This weekend, Brian Kelly called a team meeting to tell his Cincinnati players that he had accepted the head coaching job at Notre Dame.
The Bearcats’ standout receiver and vocal team leader, Mardy Gilyard, immediately walked out of the room and told the Associated Press, “He went for the money. I’m fairly disgusted with the situation, that they let it last this long.”
I sympathize with Gilyard, but only to a point. His team has a chance to upset a deflated Florida team and finish the season 13-0, but the situation could be much, much worse.
Mardy, you lost your coach. Ask Northeastern senior defensive lineman Chris Byrne what it’s like to lose your program.
A few weeks ago, his FCS football team met with athletic director Peter Roby, in a similar setting to Cincinnati’s meeting with Kelly. But Roby dropped a much bigger bombshell.
At his recommendation, the school decided to drop the team forever.
“I am convinced that this decision is in the best interest of the university,” Roby wrote in an open letter, explaining the situation. “The past several years have been disappointing for our football program despite the best efforts of our staff and players.”
After Kelly’s meeting, Gilyard was worried about what he would tell his younger teammates who needed motivation for the bowl game.
It could be much worse, Mardy.
You could have to console the younger guys — the ones who are now faced with potentially life-changing decisions, like whether to transfer or stay in Boston.
“I had some younger friends on the team who were crying in my arms,” Byrne told AthleticBusiness.com after the decision. “It was pretty ridiculous how it all went down, because nobody saw it coming. We felt betrayed and lied to. Even though we thought there was a chance the program might get cut, Peter Roby assured us it wouldn’t be.”
Northeastern is just one school in a sad trend this offseason. Not as publicized as the annual firing of coaches, smaller schools around the country are canning their entire football teams, clearly for monetary reasons.
Western Washington cut football in January 2009, and Hofstra and Northeastern cut their teams after this season. According to the Associated Press, the move will save Hofstra’s athletic department $4.5 million annually, and a combined 13 new sports programs are being planned between Northeastern and Hofstra.
In an ideal world, every school could have every sport, and every athletic department could be as comfortably independent and financially stable as Michigan’s. But the reality is — especially in this economy, when people might not want to pay to watch a 3-8 FCS team like Northeastern — that’s not how college athletics work.
Football is, hands down, the most expensive team a school can field. Though the benefits of having a team can often outweigh the negatives, it’s a shame when a school just can’t sustain the sport any longer.
I love football, especially college football, because of its passion. And I can’t think of anything more passionate than playing for a struggling FCS team just for the love of the game. It’s a shame these kids are losing out on that opportunity.
I’m sure it hurt Mardy Gilyard to hear of Kelly’s departure, and I really respected that he told the city, “Cincinnati, I got you, we got you.” But imagine, Mardy, that you had to tell Cincinnati that your program was just dropped to save a few bucks.
— Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.