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NORTHRIDGE ATHLETICS: The Aftermath

Football Catches the Fallout

Reaction: Fenwick admits to the pressure of producing a winner in his first season as coach of the Matadors.

June 13, 1997|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — With Cal State Northridge's decision to cut four men's sports programs, football Coach Jim Fenwick might have to produce a winner quickly or likely be criticized by those who would have rather seen football discontinued at the school.

"I feel the pressure, I feel the responsibility," Fenwick said.

Fenwick, hired in January to take over the Matadors after Dave Baldwin resigned to become coach at San Jose State, already was headed for the season with the challenge of keeping the program on the upswing.

Under Baldwin the past two years, the Matadors improved steadily and last season held their own in the Big Sky Conference, yet they remain a work in progress.

The elimination Wednesday of baseball, volleyball, soccer and swimming at Northridge could put Fenwick on the hot seat, but he hopes people have realistic expectations about the football team.

"What they are going to forget is that we have a long road to have a legitimate chance to compete with the [opponents] we play," Fenwick said.

Among the obstacles on that road, Fenwick said, are the number of scholarships offered by other Big Sky schools in comparison to Northridge, lack of substantial fan support and inadequate facilities for a Division I-AA program.

Next season, Northridge will have 45 football scholarships, considerably fewer than the 63 allowed by the NCAA for I-AA teams and offered by most of the nine Big Sky schools.

Some question the wisdom of saving a football team that hasn't been overly popular while sacrificing successful programs. They argue that Northridge could have met state-mandated gender-equity requirements by dropping football, which requires about 85 players, and keeping the other programs.

Northridge, however, could not eliminate football because it is a Big Sky core sport that all conference members must play. Even without that requirement, Fenwick believes Northridge should have continued football.

"There are 100 schools that would take the easy way out and drop football," said Fenwick, who coached Valley College the past six seasons and turned the Monarchs into a national junior college power. "This administration hasn't done that. That separates us. That makes us better than the [Cal State] Fullertons and Long Beach States and San Francisco States that dropped football."

Fenwick said he feels badly about the cuts, particularly since he is the newest coach at Northridge and his program survived, but he is trying to concentrate on preparing for the season.

"I've seen how much those [coaches] cared about their players," Fenwick said. "I couldn't even imagine being in their shoes. . . . In my short time here, they've been great to me. That's the emotional side of it.

"My challenge is to make the football program stronger. . . . I was hired to run the football program and to try to make it successful."

That could be quite a task because of the program's developmental stage and the backlash generated by the cuts.

"By dropping sports, it creates a feeling of instability in the overall [athletic] program," Fenwick said. "It hurts indirectly with community support and with potential fund-raising.

"When I went to Valley, it seemed like nobody cared. It takes time to get people interested in your program. . . . I think that in the long run, [Northridge] will be a successful program."

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