GNAC football . . . a thing of the past?

Rumors of Humboldt State University cutting the football program and what that means for SFU football

Simon Fraser are one of five teams in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (Photo courtesy of SFU athletics)

By: Aliocha Perriard-Abdoh

There are only five teams in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) — Central Washington, Humboldt State, Simon Fraser, Western Oregon, and Azusa Pacific. This number could be falling to four, as Humboldt State University is reportedly considering cutting the football program.

Eureka Times-Standard News released an article earlier this month about the possibility that Humboldt State University (HSU) football may be playing their last season in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 2 (DII). According to sources, meetings with interim athletic director Duncan Robins happened earlier on in the year, and as of right now it seems like the plan for the program is either to place the team in a moratorium lasting two years, or folding the program once and for all upon the end of the 2017 season in mid-November. As things currently stand, HSU head coach Rob Smith has been told “not to recruit any athletes” for next season, as reported by Eureka Times-Standard. This is a pretty sure sign that there won’t be a next season at all.

This seems to be a trend when it comes to collegiate football leagues cutting the team due to lack of funding. According to Eureka Times-Standard, “Robins . . . stated the projected deficit for the athletics department for the 2017-18 school year is in the $900,000 to $1 million range, and that if that amount of money is not recouped, then something, most likely the football program, would be cut.”

What could this mean for SFU? Back in January of 2009, Western Washington University (WWU) cut their program, as reported on the team website. One of the main reasons for the program folding was that travel costs were too high and were putting a big strain on an already struggling athletic budget.

Eileen Coughlin, the vice-president for Student Affairs and Academic Support Services offered this insight on cutting the program: “At Western, the current degree of success in intercollegiate athletics is noteworthy given that programs are stretched very thinly. Ending the football program will allow intercollegiate athletics to meet budget reduction targets, and, most importantly, to protect the quality of the remaining intercollegiate sports.”

One of the main reasons that football teams in the GNAC struggle as much as they do is for geographical reasons. With only five teams in the Western Conference, the options for competition close to home are very meager. It all comes down to travel costs and how football requires so many players in order to play the game. According to the WWU Vikings website, “Athletics expenditures have grown more rapidly than revenues over recent years, due in part to increased travel costs, field rentals and a relatively flat growth in gift and donation dollars.”

In the end, it appears that cutting the program paid off for the Vikings. Since cutting the program, WWUs women’s volleyball program has found immense success.

They are currently ranked second in the GNAC in the preseason polls, only one point behind front-runner Alaska Anchorage, who hold the top position with 110 points. Nationally, the Vikings are ranked 10th in the second division, a tremendous improvement from 2009.

The Western Washington men’s soccer program is also very competitive in their division. In this year’s GNAC coaches polls, WWU is ranked second, just behind SFU. It’s understandable that the team is doing almost just as well as it was eight years ago. Back in 2009 WWU ranked first in the GNAC, but that’s partly because SFU had not yet joined the NCAA.

On the women’s side, the soccer program is doing extremely well. In the latest edition of the United Soccer Coaches NCAA DII women’s soccer polls on September 12, 2017, WWU is ranked first nationally. Compared to 2009, where they were ranked 12th nationally, that is an extreme leap in placement. Clearly, getting rid of the football program has benefited Western Washington’s other competitive varsity teams. It isn’t surprising the Humboldt State University is following suit.

As read in the Humboldt State University student newspaper, The Lumberjack, the HSU administration are deliberating on the fate of the program and will provide the final answer on November 1. Until then, the suspense hangs in the air as to the fate of the HSU players. While the university has assured them that they will help in any way they can to assure players a chance to keep playing football if that is what they wish, the future is still uneasy. It’s important to note that Humboldt State’s program has had success of their own. They are ranked third (over SFU) in the GNAC and have national recognition from The New York Times, and are well known for their strong fan base the Lumberjacks, who are known to fire up their chainsaws in celebration of every HSU touchdown.

Come November, we will know more about the future of the program. Until then, SFU has to prepare for the worst. With one team less to play against in the GNAC, SFU could look at increased travel costs as they are forced to travel further and further in order to get playing time against other NCAA teams.