Faced by a budget crunch, Fairfield’s athletic administration said the university’s football program may be disbanded by the end of this week and join the likes of fellow-MAAC schools St. John’s and Canisius, which cut its programs earlier this year.
Director of Athletics Eugene Doris said a budget meeting was scheduled for late Wednesday Feb. 5 where a decision would be made whether to keep the program or not. The result of that meeting was announced at a press conference Thursday, which resulted in the canceling of the football and hockey programs beginning in the 2003-2004 school year.
“It’s been a difficult budget year for athletics. … We’ve been lucky in the past,” Doris said. “It’s highly speculative right now. The fate of the team right now is unknown.”
Doris cited budget cuts and the struggling local economy as chief factors behind the possible disbandment of the program, which was a club sport until the mid-80s and reinstated as a Division I-AA non-scholarship varsity sport in 1996. In 2001, the football program was allotted $170, 747 by the university to cover overall team expenses, according to the Fairfield University Athletics Disclosure Act documents.
Two weeks ago The Mirror asked Doris if there was any possibility that the football program would be disbanded, and Doris said that anything was possible when considering budget cuts.
“If you take a look at society itself and the economy, economics of education are always in question,” said Doris two weeks ago. “I mean we’re in question every year. We have to go into the budget committee and justify what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. They have those meetings every year for a reason.”
At St. John’s, an extensive 18-month review focusing on maximizing student-athlete develop ment was performed before its decision to drop the program following the 2002 season, according to the St. John’s sports information department.
The St. John’s athletic administration said in a press release that the reformation of the school’s athletic programs, which dropped five varsity sports this year, supports the university’s overall strategic planning effort.
Canisius said the school would save $500,000 by cutting seven of its programs, which resulted in an uproar by Canisius football players and alumni, according to a Nov. 29, 2002 article in The Buffalo News.
The article said that more than 30 underclassmen football players now plan to transfer after hearing the program would no longer exist, while alumni have attempted to raise money for an endowment to support the team that was able to gather $15,000 in just one afternoon from 30 alumni.
While many of St. John’s and Canisius players protested the disbandment of its respective programs, Fairfield football players remain optimistic that the Stags program will in fact exist next year.
“From the information our coaches have given us, we’re optimistic there will be a program next year,” said punter Jeff Gomulinski ’05. “You really can’t believe rumors. They’re still recruiting and we’re still working out.”
The team will officially find out the fate of the program Thursday Feb. 6, according to Gomulinski.
Gomulinski, a Sports Network All-American first-team selection this year after punting 66 times for 2,776 yards, admitted that if the program was to be dropped, he would most likely transfer out of Fairfield.
“If they drop the program, I would definitely consider transferring,” said Gomulinski, who booted a career-long 68-yard punt against Marist this season. “I love football and definitely want to continue playing, especially after having such a good season.”
Most of the players haven’t been given much information regarding the future status of the program from the athletic department, according to Nick Totaro ’04.
“We haven’t really heard much. There are rumors going around, but we’re still doing our off-season workouts by running and lifting,” Totaro said. “At this point we’re just going along as if there’s a team. Obviously if they decided otherwise, it would be a great disappointment. Especially going into our [the junior class] senior year, we wouldn’t want that to happen.”
Rishawd Watson ’04, the program’s all-time leading rusher, said the primary reason for him coming to Fairfield was to play football.
“Football has meant everything to me,” Watson said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for football. It was the only reason why I came to Fairfield.”
Doris said, however, that when finances are involved, anything can happen.
“There is a ‘never say never’ about anything,” Doris said. “Finances become a very overriding factor.”