Almost 48 hours have passed since Hofstra ended its football program, a good bit longer than I would have liked before putting my thoughts to screen. But times like these demand caution and a few deep breaths, even as the emotions run high.
The news is no longer as fresh, but the disappointment and disgust is stronger than ever, as is the belief that Hofstra football is dead not out of a desire to invest in academic initiatives but because president Stuart Rabinowitz wanted it dead.
Before tackling Rabinowitz (I bought a box of football puns at Job Lots in August, gotta use 'em while I can), let’s get this out of the way: Unless you’re one of the 172 season ticket holders, or somebody who donated funds to the football program, you are not blameless in the demise of Hofstra football.
That most certainly includes me. Being out of state covering baseball playoffs is a pretty good excuse for not going to a game between 2003 and 2007, but what about my scattered attendance between 1996 and 2002? What about going to home games once the playoffs were over in November? Nah, too tired or too this or too that, I can always go next year.
Within hours of the news Thursday, a Facebook group called “Help Keep Hofstra Football” was formed. There were more than 2,000 members by dinnertime. As I type this in the wee hours of Saturday morning, there are 5,043 members. Where in the hell were you guys when it mattered?
The uproar over the demise of Flying Dutchmen football reminds me of when I get mad at my wife for deleting a year-old show on TIVO.
Her: “You were never going to watch it!”
Me: “Yeah but I liked having it there.”
That’s what Hofstra football was to 99 percent of us. That old reliable show whose existence you were aware of, but which you never actually planned to watch (I really am going to watch the last season of My Name Is Earl, though, I swear).
We all could have done more to save Hofstra football. But the person who could have done the most instead killed it, even if Rabinowitz said Thursday “…there really is no concrete rebuttal possible” to the decision.
But there sure are plenty of Unispan-sized holes in it. For instance: Rabinowitz said dropping the program to the non-scholarship level was not a legitimate option because if Hofstra is going to compete athletically, he wants to do so at the highest level and for national championships.
Yet he also said no other program is in danger of being cut. Well, if rubbing shoulders with the elite is the objective, then everything except the basketball, lacrosse, soccer, softball and wrestling programs should be in big trouble.
Many, many programs at Hofstra are not going to compete for a national title or receive national media attention, and that’s fine. Athletic competition, even if the ceiling is no higher than a conference championship and the audience no vaster than friends and family, is a vital part of the college experience.
I wrote this when I was a student in 1994, and I believe it to be as true now as then: Even the sports that exist in complete anonymity—cross country, tennis, baseball—have a ripple-like effect on building Hofstra’s reputation. The parents of Hofstra athletes are scattered across the country, wearing Hofstra garb and spreading the school’s name recognition, year after year after year.
And over the last 15 years, nobody has boosted Hofstra’s profile more than its football alums. Hofstra gets scads of free publicity every weekend in the fall thanks to the likes of Wayne Chrebet and Marques Colston and Willie Colon and Raheem Morris. But Rabinowitz said Thursday he didn’t like the tone of the publicity Hofstra got via its grads in the NFL.
“I think we’re so proud of Marques and Wayne Chrebet and all those people and all they did for us,” Rabinowitz said. “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.’”
But what, precisely, is wrong with people identifying Hofstra with the ability of the underdog to make something better of himself? Isn’t that what college is all about? Grabbing hold of an opportunity, making a fresh start in a new place and reshaping your life? How many thousands of students arrived at Hofstra and pulled a Chrebet or a Colston of their own? I can tell you I sure did.
There aren’t a whole lot of kids born on third base thinking they hit a triple when nearly two-thirds of the population is comprised of commuters. Hofstra is not Yale, even though it charges like it is.
Speaking of that: When Rabinowitz talks about how the money from football will go towards need-based academic scholarships, I don’t want to hear him tugging at the heartstrings with stories of kids who can’t afford to go to Hofstra or can’t afford to finish their studies there. Not when he has presided over a school whose costs have risen at rates that almost defy description.
During the 1999-00 school year, the Hofstra student paid $20,922 for tuition, room and board and student fees. The cost this year? $42,526.
Tuition and room and board at Yale, by the way, is $47,500, an increase of 3.3 percent. Tuition at Hofstra this year ($29,980) increased more than nine percent from last year ($27,600). Tuition rose almost four percent from 1998-99 ($13,328) to 1999-00 ($13,750).
“No, it’s a relatively inexpensive school,” Rabinowitz said to Mike Francesa Thursday. Let them eat cake.
Even if the university wanted to reallocate football’s funds to general scholarships, there was still so much more that could have been done to save the program and allow it to survive at a lesser level. Why not call on the Hofstra and Long Island communities to offer their support or else? Why not solicit donations from the NFLers to help offset some of the giant investment?
It should also be noted that, in the mid-1990s, the lagging wrestling program was told to raise its performance or else. And look where it is now.
If, after a year or two, the Flying Dutchmen are still wallowing around .500, Shuart Stadium is still playing to one-third capacity and the endowment is still couch change, fine. The decision wouldn’t sting any less, but at least there would have been a feeling that all options had been exhausted in trying to save Hofstra football.
And at least people would have had a chance to say goodbye to Shuart Stadium and their memories of it, even if they said hello to football far too infrequently.
But that’s how it works at Hofstra. This was the plan all along, and the less people that knew about it—and the less time they had to build a case for the survival of football—the better. Rabinowitz can say the final conclusion was reached Wednesday night, but it’s really hard to believe he didn’t know the answer to the question as soon as the two-year review of athletics started.
It’s still hard to wrap my mind around the finality of it all. This isn’t analogous to getting fired, because the company usually goes on. In some ways, this isn’t even like a business folding, an analogy that CAA commissioner Tom Yeager used quite eloquently Thursday (I’m going to miss that guy when Hofstra is in the A-10 next year). There’s always the possibility that the displaced journalists at a newspaper, for example, could start their own website.
There is NO picking up the pieces from this, NO coming back from it. The big red button has been pushed. If there’s anything left after the dust settles, it’ll take decades before it’s inhabitable again.
Nothing happens quickly in college athletics, yet it took Hofstra just 19 years to go from Division III to Division I-AA power to defunct. From 1991 through 2000—Hofstra’s independent years—the Flying Dutchmen went 13-5 against Marshall, Montana, Buffalo, UConn and South Florida. Everyone except Montana—which is in the I-AA playoffs for the 17th straight season—has moved to I-A. The four I-A schools have combined to make 15 bowl appearances.
Again: Nobody really expected Hofstra to make the leap to I-A, and as I have written many times before, it was impossible to expect Rabinowitz to turn a James Shuart-like blind eye to the reality of football’s bottom line. But to let the program crumble? To destroy what generations of campus leaders built? To leave dormant in the fall a gorgeous stadium named after a former school president who played football here?
As someone who gave his life to Hofstra and rescued the school from real financial distress and gave it the type of foundation that has made Rabinowitz’ big dreams possible, Shuart deserved better. A lot better.
Instead, Rabinowitz didn’t even refer to Shuart by name Thursday. “My predecessor was president for 25 years, was a football player,” Rabinowitz said.
Even if you support the decision, or don’t mind the dismissal of football, think about this: It has taken nine years for the first 65 years of Hofstra athletic traditions to be erased. Flying Dutchmen? Gone. A football program that was almost as old as the school itself and produced more professionals than the rest of the programs combined? Gone.
Of Hofstra football, Dave Cohen always said “tradition never graduates.” Turns out, though, it can be euthanized.