University is keeping football despite cuts

Miriam Arghandiwal

What is known as America’s most popular sport is now a rare commodity in the California State University system.

In the past two decades, the CSU system has experienced a drastic decline of its football programs. Of the 23 schools in the system, seven have football, including Sacramento State.

Craig Perez, director of development and member of the Stinger Athletic Association, said the decline can be traced to three problems: finances, gender-equity requirements and lack of community support.

Terry Wanless, athletic director, said since Sac State adopted football in 1955, there have been numerous occasions where the future of football was questioned because of money and gender equity. However, the university had strong support for the program so it has been able to maintain it.

Sac State’s first obstacle came in the 1980s when the school’s football team went from being a non-scholarship program to having scholarships. This allowed the school to recruit competitive players.

Wanless said the transition helped Sac State advance its football team and establish itself as a Division I team, but it also increased its funding needs.

The university’s second obstacle came in the mid-1990s after California’s National Organization for Women filed a lawsuit against the CSU system for ignoring Title IX, the federal law that required equal funding and opportunities in athletics to be offered for women and men.

The decision required schools to look at the ratio of their undergraduate men and women enrollment and then measure 5 percent within that ratio. They would then have to stay within that 5 percent measurement while distributing scholarships and participation to their athletics. This would enforce the equal selection among men and women in athletics.

Wanless said to meet this requirement, funding needed to increase to for women’s sports.

San Francisco State University chose to cut some men’s athletic programs, and in its case, football was removed.

Football at San Francisco State required the most funding and it held the largest number of male players, said Dick Mannini, football head coach at San Francisco State in 1995 when the program was canceled.

Mannini said San Francisco State is a commuter school, where many students live off-campus and come to campus for school and work, and then return home. Since the school lacked a strong campus life, the football team did not have a support system to pressure the school into keeping the it.

“The simplest way to put it is that we had an athletic director and president who didn’t know what they were doing,” he said.

Mannini said the school did not make a good effort to save the program and could have found an alternative route to meet the Title IX’s requirement.

“It was easier dropping 85 men than to add women’s sports,” Mannini said. “It defeated Title IX’s purpose. Its goal was to give women athlete’s equal opportunities to men, not to take opportunities from men away.”

Sac State decided to take the route of working harder to balance the athletic department. It voted to pass a referendum to increase student fees in order to meet the gender equity decrees.

Wanless said Sac State’s percentage of undergraduate women students is 57 percent; 14 percent higher than men.

Sac State has 11 women’s sports programs and nine men’s sport programs and met the ratio within 1 percent last year.

Wanless said football costs Sac State up to $2 million a year. By comparison, football costs about $7.5 million at schools like San Diego State, according to an article in the San Diego Tribune. The university contemplated canceling its football program in 2008.

Wanless said schools like Cal and UCLA have football teams in Division I and receive their funding in a business model, which allows the teams to fund themselves without help from the school. They get money from sales of merchandise, ticket sales and television funding. CSUs, on the other hand, are more commonly part of the NCAA’s Football Conference Subdivision and are funded by an educational model. In an educational model, sports teams are dependent on their universities’ support for funding.

A football team has 85 to 100 players. Football is more costly than other sports, Wanless said.

He said Sac State’s program receives funding from the athletic department budget and the general fund, which includes money from student fees.

The football program draws students to Sac State who would have otherwise not attended, including students like Hornet wide receiver Chase Deadder.

“If they cut football, I’d probably end up going home to finish up my degree there,” Deadder said. “I came here because of football, and if they don’t have that then I can get my education back home, too.”

Wanless said football is an important part of the university and a strong source of pride.

“Football brings a university together,” Wanless said, “It’s a fan-based sport. People get excited about it in a way they can’t about other sports. Everyone questions whether that’s right or wrong, but either way it’s a reality.”

Miriam Arghandiwal can be reached at [email protected]