Should universities sack football?

College football carries a huge price tag these days. Can that money be better spent? Check out the examples of Boston University and Northeastern.

Alan Schwartz / Cal Sport Media / Newscom / File
September 20, 2008: Northeastern quarterback Anthony Orio (#10) gets sacked by the Syracuse defense at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. Northeastern University has since decided to get rid of NCAA football and use the savings to upgrade the rest of its athletic program.

At Northeastern, a private university in Boston, the college football model wasn’t working very well. Expenses averaged $3.5 million, and attendance was just 1,600 fans per game from a student body of over 20,000. After a two year review of the athletic department, the decision was made to drop the sport. Shira Springer describes the fallout in two articles in today’s Boston Globe. One focuses on the institution at large, the other on the players, many of whom transferred.

The negative fallout appears to be modest. Those with ties to the program are understandably upset with the institution’s change in priorities. But as Springer makes clear in her article, neighboring Boston University did much the same thing in 1997, reallocating funds to other sports programs.

After dropping football, BU poured $285 million into athletic facilities over 12 years, building a new sports and entertainment complex, a new boathouse, a track and tennis facility and a fitness and recreation center. Alumni giving earmarked for intercollegiate sports has gone up, not down. And student interest has soared, with intramural sports participation up more than 55 percent.

Those facts suggest that reallocating funds from football to other sports worked well for BU. Moreover, football itself can be played without the trappings of the major college football scene — in particular the professionalization and associated costs in the coaching ranks. At BU, students recently formed the Boston Terriers Football Club. The Terriers won their first game against a club team from Eastern Connecticut, and they play the University of Maine Football Club today. If interest in football remains at Northeastern, forming a club team to play the Terriers and similar teams would seem like a reasonable option.

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