AZUSA (CNS) - Azusa Pacific University announced this week it is dropping its football program because of rising costs associated with the lack of local play.
Football expenditures have nearly doubled over the past decade, primarily because of increased travel costs resulting in annual departmental deficits, according to athletic director Gary Pine.
The Cougars were the only NCAA Division II program in California, forcing them to travel extensively. Since 2005, Azusa Pacific has averaged three airplane flights per season, Pine said.
Over the past four years, that average climbed to five, including 2019 when all six road games required air travel, making Azusa Pacific the only NCAA Division II or III school in the nation forced to fly to all of its road games, Pine said.
Pine said he reached the decision in consultation with the university's President's Cabinet and Board of Trustees following a thorough review of the three-year financial trends in the athletics program, an examination of the declining status of college football in California and discussion with key stakeholders.
“This is an extremely difficult decision," said Pine. “I love Cougar football and it has meant a lot to all of us. Unfortunately, the long-term trends of college football in California have eroded the fiscal sustainability of many programs, ours included, and caused annual departmental deficits.''
The program's most prominent product, retired Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye, said in a statement released by the university he was “saddened, but I understand the decision.''
The Cougars had their 2020 season canceled by the Great Northwest Athletic Conference because of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision to drop football was not related to the pandemic but did impact its timing, Pine said.
Azusa Pacific University will honor all athletic scholarship commitments made to its football players through their graduation from their current academic program as long as they maintain basic NCAA eligibility standards, Pine said.
Azusa Pacific began its football program in 1965, competing on the NAIA level, winning the championship in 1998. It switched to the NCAA Division II level in 2012, winning the Great Northwest Athletic Conference four times between 2013 and 2018.
The Cougars were 1-9 in what turned out to be their final season, 2019, losing their last six games.
Azusa Pacific is the second college or university in Los Angeles County to drop football in three months. Occidental College announced in October it was dropping football because of “the unique challenges specific to Oxy football,'' including the cost to maintain a competitive program and how the pool of prospective football players was limited by Occidental's rigorous academic standards and declining participation in youth football programs.
Over the past 30 years, 14 California four-year colleges and universities have dropped football while only Chapman University has added the sport, according to Pine. From a high of 37 football-playing four-year colleges and universities in California in 1975, only 17 still have the sport, Pine said.
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