JANUARY 1, 1998
January 1st is a big day for football for those colleges with teams in the various bowl games, but not all schools see football as the good and big business it once was. Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: In late November, the Boston University Terriers traveled to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to finish their season against conference rival James Madison.
ANNOUNCER: --gets the grain to Harriet--Harriet's got it at the 15--at the 20--at the 25--and is all across the 25--
KWAME HOLMAN: BU had won only once in ten games.
ANNOUNCER: Hannifan this time is going to be sacked.
KWAME HOLMAN: But regardless of the outcome on this day, BU's board of trustees already had decided this game would be the Terriers' last, after 91 years of Boston University football.
SPOKESPERSON: Ninety-one years of football down the drain.
SPOKESPERSON: I mean, a major university in a major city to eliminate football, which is--
KWAME HOLMAN: The National Collegiate Athletic Association designates Boston University and 117 other schools as Division 1 AA football teams. That ranks just below the level of traditional football powerhouses like Notre Dame, Nebraska, Florida State, and the rest of the 109 teams that play what's considered big time college football in Division 1 A. Football teams at Boston University's level don't play in any of 20 major bowl games that bring in some 110 million dollars to college football's elite schools. They don't get a share of big television contracts. In fact, Division 1 AA schools rarely are on television at all. That lack of TV exposure makes it difficult for those schools to attract top college athletes. Boston University is an urban school. Its campus, measured in city blocks, stretches narrowly along a highway just across from the Charles River. BU's football stadium, Nickerson Field, mostly sits empty during the week, but it didn't look much different on game day. It seats 14,500, but the home crowds for BU football this season averaged only 2,000.
JOHN SILBER, Chancellor, Boston University: Football is simply not a program that captures the interest of students. We have more students and members of the faculty attending lectures by Elie Weizel than attend a football game.
ELIE WEIZEL: History begins in prayer and ends in rage.
JOHN SILBER: That tells you something. It tells you this is not a football school.
KWAME HOLMAN: John Silber served 26 years as Boston University's president and now is it's chancellor. One of the first things Silber did when he arrived back then was to try to eliminate the football program. The board of trustees rejected the idea.
JOHN SILBER: In 1973, I thought that football was finished at Boston University. I would ask every incoming class: How many of you have seen a football game? A certain number would hold up their hands. How many of you have gone to a concert? More hands would go up among freshmen at Boston University who had seen a concert, or seen a theater production, a professional theater production, than had ever seen a football game. Now, that wouldn't be true if you asked a freshman class at the University of Texas or at Ohio State or at Michigan. But that's true of Boston University.
KWAME HOLMAN: By contrast, BU's men's ice hockey team has been a star attraction on campus for decades. Every year these Terriers are ranked near the top nationally and have won several championships.
JOHN SILBER: We have to pay attention to where the fans are. Eighty thousand fans see our hockey games in a year. Ten thousand see a football game. So why should we be devoting all of that money to a sport that interests so few?
KWAME HOLMAN: All of that money came to some $3 million a year the university was spending to field a football team. In October, the board of trustees announced it had approved the recommendation of university president Jon Westling to drop football. Freed from the expense of football, BU plants to upgrade its other athletic facilities. There will be a new recreation center for intramural sports to replace the 80-year-old armory the university bought from the city; overall funding for women's sports will be increased by $1/2 million a year, and 23 full scholarships for women student athletes will be added. That spending will help Boston University defend itself against a legal challenge. BU was one of twenty-five colleges named in a suit filed in June by the National Women's Law Center. It accused the schools of failing to meet the requirements of the federal law known as Title IX, which says women must be offered an equal opportunity to participate in college sports. 58 percent of BU's students are women and Chancellor Silber says eliminating football will allow BU to comply with the law.
JOHN SILBER: When you consider that you've got to have 63 scholarships for football and very expensive equipment and every expensive facilities, it skews the entire athletic budget unless it's a money-making program. If it's not a money-making program, if you're losing $2.9 million a year on it, where are you going to find the $2.9 million to put into women's athletics? It's not in the cards. So it's better to be able to spend that money by creating more scholarships in the women's sport.
KWAME HOLMAN: At the same time Boston University was making plans to drop football a member of its conference, the University of Connecticut, was planning to expand its football program and move up to the big time, Division 1 A.
LEW PERKINS, Uconn Athletic Director: I'm not saying that our university is going to be a better academic university for playing Division 1 A football, but I think it enhances, you know, our student life on campus; it enhances fund-raising; it enhances our national perception.
KWAME HOLMAN: University of Connecticut Athletic Director Lew Perkins watched as his school's men's and women's basketball teams achieved top national ranking. So when the Big East, one of the top conferences, invited Connecticut to join and play football, Uconn's board of trustees jumped at the chance.
LEW PERKINS: We need to generate some other revenue sources, and football obviously was a potential for us because we are probably losing about $2 million a year right now, and our projections through Big East revenue sharing and some other things is in year six or seven we'd actually be making money off of football.
KWAME HOLMAN: Connecticut's Memorial Stadium seats 16,000, and this fall attendance averaged between eight and twelve thousand as Connecticut played to a seven and four record; however, to qualify to join the Big East a university must have a stadium that seats at least 30,000. Lew Perkins says build it and the fans will come.
LEW PERKINS: I think we've got to do a great marketing job in the first five years or six years, and that's what we're thinking about doing. You know, when we play D.C. here, we'll have 30,000 people, not people--now, the state doesn't have a lot to do.
KWAME HOLMAN: The University of Connecticut estimated it would cost $100 million to build a new stadium, and it had to find a way to come up with the money in a very short period of time. The Big East Athletic Conference gave Connecticut until December 31st to accept its invitation to join. At the state capital in Hartford Governor John Rowland supported the stadium idea and was prepared to call the legislature into special session to approve the money to build it. It appeared to be a done deal but only for a while.
STATE SEN. GEORGE JEPSEN, (D) Connecticut: I was surprised, myself, that in 11 years in the legislature I've never seen an issue with so much support--five out of six top legislative leaders--newspapers in the state, the governor, the Uconn alumni network, I was surprised to see an issue with so much support tumble so quickly.
KWAME HOLMAN: State Senate Majority Leader George Jepsen opposed spending taxpayer's money for the new stadium, and he soon realized he wasn't alone.
STATE SEN. GEORGE JEPSEN: Once it became clear that the public did not support it and that the proponents were having difficulty articulating a reasonable basis for the stadium, defending the cost, establishing a linkage between academics and athletics, once it became clear that there was no compelling reason to do it, support on a bipartisan basis simply crumbled.
KWAME HOLMAN: The University of Connecticut already is slated to get a billion dollars in state money over 10 years to strengthen its academic programs and build new facilities. Legislators drew the line at spending 10 percent more to expand football.
LEW PERKINS: I think as you're looking across the country not only here in Connecticut but every place is do you want to spend your taxpayers' dollars on a facility, you know, for six games a year, and then, you know, we were trying to talk about high school games, and, you know, soccer, and stuff like that, versus spending money on some other areas that the state really needs. So I really, I personally really believe it came down to a financial issue.
KWAME HOLMAN: Across the state line in Massachusetts Boston University's John Silber agrees.
JOHN SILBER: Considering the cost of education and the amount that the taxpayers pay for public education, they have to ask is there some reason why we ought to be subsidizing the national professional football leagues? Is it some reason that we're obligated to provide farm teams for the majors? I think that's a pretty hard sell to the taxpayers in any state, in Massachusetts or in Connecticut.
KWAME HOLMAN: The decision not to provide the money to build a new stadium at the University of Connecticut is seen by some as an opportunity that may come around again. But the decision to eliminate football altogether at Boston University has been called radical, even cold-hearted, by the few but fervent fans who supported the team through its last game.
CARL REICHENBECHNER, BU Parent: Money, it's a wealthy university. I mean, they've got as much money as any Ivy League school.
KWAME HOLMAN: Carl Reichenbechner's son, Derek, is a freshman on the Boston University team.
CARL REICHENBECHNER: For these kids, they've taken the heart out of it; there's no trust for the school; there's no--you know, there's no alma mater; there's no boola boola. I mean, there's no homecoming for these kids anymore.
LEON SPIVACK, Class of '37: It's a great disappointment to me. It's my school. I can't deny that. The school was good to me when I went.
KWAME HOLMAN: Eighty-two-year-old Leon Spivack captained the 1937 BU team, the one that upset crosstown rival and nationally ranked Boston College.
LEON SPIVACK: it was a great victory for us. We had a good team, very good team.
KWAME HOLMAN: Spivack has attended almost every Boston University football game, home and away, for the last 22 years.
LEON SPIVACK: I'll find something. We'll be doing the things that we had always wanted to do but couldn't do because of football.
KWAME HOLMAN: Boston University played its final game against James Madison severely short-handed. Several players left the team soon after the decision to drop football was announced. So when quarterback Dan Hanafin left the game with an injury, Coach Tom Masela had no choice but to send in a wide receiver, Damon Mickel, to run the team. The team's effort was valiant. Down twenty-four to nothing at half-time, the BU Terriers rallied for two touchdowns in the second half. However, in the language of sports cliches it was too little, too late.
SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Time has run out on the Boston University Terriers.
KWAME HOLMAN: For the five seniors on the Boston University Football Team this would be the last game of their college football careers under any circumstances. The underclassmen now have decisions to make. Those who stay at BU will have their football scholarships honored through graduation. Some will transfer to other schools where they can continue to play football. They will have the option of coming back to Boston University to complete their academic work and get their degrees once their playing days are over. On this day, however, the thoughts of most of the Boston University players were not on the future but caught up in the present.
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