In a press conference Thursday at the Arena at Harbor Yard, Fairfield University President Rev. Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. and Director of Athletics Eugene Doris announced the disbandment of both the football and ice hockey programs at the university effective the 2003-2004 school year.
This decision will relocate approximately $570,000 that is spent each year on these programs to help support the university’s financial aid program to all eligible students as well as aiding the “higher priority athletic programs,” according to Fr. Kelley.
“It’s a decision that will strengthen the commitment we have made to excellence to the intercollegiate athletic program. It will enhance to maintain one of the finest academic profiles in the nation,” Fr. Kelley said. “It’s just no longer possible to maintain these programs, especially if we were to compete at a high level. They [football and hockey] certainly made a contribution to the university. But since they are not priority sports either at Fairfield or in the MAAC, it is more difficult to justify very large expenditures.”
The “higher priority athletic programs” that Fr. Kelley referred to are the Tier I programs, which receive the maximum allowable athletic grants-in-aid, that include men’s and women’s basketball.
The difficult decision, according to both Fr. Kelley and Doris, was based on financial considerations that included balancing the cost of tuitions, since Fairfield is highly tuition-dependant, and Connecticut’s recent plan to make drastic cutbacks in state-aid packages.
“We’re confident that this decision will be a balance of allowing a vigorous athletic program to flourish while giving the university’s resources to maintain the excellence which it is known,” Doris said. “It was a clear cut decision of finances based on our program of priorities that we have established. We sometimes forget with athletics, that the mission of the university is academics.”
Despite the drastic athletic cost-reduction left by the disbandment of these programs, Fairfield remains with the highest athletic budget in the MAAC.
However, Fr. Kelley noted that the university’s budget committee has recently questioned the level of investment in athletics in light of institutional needs and priorities.
The university’s decision to cut these programs will affect 85 athletes and 10 coaches. Football was a non-scholarship program, while the hockey team held four grants that will be redistributed amongst other athletic programs. Players currently under scholarship for hockey, however, will maintain the aid if they decide to remain at Fairfield.
Both Fr. Kelley and Doris said they hoped the athletes would remain at Fairfield to complete their education, but were fully supportive if the athletes chose to transfer.
The university will also honor all 10 coaches’ contractual obligations.
It was also announced that the university would offer the opportunity for the members of the hockey team to compete in one of the collegiate club hockey leagues that include schools such as Seton Hall, Princeton, Montclair State, Maryland, Siena, NYU and Marist.
“None of our programs are what you can say ‘programs that make money.’ Some make more to cover their expenses than others,” Doris said. “If you took a look at the scheduling of both football and hockey, it was becoming an aberration to the way we scheduled most of our other sports.”