A few pairs of field goal posts, a $1,000,000+ Astroturf field, and a couple of faded, black and white photographs that hang in The Levee are remnants of a failed enterprise: Fairfield football.
As students look on at these artifacts and cheer for other schools’ teams, many cannot help but wonder: why did the program go extinct? Twice?
“I miss the program, obviously,” said Mark Spellman, director of strength and conditioning for the Athletic Department, who helped train the team. An old Stags football helmet, a relic of the past, collects dust on a shelf in his office. “They had a passion for what they did, they worked hard at what they did … and they worked not only individually, but as a group to succeed,” Spellman said.
Football first made its appearance on campus as a club team in 1966 according to newspaper accounts from the period.
However, it never really had strong student fanfare. Andrea Golen’80 was very active in student life during her time at Fairfield, but she does not remember football as being an integral part of the school’s social scene. “There wasn’t much mention of it [the football team], and I don’t think many people attended games,” she said.
Golen did note that there was school spirit present amongst the student body and that basketball games were well attended, but football seemed to fall under the radar. It was eventually cut from the school’s roster.
Under then-President Aloysius P. Kelley, Fairfield reinstated the football program in 1996 for several reasons, including to increase the male and black student population of the school as well as boosting school spirit. The team was placed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference at the NCAA Division I-AA level and, after only three years, won the MAAC Championship. Mirror stories from the era show head coach Kevin Kiesel was credited with essentially building the program from scratch and led the team to much of the only success it would have.
In the height of its glory days, the 1999 team posted a 9-2 regular season record and was ranked fifth among the nation’s Division I-AA non-scholarship programs. Two players earned All-American honors and in 2000, senior Steve Dogmanits led all of Division I-AA with a career-high 11 interceptions.
Kiesel’s resignation in 2001 seemed to foreshadow the imminent end of Fairfield’s participation in the sport. By January of 2003, the Football program, along with Ice Hockey, was disbanded and players were left with the difficult decision of either transferring to pursue a chance at competitive play or finishing out their time here.
The primary reason for giving the program the axe was money. Simply put, the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze for the athletic department and the annual $570,000 expenditure between Football and Ice Hockey was not transferring into greater attendance at games.
Alison Sexton, Senior Associate Director of Athletics said the program did not offer athletic scholarships for potential players. Such a disadvantage made it very hard for the team to keep up with the highly-competitive world of recruiting.
Likewise, the resources needed for such a program were far too demanding on the University. “There were some years when we had close to 110 guys, so we couldn’t get all these guys into one weight room,” Sexton said. Moreover, facilities suffered a substantial amount of wear and tear from football as well as from the other teams. Following the program’s termination, a series of renovations were set underway including the creation of a $1,000,000+ Astroturf field in place of the old football field adjacent to the Walsh Athletic Center.
Another factor was remaining in accordance with regulations, such as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which calls for spending roughly the same on men’s and women’s collegiate athletic programs. Spending so much for a predominantly male sport meant spending more on women’s sports equivalent.
Any current-day hope for a third coming of football at Fairfield seem as empty as the bleachers were at football games, according to old yearbook photos. Yet in a non-scientific survey polling 30 students, 18 were for the return of a Fairfield football program.
“There’s a shortage of serious sports fans at this school and I think that’s partly because we don’t have a football team,” said Steve Flanagan’12. “At the same time, I feel like the success of our lacrosse team helps to take away from not having a football team. I think that void is filled.”