California programs are pulling disappearing acts

The occasional e-mail still appears in Michael J. Simpson’s inbox, an innocent question asking San Francisco State’s athletic director why the school no longer has a football team.

The Gators discontinued their program in 1995 after a long, slow decline that began in 1973 — the school’s last winning season. Now, homecoming events are held during winter basketball games and the 6,500-seat Cox Stadium has been converted into a soccer facility that is no longer suited for football.

“I just have to tell [those who ask] that basically [football] went away and the environment has changed a lot since it left,” said Simpson, San Francisco State’s AD since 1997. “And because of the issues of financing, the need for gender equality in sports and a lack of available competition, the point [of bringing it back] is almost moot.”

The demise of San Francisco State’s program is reminiscent of a larger state-wide trend, as 11 California schools have sacked their teams since 1991. In fact, only one Division II program — Humboldt State — remains in Northern California, leaving the Lumberjacks to scramble to find local opponents to play against. The teamhas just one road game in the state on its 2007 schedule and has already traveled to North Dakota, Colorado and Washington for games this season (losing all three).

“It’s a challenge, but we’re committed to providing our students and the community with a football program,” Humboldt State athletic director Dan Collen said. “It increases the diversity of our campus and helps with exposure and enrollment.”

But despite the advantages, the large financial commitment it takes to operate a college football program and the need to meet Title IX standards has made it difficult for many other schools to sustain teams. And while football’s disappearance has become a sensitive subject on some four-year campuses now without a team, the impact has also been felt locally at the junior college level. A small percentage of players from City College of San Francisco and the College of San Mateo are lucky and talented enough to receive Division I scholarships to schools such as Cal and San Jose State, but the vast majority are left to explore options in far away outposts such as Bemidji (Minn.) State, Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) and Savannah (Ga.) State.

“As a coach, it’s very frustrating to see your kids have to go out of state and so far away,” CSM coach Larry Owens said. “They’re California residents who want to stay and play in front of their families and friends and there’s nowhere for them to go.”

CCSF coach George Rush said the lack of four-year programs limits the opportunities for local athletes to continue playing while working toward a college degree.

“It’s a disgrace and what bothers me so much is the people getting hurt are the kids and families that can least afford it,” Rush said. “It’s one of the great injustices in higher education the way they treat these kids.”

Going, going gone …

These 11 California college football programs have disappeared since 1990:

» UC Santa Barbara (1991)

» Cal State Long Beach (1991)

» Cal State Fullerton (1992)

» Santa Clara (1992)

» Cal State Hayward (1994)

» San Francisco State (1995)

» University of the Pacific (1995)

» Chico State (1997)

» Sonoma State (1997)

» Cal State Northridge (2001)

» St. Mary’s College (2004)

Proving ground

Junior colleges such as CCSF and CSM offer a path to better opportunities for football players.

» MONDAY: The history behind CCSF and CSM

» TODAY: Junior college provides second chances

» WEDNESDAY: Plethora of teams means state stands alone

» THURSDAY: How do the big boys use jucos?

» FRIDAY: Making it all the way to the NFL

melliser@examiner.com

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