Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why the Loss of Hofstra Football Should Be a Rally Call for Hofstra Men's Bball

This article is being done by Gary Moore, the Hofstra alum.

As many of you have heard, Hofstra dropped it's football program today. After 69 years of producing NFL standouts such as Wayne Chrebet, Marcus Colston, Dave Fiore, Lance Schulters and Tampa Bay Head Coach Raheem Morris, the football program is no more.

Its amazing how much play this story is getting on the news. On ESPN, under "The Most Sent Stories on ESPN", the leader is now "Hofstra cutting football, citing cost, low interest". It had been earlier "Tiger-Elin matchmaker Parnevik lashes out" and Hofstra second, but now Hofstra has taken the lead. Another article with a Hofstra tie in about Saints wide receiver Colston, is the fourth most sent story on ESPN.

I have seen several Hofstra football games over the years. My standout game that I remember seeing involved Hofstra playing Villanova with Brian Westbrook, who had an absolutely dominating day against the Pride. And Hofstra had several very good Division IAA teams under former coach Joe Gardi, who I have met and I like. I have seen Charlie Adams, Gio Carmazzi and others play as well.

However, I suggest if you want to know more about the football end of this, go see the always terrifc Jerry Beach's column "Defiantly Dutch". He has interviews with Coach Gardi and Raheem Morris among others on this.

For me, I am going to come at this from the basketball side. That's what I write about.

I will say this. I am not going to tell you that it was the right thing or the wrong thing to end the football program. I will say this, one of the main reasons cited by Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz for ending the football program was "the low level of interest, financial support and attendance among our students, our alumni and the community, the choice was painful, but clear."

I have been at the football games and he's right in that in a 13,000 seat stadium, there would be 4,000 fans there. And that's also when the team was very good in the Gardi days with Chrebet, Schulters and opposing players like Westbrook.

What's bothersome and what I want to write about in part is that it's a similar malaise with the basketball games as well at Hofstra over the years. I remember being at the first home game in the 2001-02 season against Florida Atlantic, the season after TWO consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. How many fans were there? 1800.

Now to this year. Hofstra is coming off a 21 win season. The Pride have the best player in the NYC area, 2008-09 Haggerty Award winner Charles Jenkins returning for his junior season. The Pride just lost a very close nationally televised game to UConn in the second round of the NIT Tipoff, where the Pride were leading for a good part of the second half (and were down one point with a little over a minute left). What was the attendance for the first home game on a Friday night vs Farmingdale State (grant you, not quite UConn)? 2655, barely half full.

The attendance for the NIT Tipoff games vs. Elon and Charlotte were embarrasing (737 and 787). Grant you, there was not much publicity for these games since the short turn around time for deciding a home arena for these games. But still, quality college basketball and not 1,000 people there?

It's a consistent problem with Hofstra athletics. Lack of attendance. And I am not just blaming students, though 500 out of 4200 on campus students for a football game is not good. It's also the local area, the alumni and the community that just don't see a good thing when it's in front of them.

Here's a great example. Let's go back to the 2005-06 team shall we. This was a team that was returning all its starters basically from the 2004-05 NIT team, so this team was not an unknown quantity. Here's the attendance figures for some of their home games and their record after the game (asterisk notes Saturday game)

December 5, 2005 - 3534 in a win over Delaware (4-1)*
January 5, 2006 - 1814 in a win over JMU (9-2)
January 7, 2006 - 2309 in a win over Georgia State (10-2)*
January 14, 2006 - 2207 in a triple OT win over UNCW (11-3) *
January 29, 2006 - 2907 in win over ODU (15-4)
February 11, 2006 -3614 in win over Northeastern (18-4)*
February 18, 2006 - 3331 in Bracketbuster win over Siena (19-5)*
February 23, 2006 -4192 in win over George Mason (21-5)
February 25, 2006 -5047 in win over Drexel (22-5)*
March 16, 2006 - 3614 in over Nebraska (25-6) -first round NIT
March 22, 2006 -5047 in loss to ODU (26-7)

The January 14 game is quite telling. This was a preview of the eventual CAA championship game and UNCW was in first place in the conference at that time with Hofstra second or third at the time I believe. This was also a televised game and is quite an infamous moment in my life (which I have noted in my blog a couple of times the past few years and will again). And think about it, the place is not even half full for that game.

The January 29 game was the Auremius Kieza three pointer at the buzzer classic. The place wasn't even 60 percent full to see that classic which cemented the ODU/Hofstra feud.

The attendance started to rise after that, though the Bracketbuster attendance was disappointing. The win over Mason was well attended on a Thursday because Mason was nationally ranked at the time. That's what finally got people rocking and the last CAA home game with Drexel was sold out, as was the NIT Quarterfinal game vs. ODU. Stunningly only 3614 were at the Nebraska game (then again it was up against the first round of the NCAA tournament too).

But it took a win over a nationally ranked team to get more than 60 percent of the arena's capacity to come out to see a very good team, a team that went to the NIT the season before. And think about it, only three games where the arena was filled to 80 percent or more capacity for a 26-7 team that swept the season series from a Final Four Team! That's downright disgraceful.

This is my point, there is a general apathy, malaise whatever you call it at Hofstra or more importantly on Long Island to college sports. It's what caused Hofstra to kill a football program that had more of its share of NFL players for a FCS school.

You can't spend/lose 4.5 million dollars annually when you get no publicity and no fan support.

What is it exactly? Here are the reasons I think.

1) Well, unlike a lot of southern/midwestern schools, there is lots to do on Long Island and it's close proximity to the NYC. Broadway plays, major sports franchises, shopping malls (sigh) etc.

2) Two thirds of the Hofstra student base is commuter. They don't live on campus. And the group that is on campus, well the lack of attendance, perhaps it's due to reason #1. When only 1/8 of your on campus population comes to a football game, well, it's not good.

Southern schools like ODU, George Mason, Davidson, UNC Wilmington and especially VCU have most of their students live on campus and there are no pro teams competing (see #3).

3) Unlike most of the schools listed, Hofstra lives in a major sports market. The Knicks, Rangers and Islanders, all of who stink, still dominate the fan base and the airwaves. So commuter students, alumni and the general community will often choose the professional franchise over the college.

Hofstra Basketball has done better in recent years because the NCAA Basketball Tournament has become a big deal. However, the FCS tournament playoffs barely gets any coverage (how many people know Applachian State won 3 national championships in a row in FCS. Seriously). Even when Hofstra was successful at Division I AA and regularly made the playoffs, there was little interest outside of a core group.

But even in college basketball, it's hard to get a consistent local NY fan base unless the team is really really really good. Look at St John's. Once a bastion for great college basketball and all its great tradition, the Jonnies have fallen on hard times and no longer sell out Carnessca Arena on campus, let alone the Garden.

So put all those factors together and it's not easy for Hofstra to get a consistent fan base. But really that is sad. Think about it. Hofstra basketball has had four twenty win seasons in the past five years with three NIT appearances. When's the last time the Knicks or the Islanders had a winning season? Or St John's really for that matter?

Listen to the end of the interview with President Rabinowitz with Mike Francesa today. Mike talks with him about the possible move of the A10 (which Francesa certainly wants and it looks like President Rabinowitz does as well) and that it would need additional resources to do it. The Atlantic 10, which to me is not a mid major conference (an article for another day), gets multiple regular bids to the Dance, unlike the CAA.

But for Hofstra to commit to that, there needs to be a large fan base support, more than there is now. There is a large enough alumni group and enough students that could make a successful fan base for Hofstra basketball.

But someone needs to rally them. So why not me!

To the Hofstra Students - Why not take in a basketball game?!! It's free for you guys! FREE! HELLO!!! Especially if you're on campus. Seriously, are you going to study at 4 pm on a Saturday in February??! And if you're a commuter student, why not come down and take in a game it's free for you too.

To the Hofsta Alumni Community. Here's a chance to channel your frustration about losing Hofstra football and turn it into a positive for Hofstra Basketball. There is a team in the Mack Center dying for support. Bring your kiddies, bring your wife. Guaranteed to have the time of your life (and Hofstra Basketball is much better than the Mets).

To the Long Island/Queens Community - Here's is THE BEST SPORTS VALUE in the area. Take a look at and order tickets online. There is no better place than a rocking full arena with two hours of college basketball with a team that ACTUALLY WINS. Forget the Knicks, forget the Islanders. Hell, basketball tickets are comparably priced with the movies now. Guaranteed more fun watching the Pride than the latest bad movie from Wil Farrell.
Bring your kids. They will love the fast paced action.

And folks, you will see on a regular basis, the best player in the local area, Charles Jenkins. And I can honestly say, if he keeps playing the way he is playing and shooting that outside jumper consistently - by the time he graduates, you will see another Hofstra basketball player drafted in the NBA.

Folks, he's that good. Isn't that worth a few dollars? Isn't that worth a couple of hours on Saturday? To see potential greatness in the making.

Now's the time to rally, Hofstra supporters. Let's face it folks. The football team is gone. It's sad, but it's reality. The economics were much too steep.

Here's a chance to support a good basketball team. Or will you let that fall by the wayside too.

It's up to you.

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