Friday, December 4, 2009

The Last Day Of Hofstra Football

First full day as a collector's item.

10:38 am

The house phone rings. An unfamiliar cell phone number appears on my caller ID. I was spell checking a post about Tom Pecora’s appearance with Mike Francesa Wednesday and wanted to get it up ASAP, so I let the call go to the machine.

“JBeach, it’s Ray. Get over to Hofstra. I’m sure you heard about this already, but Hofstra is having a press conference at 11:30 to announce it’s canceling football. If you haven’t heard about this, get your ASS over there.”

It was one of those moments in life in which one is overwhelmed by equal parts disbelief and certainty. This cannot be happening. There is no doubt this is happening.

The cell phone rang. I greeted Sully Ray with the standard “Are you serious?” someone utters when he knows the person to whom he is speaking is not kidding.

“I was wrong,” Sully Ray said. “It’s 11.”

I cursed in a Tweet for the first time ever, checked CAA Zone and saw a thread titled “Hofstra to drop football” had three posts. No time to comb my hair, never mind shower. I grabbed a notebook and my digital recorder, threw on a hat and a fleece, swiped my underarms with deodorant and headed for the car.

11:05 am

Drove by Shuart Stadium.

11:07 am

Walk into the University Club. The last time I was here for a press conference, I believe, was in April 1994, when Hofstra announced it was joining the North Atlantic Conference and hiring Jay Wright as its men’s basketball coach. That was a joyous, festive day in which the room was filled by balloons, buffets, people, flashbulbs and applause.

The only similarity between then and now is Carl Reuter, a regular presence on the SportsChannel football broadcasts in the 1990s. He is the first person I see as I enter the room.

There are more University people dressed in suits and ties than reporters, no surprise considering the press conference was called on 90 minutes notice. Nobody is smiling and nobody is applauding, least of all Jack Hayes and Stuart Rabinowitz, who strike suitably somber poses at the front of the room.

Marilyn Monter, the chair of the Board of Trustees, makes opening remarks and Rabinowitz steps to the podium. “This was an incredibly difficult decision, a painful decision for me and for the Board of Trustees,” Rabinowitz says. “We are all aware of the long tradition of Hofstra football…there is no joy in this whatsoever. There’s a lot of pain in it. But nonetheless, we were all absolutely certain that this is the right decision for Hofstra.”

Rabinowitz says Hofstra is not cutting its budget as a result of the dissolution of the football team, that the money used to fund the program will be used for need-based academic scholarships. He says Hofstra is not in economic trouble, that the school just received an “A” credit rating from Standard and Poor’s and that hundreds of millions of dollars have been committed to new buildings and programs, including the medical school scheduled to open in 2011.

“That said no institution can afford to do everything, no matter what the return is,” Rabinowitz says. “And what we decided, in this situation, was under a normal cost-effective analysis, it didn’t make sense for a football program.”

Rabinowitz says playing at Division I-AA—where media attention is minimal and the ability to turn a profit almost non-existent—cannot yield Hofstra the benefits it expects from its athletic programs.

“Three of the last four years, Appalachian State was the champion,” Rabinowitz says. “Last year, Richmond was the champion, I don’t know if too many people will remember that because of the lack of national coverage. In a sense, this subdivision of football is like football purgatory. It’s like you need to spend a lot of money to be competitive, but there are none of the benefits that a robust athletic program produces.”

Rabinowitz says the University has not come anywhere close to making back the $4.5 million it spends annually on the football program. The football endowment, after 69 years, is around $400,000. Only 500 students attend games, a figure he says includes cheerleaders, dance team and pep band members. The season ticket base for football is 172. In basketball, he adds, it is 750.

“So people have voted on this, in terms of their financial support and their attendance for it,” Rabinowitz says.

In bringing his opening remarks to a close, Rabinowitz speaks of how the decision to drop football will allow the University to open its door to students who otherwise might not be able to attend Hofstra. “We are just sad every time I hear a good student say ‘I really want to go to Hofstra, it’s my first choice but I can’t afford it,” Rabinowitz says. “‘My parents can’t afford it’ or ‘I can’t afford it.’ Or students who are here and have done well who say ‘I can’t stay here and graduate.’

“We need Hofstra University to really keep good students.”

Rabinowitz steps away and Hayes walks to the podium. At 9 a.m., he says, he informed coach Dave Cohen of the decision, after which a meeting of the football players was quickly convened. About 60 team members showed up to hear the news.

“As you can imagine, it was an emotional conversation for them,” Hayes says. “Very difficult.”

As Northeastern is doing, Hofstra will honor the scholarship of any player who chooses to finish his degree and will assist anyone who wants to transfer. Hayes says the athletic department will also help coaches—many of whom were on the road recruiting when the decision was made—land jobs elsewhere.

Hayes finishes his comments and the floor is opened to questions. Reuter asks Hayes if Hofstra would have dropped football if the Flying Dutchmen made the playoffs and Northeastern hadn’t gotten rid of football 10 days earlier. Rabinowitz fields the question and says the decision was reached at the end of a two-year process.

“Had absolutely nothing to do with Northeastern,” Rabinowitz says. “We were well on the way, almost done, by the time [Northeastern] was done. So yes. We would still be standing here if [the Dutchmen made the playoffs].”

Rabinowitz is asked if the school considered dropping down to the non-scholarship football level and perhaps participating in the Pioneer Football League. He says he wants Hofstra to be in the Final Four in basketball—“George Mason should have been us”—as well as lacrosse and soccer and other sports.

“We want to play at the highest level in every single sport that we’re investing in,” he says, and adds that playing in the Pioneer—a geographically far-flung league with no natural rivals and no chance to win a national championship—wouldn’t have been fulfilling for the school.

“My first choice was to perhaps look into whether we could go Division I-A,” Rabinowitz says. “And a little bit of research proves that just wasn’t feasible. You have to guarantee 15,000 per game paid attendance. You have to expand the stadium. You’d have to increase our scholarships by about 15 percent. And most of all, you have to be in a I-A football conference, and no one was inviting us.

“So the decision was simple: If you can’t be at the highest level of a certain kind of athletic competition, then we shouldn’t be there at all. And that was our decision.”

Hayes is asked if Hofstra will next look to leave the CAA in all sports. He says the school is committed to “grow[ing] more competitive in the Colonial Athletic Association.”

Rabinowitz says there are no plans to eliminate any other sports at Hofstra. Shortly thereafter, he takes mild umbrage when asked about the boost in publicity Hofstra got from so many football alums appearing on national television in the NFL every Sunday and Monday.

“I am not criticizing anything that’s been emphasized in the past,” Rabinowitz says. “All I can say is we have come a very long way…I think we’re so proud of Marques and Wayne Chrebet and all those people and all they did for us. But when you hear those names, what I hear, whether it’s explicit or not explicit, is ‘Wow, isn’t that shocking. Little Hofstra, these players made the NFL.’ Well, we’re not little Hofstra anymore.”

Rabinowitz speaks of how he hopes Hofstra becomes the lacrosse capital of the Northeast, how he’ll discuss the decision to eliminate football with any unhappy football alum and how Hofstra will still have a Homecoming despite a lack of a football team. Finally, a public relations official calls for one more question, and Rabinowitz is asked if at any point in the two-year process he began to believe a day like today would be the outcome.

“We were examining so many options, so many different needs, and this decision was not certain until last night,” Rabinowitz said. “That’s another reason we didn’t tell anybody or leak. We didn’t know how it would come out. We truly did not know how it would come out. We looked at every single combination and every single alternative. So it was a very long process.

“You may disagree with some of it. But it is hard to say we didn’t spend the time on it.”

With that, Rabinowitz and Hayes exit the room. The reporters and guests begin filing out as well. Those walking out of the University Club pass by a table that has several men’s basketball posters.


1:24 pm

Mike Francesa is talking about Hofstra sports for the second straight day.

“Sad to see Hofstra drop football,” he says.

Hofstra remains one of the top stories on the 20/20 updates, with the words “Citing high costs, Hofstra to drop football after 69 years” appearing on the right hand side of the YES Network screen.


2:20 pm

A WCBS anchorman reads the weather forecast for Long Island. “And in Hempstead, where there will be no more Hofstra football…”


2:45 pm

Wayne Chrebet is interviewed on WCBS.

“I heard whispers when the new president came in a couple years back,” Chrebet says “There’s really nothing we could do about it and what they were thinking about. We never really thought they’d drop the program.”


3:06 pm

Rabinowitz appears on the FAN with Francesa, who says he mentioned the struggling football team to Pecora the day before. “This was surprising,” Francesa says in greeting Rabinowitz. “I sat with your basketball coach yesterday and said ‘Hey I know the football team is struggling and he just kind of raised his eyebrows.”

Francesa asks if Hofstra is an expensive school. Rabinowitz says no. Tuition, room and board at Hofstra this year costs $46,348.

Francesa asks what schools Rabinowitz wants Hofstra to be compared to. Among the ones he lists is Boston University, where football was dropped in 1997.

Rabinowitz calls the decision the most painful one of his career—“Times like this I wish I was back in the classroom teaching law”—but says it was an inevitable decision “because there is no pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow in Division I-AA.

Francesa ends the 17-minute interview in familiar fashion. “You need to get that basketball team into the A-10,” he says.

“Well, give me a hand, will you?” Rabinowitz says.

Following Rabinowitz’ exit, Francesa laments the lack of support Hofstra football received from the community and the latter’s unwillingness to embrace anything other than Division I-A football. “I’ll be honest with you: If they won all their games they wouldn’t draw big crowds,” Francesa says. “When Gardi had some wonderful teams, nobody supported them. Nobody went to the games.”

Of course, Francesa also parrots the belief that Hofstra only drew 500 people to games.


3:55 pm

While Francesa fields almost an hour’s worth of Hofstra football calls, CAA commissioner Tom Yeager appears on a conference call to discuss Hofstra becoming the second CAA school in 10 days to drop Hofstra. He is composed and calm, and he tries to employ some gallows humor (he talks about working on his sixth version of the 2010 schedule), but it is also obvious he is shocked and shaken by the news.

“Didn’t think, before about the last 72 hours, that the discussion of this magnitude was even in play at Hofstra,” Yeager says.

Yeager says despite dropping football, Hofstra and Northeastern remain committed to the CAA in other sports. He admits the decreasing number of northern schools in CAA football will make travel particularly expensive and challenging and that the recent defections could force the creation of a new, northeast-based football conference.

As disappointed as he is to lose two football schools in two weeks, Yeager recognizes the CAA is not alone in facing such new realities. “There are a lot of individuals whose plans and dreams have been altered,” Yeager says. “But by the same token, before everybody [says] ‘Woe is me,’ that’s been happening over and over across the country every time a plant closes or a business shuts down.”


4:04 pm

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers send along quotes from head coach Raheem Morris, who played for the Dutchmen from 1994-97.

“You build a program from a Division III program to, at the time, a national Division I-AA powerhouse. To see it drop football with no real murmur or anyone talking about it—I don’t know what happened, but I got a courtesy call from people I don’t even know.”


4:36 p.m.

The voice still has that familiar hybrid Jersey-Island accent.

“Nope. I’ve been expecting it for years,” Joe Gardi says when asked if he was surprised by the news.

Why? “No comment.”

Gardi’s just getting started though. “I feel, personally, that my legacy is gone,” says Gardi, who took over a Division III program in 1990 and led it to five I-AA playoff berths. “And I thought it was a pretty good one. My daughter started crying. My wife started crying. It’s a sad day. But I’m not surprised.”

Gardi mentions three times how concerned he is for Cohen and his staff and recalls Joe Margiotta, the late booster for whom the football facility is named. “We gave so many young men an opportunity to have a great education and play football at a very high level,” Gardi says. “The fact that we were springboard for a lot of young men to go on and play pro ball makes me proud. I think we probably sent more kids from a I-AA team to pro ball.

“You know, for a lot of years, we sent more kids to the pros than a program like Rutgers. And we would have loved to have played those teams.”


5:25 p.m.

We’re number one. Loyal Reader Matt texts me to let me know that “Hofstra University” is the most-searched term on Yahoo!


5:40 p.m.

Former Hofstra president James Shuart—a Flying Dutchmen football alum who spearheaded the rise to Division I-AA and eventually had the Stadium named after him—strikes a more diplomatic, but no less melancholy, tone.

“I was also a football player as a student at Hofstra, so that’s part of my life, you know?” Shuart says. “I played as a football player in 1949 to 1953 and then I worked for Hofstra for 40 years and spent 25 years as president. And I did what I could to do my best for students to use the things [on campus]. And football was part of it. Obviously, my job was more than just that, but it was good.

“Now the trustees I guess, and the president feel that they can’t do it. And what can I say? I wish them well. I wish the coaches and the players well. I hope they’ll be OK. They’re really good people and there deserves to be something nice for them. And then I can be happy about that.”


6 p.m.

Hofstra dropping football leads the Fox 5 news. The reporter says Hofstra drew only 500 fans per game last year. I curse for the second time on Twitter.


6:22 p.m.

As the only member of the coaching staff who played at Hofstra, wide receivers coach Kahmal Roy is trying to process the news while also maintaining a stoic front for the players.

“A couple players called me crying and I was kind of at a loss, because being an alumni and all that, I was kind of dealing with it all myself on a different level,” Roy says. “It’s tough on the kids and it’s tough on those guys. Some of those guys can hide their feelings and some are open books about how they feel.

“It’s still just kind of—I just feel strongly about the situation on a lot of different levels. That’s all I can really say about it.”

Roy played for three straight playoff teams and, as a senior in 2001, set school records with 70 catches for 1,221 yards for what turned out to be the last Flying Dutchmen team to reach the postseason. Did he, even as he tried to focus on the players, find his mind wandering back to those days?

“I think about that everyday, man,” Roy says with a laugh. “That’s something that I always wanted those kids to experience. And I’ve always talked to certain kids about it, to just, even for a small second, [to] just visualize those types of feelings that we experienced when we played and try to reach that goal. It’s something that, when you experience that, you want other people that you’re involved with to experience it, too, because it’s a great feeling.

“So I always think about that. All the time.”

Right now, though, Roy is thinking about getting home. He was recruiting in Florida when he got the call that the program was finished.

“I was in the process of trying to get my flight changed,” Roy says. “World’s crazy monetarily—$400 for a flight, $100 change fee and then the price of the flight was crazy. Still in my hotel room now. I’ve been on the phone with the airline I used to fly.”


6:29 p.m.

Hofstra has a slot on Pardon the Interruption. Long Island native and former Newsday writer Tony Kornheiser expresses disappointment the program was cut and says the words “Flying Dutchmen.”


8 p.m.-ish

I stumble across a Save Hofstra Football page on Facebook. It has 2,206 members. Where were you guys before today?


11:06 p.m.

It’s the final hour of the final day of Hofstra football and Tiger Woods’ libido has regained its status as the hottest story on the planet. WABC is the first local 11 pm newscast to air a story on Hofstra’s decision.


11:28 p.m.

WNBC mentions the demise of Hofstra football during the sports segment. Game footage is so old, the Flying Dutchmen were still wearing the credit card helmets and block lettering jerseys.


11:30 p.m. 

WCBS airs a brief spot on Hofstra football titled “Pride and Prejudice.” Its footage was clearly shot in the last two years.


11:59 p.m.

It’s the last minute of the last day of Hofstra football, and WPIX is capping its newscast with a brief mention.

“Hofstra University has dropped its football program, saying it cost too much money to maintain it,” Lolita Lopez says. “Maybe it’s good for them. Not so good for the collegiate athletes.”

“That’s it for us,” Kaity Tong says.

“Good night everybody!” Jackie Hyland says.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

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