Division II Augustana won’t be the only football team leaving the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. League members Minnesota-Crookston and St. Cloud State have announced plans to shutter their football programs this week. For a variety of reasons, football is fading – even in towns where they are the only show in town.
Opposing the brisk headwinds, DII member Augustana, also in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, has publicly announced a strategic plan to move from DII to DI status but claims they want to keep football – either by going FCS non-scholarship or full scholarship like the South Dakota Coyotes and South Dakota State Jacks. According to their AD, Josh Morton, “Football is a big part of our campus, so for us it’s trying to decide which league fits best, again going back to who we are, and which of those two options — either scholarship or non-scholarship — fits the best.” All this with only 2,543 students and a $10.3 million/year athletic budget.
NCAA Division II St Cloud State’s athletic director, Heather Weems, a former Denver athletic administrator, announced the end of football at the Minnesota University. According to The St. Cloud Times, a Title IX lawsuit was said to be the reason for the football elimination but a scant 58 season ticket holders, declining attendance and declining enrollment at the University have led to reduced student fees, an athletic department deficit and the ultimate decision to vaporize the football program.
St. Cloud State President Robbyn Wacker summed up a big issue, “Folks aren’t attending football like they did 10 to 15 years ago,” at the 14,000-strong university. And, interestingly, SCSU is adding a men’s soccer program to keep the program in compliance with NCAA rules.
The University of Nebraska Omaha, a member of the Summit League with DU, followed a similar course and has enjoyed success in a number of other sports since dropping a high profile wrestling program and football in 2011.
There is a growing trend, especially in football, of declining attendance – even for the big programs. Of 2017’s thirty top football programs in terms of attendance, 20 of them either saw no change or witnessed a drop in 2018. Add the cost of large rosters, equipment, coaches and travel costs make football a burden to many athletic departments.
There are a number of theories for the decline – cost, convenience, lifestyle, sports bars, big-screen TVs, millennial lifestyles, demographics and competitive balance to name a few. Today, there is comfort in staying at home and watching games on TV or other technology which has led to the decline of spectator sports, especially, football.
By dropping football and men’s and women’s golf, the Huskies will reportedly save 1.2 million dollars per year.