St. Cloud State and Minnesota Crookston announced Tuesday they are dropping their NCAA Division II football programs, with the recently completed season the last to be played at each school.
In a statement, St. Cloud State President Robbyn Wacker said the move will address both a budget shortfall and the school’s struggles to comply with federal Title IX regulations. SCSU also will cut men’s and women’s golf, and it will add men’s soccer.
A statement released by Minnesota Crookston cited the school’s inability to fund football facilities, scholarships, staffing and student-athlete development.
“Without substantial and ongoing financial investment … the football program cannot be maintained, let alone improve competitively,’’ the statement read.
Minnesota Crookston went 0-11 last season and is 2-64 since 2014. St. Cloud State was 4-7 last season, but the Huskies reached the NCAA Division II quarterfinals in 2013 and have finished above .500 in 10 of the past 12 seasons.
Both schools play in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, which issued a statement Tuesday saying they “remain vital members of our conference.’’
SCSU spokesman Adam Hammer said the decision to end a football program founded in 1919 was made by Wacker and athletic director Heather Weems. Neither woman was available for an interview Tuesday. According to Hammer, the changes will address an athletic department budget deficit which has grown to $1.6 million over the past four years as well as a recent federal court ruling that found the athletic department was not complying with Title IX.
That 1972 law prohibits gender discrimination in educational programs or activities that receive federal funds. The school cut six sports in 2016, prompting a lawsuit claiming a Title IX violation. U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim ordered SCSU in August to “take immediate steps’’ to provide equal opportunity to its women athletes.
With football and golf out, and soccer in, St. Cloud State will save $1.2 million a year, Hammer said. The savings will be reinvested into athletics and elsewhere at the school, he said. Hammer said the school’s athletic budget was roughly $10.5 million.
“We looked at every option that we possibly could. This is what made the most sense for the university,” Hammer said.
“The U didn’t want to cut programs. We had to.’’
Donald Chance Mark Jr., the lawyer who represented 10 recent St. Cloud State women athletes who won that lawsuit, took issue with that assertion. He called the decision to eliminate football “deplorable” and said it would be “absolutely ridiculous’’ to suggest that football is being cut because of the August court decision.
During the federal trial a year ago, Mark said an expert testified that SCSU could achieve Title IX compliance by adding one women’s sport.
“You don’t gain by cutting sports,” Mark said. “When you cut sports, you’re also cutting revenue. … If you add a sport, you’re not only adding equality, you’re adding income.”
The income comes from tuition because most college athletes at this level are not on scholarship, he noted. But SCSU has not managed finances well, Mark said. “Unfortunately, a lot of innocent people are paying,” he said.
The school’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee issued a scathing statement Tuesday afternoon, saying it is “extremely disheartened with the lack of dialogue’’ from school officials regarding the cuts. The group, which is made up of Huskies athletes across all sports, warned that cutting teams will harm public perception of the university.
The statement asserted that the majority of athletes at St. Cloud State chose the school for its sports programs, not for academics, and that dumping SCSU’s largest athletic program is an “illogical’’ move that will alienate many alumni. Referring to the common analogy used to describe the role of college athletics, its headline said, “If athletics is the front porch of a university, then our front porch is on fire.’’
“We view this cut as a ‘quick fix’ to a problem that is much deeper than cutting athletics,’’ the statement read. “We have been given no opportunity to discuss alternate solutions, seemingly leaving the choice up to a few individuals. … As student-athletes, we wish this university showed us the same commitment that we continually show it.’’
Former Vikings quarterback Todd Bouman, who played at St. Cloud State in the early 1990s, said the announcement “really came out of the blue.’’ Now the football coach at Buffalo High School, Bouman said one of his players had committed to SCSU and made his official campus visit just last week.
“I think it comes as a shock to everybody,’’ said Bouman, who played 13 NFL seasons. “You just feel bad for the kids that are already there, and the kids that are committed to go to school there and play football.
“Where are they going to go? What are they going to do? Their lives are turned upside down at the drop of a hat.’’
Minnesota Crookston Chancellor Mary Holz-Clause said eliminating football made the most financial sense. The school’s statement said the program has long faced “serious challenges’’ from a lack of funding, which has continued to grow.
“Football is part of the fall experience, but we also have other sports where we needed to allocate more resources,” she said.
Holz-Clause was unable to provide the current football budget or say how much the university will save. Crookston intends to honor scholarships for current football players, even though the team will be disbanded. It is unclear how many will stay and how many will transfer to another school to continue playing football.
It does not appear that either school’s membership in the NSIC will be affected. The league said in a statement that the conference has changed its rules and no longer requires all members to field teams in certain sports. Now, schools must simply play a minimum number of conference-sponsored sports.
The league also said it will allow football players at St. Cloud State and Minnesota Crookston to transfer to other conference schools and play right away. The elimination of the Huskies and Golden Eagles programs leaves the NSIC with 14 football-playing members.