By Chuckie Maggio
In America, the start of fall means the return of football. The passion fans have for our country’s most popular sport is simply unmatched; every weekend is game weekend, and that’s a cause for celebration from sea to shining sea.
The pigskin fanaticism is no different in the St. Bonaventure University community. Many students wear their favorite team’s gear around campus, the most popular team being the hometown Buffalo Bills.
While rooting for an NFL team is fun and exhilarating, as the leaves fall you will start to hear a familiar question being posed: “Why doesn’t Bonaventure have a football team?”
Once upon a time, the Bonnies had a winning team on the gridiron. Twelve players went on to play professional football, with Jack Butler standing above the rest. After an illustrious college career, Butler played nine years for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was named an All-Pro for six years, earning him the title of NFL Defensive Back of the Decade for the 1950’s. His play earned him induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
In February 1952, the financial upkeep the football team required became too much for the university to handle; the Board of Trustees voted to end the program after 60 years. Despite the fact that it’s been 62 years since the Bonnies last took the football field, the debate still rages over if the university should bring the sport back.
The questions students still have are understandable — why should Bonaventure have to be excluded from the proverbial “reindeer game” that is NCAA football? Why can’t we gather on Saturdays and watch the Bonnies march up the field? The Bona students should be those screaming fans on “College Gameday” one Saturday morning, right?
As it did in the 1950’s and still does in college sports today, the answer always comes down to money.
It’s no secret that Bonaventure’s athletic department is operating on an extremely tight budget. The Bonnies have the lowest athletic budget in the Atlantic 10, with $9,355,566 in both revenues and expenses according to institutional data. In the entire NCAA Division I, the budget ranks 311 in spending and 314 in revenue out of 351 programs. The men’s basketball budget is just under $2.5 million.
The fact that Bonnies basketball is competitive year in and year out with a budget that would make the Kardashians cringe is extremely impressive, but $9 million doesn’t come close to cutting it in college football. No team in the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision, or Division I-A), has a lower athletic budget than Bonaventure, and many FCS (Football Championship Subdivision, or Division I-AA) schools have thousands of dollars more than Bonaventure to spend on athletic programs.
It’s not just the athletic budget.
The entire university is struggling financially at this point. It has become a sad reality that enrollment is dropping, endowment is diminishing, costs are rising and faculty salaries are being frozen. An article by Taylor Nigrelli in The Bona Venture two weeks ago highlighted the fact that clubs across campus, such as the Campus Activities Board (CAB), intramural/club sports, The Bona Venture and WSBU-FM, 88.3, The Buzz each saw their budgets significantly slashed for the 2014-15 school year. If the big clubs are witnessing budget cuts, a push for a big-time football team at this school is simply unrealistic at this time.
Even if Bonaventure had enough money to establish a football team again, the move would certainly have crippling effects on the other athletic teams. Take Temple University for example. Temple, once a member of the A-10 for every sport except football, has never been known as a football powerhouse, save for a couple strong seasons under Al Golden. However, once they got the chance to jump to the now-American Athletic Conference for all sports, they took it.
However, to stay competitive in their new conference and boost funds, Temple made a surprising move by eliminating seven of its intercollegiate teams last December, nearly a third of their programs–baseball, softball, men’s and women’s crew, outdoor and indoor track and field and men’s gymnastics were dropped by the school.
In addition to competitive reasons, the university cited costs, poor facilities and Title IX regulations as other factors into the cuts. About 150 student-athletes and nine coaches were essentially thrown by the wayside.
To say the early results of Temple’s cuts have been far from pleasant would be an understatement. The football team, which has a $2.8 million budget, went 2-10 last year and, doesn’t figure to be much better in 2014. The basketball team went 9-22, a far cry from the six consecutive 20-win seasons and NCAA Tournament appearances they earned prior to changing conferences.
The moral of the Temple story is that the Owls’ athletic department became so obsessed with the big-bucks world of college football that they may have ruined their entire athletic program for years. Even if the Bonaventure athletic department had the funds to put together a mediocre football team, it would be foolish to do so if it would risk breaking down the basketball program the university has worked tirelessly to reconstruct from the shambles of 2003.
While an NCAA college football team is certainly out of the question at Bonaventure, an economical way to bring the game back could be club football. The university ended its club team in 1970 after a two-year experiment, but it may be time to consider starting it back up again. After all, the school’s club rugby and hockey teams have proven to be very successful, and other club sports have been established as a result of that success.
Administration can’t pony up the money for a Division I, II or III football team, but maybe they can afford a venture such as this one sometime in the future when the enrollment issues are sorted out.
The thought of a St. Bonaventure football team in the 21st century is an appetizing one, and there is no denying that it would bring some excitement and electricity to the campus and community. However, with the current state of the university and athletic program football is nothing more than a pipe-dream.