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Facilities an issue in Northeastern decision

Posted by Mark Blaudschun, Globe Staff  November 23, 2009 03:59 PM

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In the end, it was about the money.

Not so much about how much was being spent year after year as Northeastern produced season after season of occasionally successful football teams.

But how much it would take over a sustained period of time to upgrade the Huskies' facilities to where they could compete in the fast lane of Football Championship Division football.

And in the end, Northeastern athletic director Peter Roby decided the risk-reward factor was too great in terms of the former to warrant continuing a program which began in 1933 and now has come to an end with Sunday's announcement that Northeastern was discontinuing football.

When you discard the emotions -- and there were plenty of those today -- it came down to a matter of facilties. Or a lack of them.

Roby felt that Parsons Field -- which has been the home for Huskies football for 76 years -- did not measure up to the standards of the other teams in the highly competitive Colonial Athletic Conference. And he felt that they met the minimum standards to compete on an equal basis with teams that have routinely competed for the FCS national championship over the last several years.

What was good in 2002 and 2003, the last two seasons in which Northeastern posted a winning record, no longer worked today.

"It's not about what we're currently doing,'' said Roby at a press conference at Matthews Arena on Monday morning. "It's what we need to do to go forward. It's going to require multiple millions of dollars on an ongoing basis for us to go forward and be successful.''

Roby said that he was not comfortable making a recommendation to continue football -- which had running on a deficit of $2 million-$3 million per year for several years -- without some promise of long-term success. "I didn't feel comfortable making that recommendation,'' he said.

While Roby was explaining the reasons for the decision inside Matthews Arena, a few Northeastern players stood outside wondering how much more the world around them would come crashing down as they absorbed the announcement that the school had decided to discontinue the football program.

"We had a meeting yesterday at 12 p.m., and the coach [Rocky Hager] informed us he was being fired,'' said senior offensive lineman Matt Alain. "But as far as the program being dropped, I don't think he knew until half an hour before Peter Roby met with us. He was blindsided."

So were the players, who had heard doubts about the future of the program last year, but had heard none this season until the last few days. When Roby told the players, the reaction was shock and disbelief.

"And a sense of betrayal,'' said junior tight end Connor Gilmartin-Donahue, who must now decide if he wants to transfer to another school to play one more year of football. "I don't know what I'm going to do. Who is going to take a player with only one year left?"

Roby acknowledged the difficulty of trying to defend the decision to those directly involved.

"The reaction was what you would expect to that kind of news,'' said Roby. "A lot of emotion, all of it appropriate and understandable.''

What the players had a tougher time accepting was the way the news was delivered. As late as last week, Northeastern officials had come to them, asking their parents an friends to donate money to help the program. "They sent out the letter last Wednesday,'' said Gilmartin-Donohue, who is from White Plains, N..Y.

Roby tried to explain the thought process.

"The University has made a tremendous investment in our athletic programs the last two years,'' said Roby. "The one area we haven't seen an improvement in terms of the level of excellence (Northeastern was 3-8 this season) was in football.

"As we got to the end of the season it was apparent to me that the status quo was not an option, that change was in order for us to change the fortunes of the football program. As I continued the process of continued evaluation of what it was going to take (to achieve success), it became clear to me that the level of investment was not something I was comfortable recommending to the senior administration. So I made the recommendation that we discontinue the program.''

Roby was asked if doing something as simple as simply firing the head coach -- which he did earlier Sunday -- could cure the problem. But he argued that would only be a quick fix, if the facilities were not brought up to speed with the other schools in the CAA.

He was asked if downgrading to non-scholarship levels would help. "

"We considered what options we had,'' he said. "But non-scholarship doesn't mean non-talent.''

The reaction from the CAA -- which must now adjust its schedules with one fewer team -- was guarded.

"Right now the issue that is staring us in the face is the 2010 schedule,'' said CAA commissioner Tom Yeagher in a conference call today. "We have eight institutions that have lost a conference game. We need to reschedule and we need to do it with preexisting dates that are set like homecoming. It will be complex, but it will be doable.''

Roby said that he pondered what could be done to save Northeastern football for several weeks. It came down to a long-term money issue.

"It requires a lot of money to improve those things we need to improve to compete,'' he said. "Parsons Field is not appropriate for the level we are trying to play and to continue to play without the appropriate amenities is not appropriate and I was not willing to recommend the kind of investment [we needed] to make that happen.''

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