Fairfield University eliminates two varsity sports


Fairfield University President Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., announced today that the University will eliminate two varsity sports - football and men's ice hockey - beginning with the 2003-2004 academic year. This will reduce the number of varsity athletic programs for men and women at the University to 19.

Fr. Kelley said the action to eliminate the two varsity sports was a financial decision reached during annual budget preparations by the University's senior administration and endorsed by the Board of Trustees. He said, that although the decision was a difficult one, ultimately it will enhance Fairfield's ability to maintain excellence academically and athletically in the years ahead.

"Decisions such as this are always difficult, and our first concern is for those student-athletes, coaches and other personnel who will be affected directly by it," he said. "The university will honor commitments made to those individuals and will assist them in every way possible."

"At the same time," he added, "this is a decision that will give us a greater opportunity to maintain our ambitious goals in the area of Division I intercollegiate athletics while strengthening the resources we need to meet our primary mission of educating young men and women."

Fr. Kelley said that the elimination of both programs would result in significant annual savings of approximately $570,000 not including athletic grants-in-aid. Those funds, he said, would be reallocated to support the University's student financial aid program. This reallocation, made by the senior administration, will clearly be a help to the University's Budget Committee at this critical stage of its deliberations. He also said pressures on student financial aid are even more acute this year with the state of Connecticut considering drastic cuts in aid programs for Connecticut college students along with the uncertainty in the national economy.

The football program at Fairfield did not offer athletic grants-in-aid. The four grants the University designated for the ice hockey program will be redistributed among other sports programs. Fr. Kelley said the University will offer the opportunity for involvement in one of the collegiate club hockey leagues, an option of which schools such as Seton Hall, Princeton, Montclair State, University of Maryland, Siena, New York University and Marist have taken advantage.

Citing the commitment Fairfield University made six years ago to strengthening its intercollegiate and recreational athletic programs as part of its long range planning activity, Fr. Kelley said it was important to maintain the University's athletic program at a level consistent with its reputation for academic strength.

Since that time, Fairfield has made a substantial investment in its athletic program making the institution's level of support the highest in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. This has included an increased commitment to personnel, operating, and grants-in-aid budgets and support services as well as the establishment of a relationship with The Arena at Harbor Yard. In addition, the University has also provided capital funds for construction of the Walsh Athletic Center, University Field, Lessing Field and the University Softball Diamond, renovation of Alumni Field, and an expansion and enhancement of the Leslie C. Quick Jr. Recreation Complex.

"The costs of simply maintaining the current level of support for our Division I intercollegiate athletic program are escalating," said Fairfield University Athletic Director Eugene Doris. "Even though football offers no athletic grants-in-aid, and hockey receives limited support in that area, each has significant operating costs. We have had a growing awareness of the level of increased funding each program would require in the immediate future simply to maintain them."

Doris explained that Fairfield operates its athletic program on a tiered structure whereby Tier I programs - men's and women's basketball - receive the maximum allowable athletic grants-in-aid and Tier IV programs, including football, receive no such aid. Men's ice hockey was a Tier III sport, meaning it received a limited number of grants-in-aid.

"The financial data we have been gathering looking ahead to next year and beyond clearly demonstrated that this is a prudent move for Fairfield University at this time," Fr. Kelley said. "Each year we evaluate all University programs and we look at the contribution those programs make to our overall mission and, of course, the resources that are required to support them at levels consistent with that mission." He noted that in recent years the University's Budget Committee, comprised of individuals representing the administration, faculty and students, has questioned the level of investment in athletics in light of other institutional needs and priorities

"Restructuring the varsity athletic program in this fashion is the soundest way to provide the kind of support we believe is necessary for the remaining 19 varsity programs to achieve the levels of quality and success that we desire," Doris said.

Doris said that 10 coaches are affected by the decision. In football, there are currently two full-time coaches, three part-time and three graduate assistants. Hockey has one full-time and one part-time coach. The University will honor all remaining contractual obligations to its coaches, he continued.

Eighty-five students are involved in the two sports - 64 returning football players and 21 returning hockey players. "The scholarship commitments the University has made to those hockey players will be honored if they choose to remain at Fairfield," Doris said.

"We hope that student-athletes will choose to complete their academic careers at Fairfield, although we also understand the role that a sport plays in an individual's life. Should a student wish to transfer to another institution to continue participating in his sport, Fairfield will assist him in every way possible," he continued. All affected student-athletes who remain at Fairfield will continue to have access to services and facilities that support intercollegiate athletics. A senior member of his staff will act as liaison for those student-athletes, Doris said.

With the elimination of football and hockey, the University now offers the following sports: basketball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, cross country, swimming and golf for men and women; women's volleyball, men's baseball, women's softball, women's field hockey, and women's crew.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on February 7, 2003