Coach Gene Murphy has told Cal State Fullerton players and recruits there will be no football team next season, but university President Milton A. Gordon said Saturday that Murphy might have pulled the plug on the program too soon.
Gordon said Murphy’s reaction to a recommendation of the athletics council to discontinue the program because of state budget cuts was “a little premature,” and Gordon vowed to have a Titan football team playing in the new on-campus stadium when it opens in 1992.
“I think some people have gotten ahead of the (decision-making) process,” Gordon said. “I was surprised to hear the coach had called recruits and talked to assistant coaches about finding other jobs. I don’t know who made the decision to do that, to say the football program was over. No decision has been made yet.”
Even if the school raises the $650,000 to $700,000 that Gordon says is necessary to retain Division I-A football, Fullerton likely will lose an entire recruiting class.
Murphy released six community college players from their letters of intent and, with the signing date a little more than a week away (Feb. 6), he canceled this weekend’s recruiting trips and advised players to pursue other schools.
This bothered Gordon, but one athletic department source, who asked not to be identified, couldn’t fault Murphy’s actions.
“How in good faith can you bring kids in and sign them knowing we wouldn’t be able to give them scholarships,” the source said. “Out of fairness to the kids, he had to cancel visits. I can understand the predicament he’s in. He was a victim of timing.”
Murphy could not be reached for comment, and several assistant coaches said they were instructed not to comment about the situation. If the program is saved, Gordon says it won’t be affected by lost recruits.
“Coach Murphy can field a good team--I’m confident of that,” he said.
Gordon said he will consult with members of the University Advisory Board and Titan Athletic Foundation, Fullerton city officials and faculty and athletic department personnel before making a final decision, which could come some time this week.
Because of a projected $14 million deficit for the university in the 1991-92 academic year, Gordon said the athletic department must cut about $500,000 more than it originally projected. Football, which has a $1.3 million annual budget, was already facing a $100,000 cut for next year.
Gordon said the only way to keep I-A football is through private fund-raising, and he believes there’s a “possibility” the school could raise enough money to keep the sport. He said he received many calls on Saturday in response to published reports of the program’s probable demise but declined to name anyone who might have offered assistance.
Apathy, however, surrounds the Fullerton football program, which ranked 105th among the 106 Division I-A schools in home attendance with an average of 3,741 in 1989. This, combined with a recession, would make it difficult to raise money.
One Fullerton student, senior finance major Eric Alonzo, said he hopes to start a “save-the-program” campaign and will begin seeking donations this week.
If the school can’t generate enough funds, Gordon said there are two other options: Dropping football for a period of time and re-starting it in a few years or downgrading the program from Division I-A.
But neither option seems feasible. According to Gordon, a football sabbatical would involve re-start costs--he would say not how much. Recent NCAA legislation, which goes into effect in September, 1993, prohibits a Division I institution from being Division II or III in football. The Titans are Division I in all other sports.
The only other option would be to drop to Division I-AA, but there is only one I-AA football conference in the west, the Big Sky, which consists of Montana, Montana State, Idaho, Idaho State, Nevada, Northern Arizona, Boise State, Weber State and Eastern Washington.
There would be no natural or attractive rivalries for Fullerton in the Big Sky, and travel costs would be more than the Titans spend in the Big West Conference, which includes five California schools.
A proposed Division I-AAA level, on which schools would field nonscholarship teams, will be voted on at next year’s NCAA convention, and that could be a possibility for Fullerton.
“Whatever this decision (on I-A football) is, it is my decision that the Titans will have a football team on the field when the sports complex opens,” Gordon said. “Even if the decision is to cut I-A football, we will have a football team.”
* BIG CUTS ON CAMPUS: Cal State Fullerton will have to trim its budget at least $14 million. B1