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CSUN May Punt Expensive Football Team

Sports: Athletic director recommends cutting the money-losing program. Few students seem to care.

October 03, 2001|ZANTO PEABODY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If university President Jolene Koester decides to disband the Cal State Northridge football team, it could be called an athletic appendectomy.

It's the program that hurts the athletic budget the most but whose function is hard to explain.

A day after the athletic director recommended that Koester dismantle CSUN's football team, few students or observers seemed to care. With no nationally televised games and a smattering of fans, the Matadors aren't exactly a household name.

"We might as well fast-forward past football season and go straight to basketball," said sophomore David Clark, one of about 30,000 students at the commuter campus.

A small but dedicated few, though, stand to lose their already-lost cause.

Lou Marino Sr., a director of the Matador Athletic Assn. booster group, said he painfully predicted the fall of football when the university temporarily dropped men's baseball, soccer, volleyball and swimming in 1997.

"When they started throwing dollar figures around a few years ago, it was obvious what was going to happen for those of us who watch closer than most," said Marino, who is not a Northridge alumnus. "Whether we had a team was going to come down to money. Every businessman in the Valley should have supported CSUN, but football has never really caught on."

The program cost the campus about $1 million a year, but brought in only $26,000 in gate receipts.

Pierce College in Woodland Hills may benefit from the team's demise. CSUN, which had planned to vacate its old field and build a $10-million football stadium, plays its home games at Pierce's stadium in the interim. CSUN has already paid Pierce $120,000 for the first two years of a stadium rental contract.

Pierce spokesman Mike Cornner said the college would be free to spend the money on other projects rather than on planned stadium improvements if CSUN drops football.

Getting rid of the football program is the most logical solution to the athletic department's budget problems, said Athletic Director Richard Dull.

Northridge fields 21 varsity sports including football, more than any other Cal State campus and well above the 16-sport average of other NCAA Division I-A schools.

Dull said the millions wasted on football should be diverted to other sports, with the nationally recognized basketball team receiving the biggest push.

Matador athletics as well as other departments will be looking for savings to prepare for anticipated belt-tightening next budget season.

"The trigger to discontinue football is another year of budget deficits, when we know we have a potentially serious budget situation in terms of the state," Koester said.

Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton in years past discontinued their football teams to balance budgets, and to comply with federal requirements that there be nearly the same percentage of women in sports as there are women students.

Dull and Koester agreed that the goals of federal Title IX and the more stringent settlement with the California National Organization for Women that mandate gender equity are worthy, if difficult to attain.

Taking a harsher look was Marino, a 40-year fan of Matador football and one of 380 boosters who annually raise enough to fund three football scholarships.

The NOW settlement, he said, "has done more harm than good, especially for minorities. It's unfair because there is no women's sport that requires as many team players as football. Everybody knows it's not fair, but there is no politician around with enough [guts] to question it."

If the football program goes, so do the stadium building plans, which Dull said were far too optimistic given Northridge's fan base.

"That concept, 'If you build it, they will come,' only works in movies," Dull said. "After our first football game I saw two years ago, I knew football would be a hard program to keep, so I never promoted the stadium idea."

Cal State Fullerton Associate Athletic Director Mel Franks, having gone through two rounds of athletic cutbacks, said Northridge can anticipate a minor but prolonged backlash from students.

"We still have signs up on campus saying, 'Bring back Titan football,' " Franks said. "But if all those people had shown up when we had a team, we wouldn't have dropped it."

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