Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Is collegiate football dying?

Well if you listen to the commentary that has come with the announcement that Northeastern University has cut its football program you would think we were back in the early 1900s when football almost died a quick death due to concerns over morality and mortality.
The story on NESN (New England Sports Network) keeps running over and over. It starts with footage of Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass 25 years ago when he was Boston College's quarterback and then shows footage of NU's women's hockey team (probably one of the few times women's ice hockey makes it to NESN) where the network found NU AD Peter Robie who made the announcement last week. But the whole story is framed around Boston football and how Boston University cut its football team (years and years ago) and now Northeastern is "following suit."
It is unfortunate when any sport gets cut--as we have noted time and time again. But the loss of NU football is not an augury or comment on the state of football. After all, as the NESN story noted, BU has done just fine since cutting its program. (I heard the other day that it offers the 2nd-most expensive undergraduate education in the country. So the lack of a football program has not hurt enrollment.)
When the story first broke, and before the panic attack, I looked at NU's numbers. The school has a 50/50 male/female undergraduate ratio and women receive 47 percent of athletic opportunities. So Title IX was not a factor in the cuts. It was truly a money issue, primarily over the cost of renovating facilities that would attract quality players in order to become competitive again.
But what I did notice was that with football gone, NU would--if it chooses to comply with prong one--be able to add a men's sport. They have women's swimming and diving already. They could add men's swimming and diving which is generally considered a lower cost sport (they already have the pool after all!). And at a time when many eastern schools are cutting men's swimming, it might make NU a popular destination. (Note that I do not know several important factors that would influence such a decision including the current state of the swimming facilities or what kind of competition exists in NU's conference or geographic area.)
In other words, the loss of NU's football program will sting for a little bit, but like BU did, NU will move on and likely improve the overall strength of its athletic department. And football is nowhere near dying.