aiming to end football since he took office in 2001.
“How do you have a review of a program internally with just the board of trustees and possibly the athletic director?” Gerstman said. “A full review would include the head coach, obviously, alumni, other people that are involved, prior athletes and football players [all focused on] how can we move forward with a solution to continue operating an NCAA football team.”
Cocozziello said he and other former football players had heard from the Hofstra alumni office regarding donations to the university as recently as November and that nobody had ever indicated the program was under review. Had alumni been aware the program was in trouble—which Cocozziello said happened at schools such as Northeastern, which disbanded its football program 10 days before Hofstra—Cocozziello said ex-players would have begun an aggressive fund-raising campaign immediately.
“There’s a difference between calling people for money and asking them to contribute to an operating program or calling people telling them that the program is in trouble and could close its doors and stop and die,” Cocozziello said. “There’s a different type of impetus for us to get together and people to come in with money.”
Cocozziello said football players have had an uneasy feeling about the future of athletics at Hofstra since Rabinowitz took over for James Shuart. He pointed to the gradually lessening impact of people with ties to Hofstra and longtime coach Joe Gardi—who, in Cocozziello’s words, “was retired” after the 2005 season—as examples of Harry Royle, a former Hofstra football player, was replaced by Jack Hayes from the University of Connecticut in 2004 and Joe Margiotta, the powerful ex-football player who was a founding member and former president of the Pride Club, saw his role reduced in the years prior to his death in 2008.
“There were not a lot of people with Hofstra ties and ties to the alumni that were put in those positions,” Cocozziello said. “At that point in time, once you make that decision and once the Board of Trustees were the only ones in the room when any of this was decided…there really wasn’t anybody around there to really speak on behalf of the football program that had years of experience [with] the program.”
The ultimate happy ending for football alums may be an extreme long shot, but Cocozziello said he was hopeful someone would eventually answer the questions that arose following the decision to end football and explain to Rabinowitz the value of a football program.
“This was done under the cover or darkness by a group of people that frankly had an agenda to follow through on,” Cocozziello said. “At this point, if nothing else, not only would we like answers but the opportunity to be heard. Over the years, we’ve supported the university and benefited, as so many have, from the things that the university—a full university with athletic programs, with a football program and what that brings to the community. We’ve all benefited from it, so we just want to try to give back and keep that intact. That’s really our goal here.”
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