The Hofstra Pride joined the Northeastern Huskies in shutting down their football programs earlier this month.
Where to begin..?
Let me start by saying "look out Rhode Island, Maine, and New Hampshire fans, you may be next."
There are a million thoughts that come to mind in looking at why these programs were taken down. In the case of Hofstra, some fans and alumni blame the president of the university saying that he is anti-football.
I think in instances like this, where there is smoke there is probably fire. You don't start a review of the program unless you think the university can live without it.
It additionally seems very odd to read about less than 500 students attending games in multiple articles when total attendance was over 4000. (Hofstra was apparently giving student tickets away. That is always a bad idea. If you give tickets away, students won't value them. It is a viral bad idea.) The number of free students getting in seem irrelevant compaired to the number of paying fans. The fact it was in so many articles suggests a talking point. It seems a heck of a lot of spinning is going on down there.
The argument of the program not attracting enough national attention also seems hollow after conference mates in the CAA won the last two FCS national titles and had four teams ranked in the final FCS top 10 . Hofstra has probably never been in higher profile conference than the CAA today.
Hofstra seems to have had some things going in its favor but it probably was a convenient moment to pull the plug on football during a recession when backlash might be avoided.
In Boston, things seem a little more straight forward. Northeastern has long had trouble dealing with Parsons Field's location 1.5 miles away from campus.
One can blame that.
Or the placement of the field quite a distance from the grandstands.
Or the installation of only one grandstand.
Or the fact that it is a combination football/baseball field of all things. (And not a good one like San Fransisco's AT&T Park.)
Any one of those could potentially have a huge negative affect on a problem. Having all 4 has made Northeastern Football a zombie program for years.
The excuses to pull the plug have all been there since 1972.
Really, only Northeastern's academic reputation, which was attractive to fellow conference members, and the alumni's desire to be more like Boston College instead of Boston University has kept that program around.
I have a hard time generating much fire against the administrations at those schools. They are clearly being lead by people who aren't college football advocates. Those guys pulling the strings are short sighted jerks, but they were select to run your universities.
The braintrust that supports them is probably populated by a combination of people who agree with them or who are somewhat ambivalent towards college football because they don't understand how to run a program properly. (And I mean that with no disrespect. They are at Northeastern and Hofstra, not Delaware where they draw 20K+ per game. They haven't seen how to do it properly or even that it can be done properly.)
I am not concerned with attacking that leadership. If they showed a lack of intellectual curiosity in finding a way to right a struggling university program, they are probably reapeating that failing in multiple areas. Alumni and donors to the schools will probably deal with them in the future.
I do think that the lessons learned at Hoftsra and Northeastern can save programs at of schools like Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
It can be boiled down to a simple fact. Their stadium issues were never addressed.
The FCS world has changed. If you are a university participating at the FCS level and you want to be a stable program, you have to satisfy a couple minimum requirements.
You have to have a large enrollment. New Hampshire (14,964) and Rhode Island (15,650) are big enough. Maine is a little smaller, but large enough to hold their own at 11,818. Privates can do it with smaller enrollments as their students expect higher fees.
That said Hostra and Northeastern are large privates with the enrollments to absorb shortfalls. They have enrollments of 13,000 and 22,946 respectively.
Clearly having the money alone is not going to keep the anti-football administrator from shutting down your football program.
Stadium close enough to campus for student support
You have to have either an on campus stadium or a very easily accessible off campus stadium. Northeastern failed in this area, but Hofstra did not and the other CAA schools do not.
Northeastern would have been smart to bring pressure on the City of Boston to take the Parson Field site in exchange for other parks nearer to their campus. Parsons is a very usable high school football and baseball stadium.
I would have tried trading Parsons for Carter Playground with the caveat that the city finance part of new bleachers at Carter. I think two opposing 4K grandstands (for an 8K total) would have been more than sufficient for Northeastern's needs today and might have been done nicely and cheaply. (Consider Saputo Stadium, a 13,000 chairbacked seat soccer stadium was built on an existing practice field in Monteal for $14M.)
Carter Playground would be an ideal small stadium site as it allows the program to pull from Northeastern's 22,000 students and it has parking and public transport.
Maybe Northeastern will try something like this at some point in the future and give football a real shot to succeed.
Sufficient and well thought out seating.
The idea of building a stadium with seating on only one side seems asinine to me, especially in a conference with fairly strong programs. It is like you are telling opposing fans, "Don't give us your ticket revenue."
Having an abundance of bad seats in a stadium and a minimum of good seats is also a recipe for disaster. It hobbled UNT and SUNY Buffalo for years. North Texas is building a brand new stadium to escape that problem and Buffalo is ripping down their northern grandstands to reduce the problem at their school.
Hofstra had that problem. They over built their end zone too.
End zone seats are generally seats that are in low demand. Over building end zone seating for FCS football (and even low end FBS schools like UNT and UB) is inviting disaster.
Endzone seating should be thought of as overflow seating. People are not going to sit there unless they feel they absolutely have to see the game.
Hoftra's Shuart stadium seats 15,000, but almost 7000 of those seats are in the end zone. Having fans staring at 7000 empty end zone seats every game send the message to fans that the program is not well supported and as such not worth their time.
It may cost more to build sideline seating, but it is almost always the right solution to building up local support.
Perhaps one day, under a new administration, Hofstra might try football again.
One hopes that if that day comes, the university might give their program a much better chance by charging students a discounted rate for tickets instead of giving those tickets away, building up the west and east grandstands, and adding back supports on those sideline seats. Even adding planks that serve as back supports behind bleacher benches will dramatically increase fan retention.
Some of these issues could threaten programs at Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine in the near future.
Rhode Island's Meade Stadium is a visually appealing but it is a cheap and small FCS stadium. It avoids the overbuilt overflow seating problems that Hofstra has, but only seats 5180. That has been a bottleneck in terms of attendance. In today's environment, that bottleneck can kill a program.
Fans and alumni should be pushing hard for an immediate and well planned stadium expansion to ensure the survival of the program.
Meade Stadium seats maybe 2000 on the east sideline in a grandstand the lies against their athletic facilities that stretches between the 15 yard lines and about 3000 on the much taller west sideline grandstand in some nice but inexpensive looking stands that stretch between the 25 yard lines.
I think the best solution is to finish building out what you have to allow better support at the FCS level and still leave the potential of one day moving to FBS without having to build a totally new stadium.
Rhode Island should make a point to really focus on maintaining the good balance Meade has today — in other words, don't add seating on one side of existing grandstands without doing it on the other side.
There is probably enough room to extend the west sideline grandstands to the end zones, even though it would create the need for some architectural and landscaping changes. That might add capacity for another 1000 fans, bringing capacity to 6000. As that is the side that faces away from evening sunlight, those seats will probably be appreciated by alumni and fans.
Maybe a year or two after that, on the east side, it might make sense to extend that grandstand to the end zones. If the grandstand is matched exactly, that would add another 2000-3000 seats bringing capacity to a much more survivable 9000.
That certainly would put the The Rams in much better shape to survive in today's FCS conditions.
It doesn't provide much help for them if schools like Delaware and UMass move up to FBS to protect their programs from the collapse of the FCS in the area. That would leave Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire as distant outliers in the CAA or tied to America East schools like Stonybrook and C. Connecticut.
At best, adding overflow seating to the end zones would give another 4000, bringing capacity to 13,000, but those would be overflow seats. They wouldn't help in building the 15,000 regular local students, fans, and alumni needed to make FBS survival possible.
They need another 5000-6000 seats along the sidelines to make that viable.
It really seems like Rhode Island needs a stadium enlargment plan that can allow for the potential of moving to the FBS if needed. Maybe with careful planning of their FCS expansion efforts, they could position themselves where a dig down of their field could work, instead of a totally new stadium needing to be built to make moving up a possible option.
There are huge problems with that idea though.
The weather does not lend itself to a lowered stadium. Putting the grandstands near the field is generally a great idea for improving the fan experience and building fan support, but there is no track to displace in a dig down to provide the space for additional seating.
The east grandstands may lack an abundance of concrete and therefore appear to be capable of being deconstructed and moved back, but there are buildings under the grandstand that would likely complicate the issue, raising costs.
Rhode Island's stadium is a nice FCS stadium for the realities of the FCS 15 years ago, but it does very little to position them well for the realities of today and tomorrow. Rams fans need to take action to protect their program.
New Hampshire has a good program on the field. The university is in the middle of nowhere, but there are a lot of people within driving distance who don't have a lot of good entertainment options.
In terms of stadium capacity and fan attendance, New Hampshire underperforms.
New Hampshire's Cowell Stadium seats 8000 on the sidelines of the stadium's track. About 6500 of those seats are on the east sideline against their athletic facility and there is a much smaller grandstand that probably seats about 1500 on the west sideline. Their stadium is adequate for today and if they were faced with a choice of moving to FBS or bleeding money at the FCS level, they are actually in decent shape for a FBS run.
They could execute a dig down, dispacing the track and likely add another 6000 good seats bringing capacity to 1400. 6000 end zone overflow seats would bring capacity to 20K. That would allow them to survive at the FBS level if circumstances forced them down that path.
It would do them better to look at replacing the west grandstand first though. If they replaced that to match the east grandstand that would give them about 13,000 good seats before even considering a dig down. I think a good promotional campaign could make this program's support parallel UMASS's fan support, giving the school similar options.
Maine's Alfond stadium seats 10,000 in their stadium along each sideline, outside of the track. It appears that just under 8000 of those seats are on the west sideline and a just over 2000 are on an off-centered east grandstand.
Maine also has an adundance of fans lacking better entertainment options.
Maine's stadium is large enough that if push came to shove, they could rip down the east grand stand, build a properly placed matching east grandstand and throw in two end zone burb bleachers and be near 19,000 — sufficient for FBS football.
They could make the jump potentially, but without having a 16K stadium in hand today with which to build up a regular audience in the 12-14K range, Maine could have a lot of trouble with pulling it off.
Maine is a strong FCS school today, but a shaky FBS candidate without some timely reworking of their stadium layout.
Today there is no reason any of these schools should feel they have to move up to the FBS level. As the termination of programs at Hofstra and Northeastern prove, tomorrow could be a different story.
With that in mind, fans at these northern CAA schools should be pushing their ADs to start developing stadium plans that protect the future of the program they love.
At worst, a properly expanded stadium that doesn't overbuild end zone seating will bring in more revenue at the FCS level, allowing more money to flow into other sports programs at these universities. It will make them elite FCS programs.
At best, a good plan could save the program if the University ever faces a decision of whether to move up to FBS or shut down due to runaway costs due to a lack of acceptable local competition.