Whistle Blows on 49er Football : CS Long Beach: Citing a budget crisis, university president ends program. Hope held for play at lower level in '93.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In another bizarre twist for its struggling football program, Cal State Long Beach announced Tuesday that there will be no team next season, although it may be brought back in 1993 to play at a lower, less expensive level.

Overruling the recommendation of a football review committee that he appointed, university President Curtis McCray said it would be foolish to continue with a football program that costs $1.3 million a year, considering a statewide budget crisis that forced the school to endure $15 million in cuts last June.

"This has been the most painful decision I have had to make in the four years I have been at this university," he said.

Dave O'Brien, interim athletic director, hinted that it would have been difficult to cut the program if it had been more successful, but he indicated that without football, other teams at the school may benefit in the long run. The football team has had only four winning seasons since 1981 and was 2-9 this season.

"It's an opportunity to focus our attention and energy on what we do best," O'Brien said.

He said the school will continue with plans to raise $5 million to $6 million to complete a basketball arena and another $200,000 for lights at the baseball field. The university has never raised more than $500,000 in any year for all sports.

O'Brien and McCray guaranteed that all 47 scholarship players will be allowed to continue on that status until they graduate.

Football at Long Beach has been in turmoil since December, 1986, when then-President Stephen Horn threatened to drop the sport if boosters didn't raise $300,000 in a month.

Since then, the 49ers have had three head coaches, three athletic directors and two university presidents. Coaches said that lack of stability hurt their chances at landing top recruits.

This time around, boosters appeared to have put together a proposal they say eventually would have raised $850,000 a year.

It included the donation of cash and gifts, including a $200,000 condominium, and the creation of an annual award named after the late Coach George Allen for the best special teams player in the nation. Allen, who died last Dec. 31, was 6-5 as coach in 1990. He once referred to coaching at Long Beach as "the toughest job in America."

University officials rejected the boosters' plan, according to McCray and others, in part because they feared it would conflict with other fund-raising efforts at the school, and because they said it included too many intangibles. According to the university's chief fund-raiser, Jerry Mandell, the plan would be incapable of meeting "the dollar figures it targeted."

Boosters decried Tuesday's action.

"Once you drop football, you are not going to get it back," said Chuck Meng, a prominent booster and a member of the university's board of governors.

At an afternoon news conference, McCray sounded a somber note, talking of the plight of higher education in California. He said he expects the state budget deficit to climb to $10 billion by next June, which, in turn, would further crimp school financing.

"This may be the forerunner--or foreboding if you will--of other program eliminations on this campus in the next several months," he said.

When asked if he was using the 49er football program as a way to make a statement to legislators in Sacramento, he replied: "I wouldn't use students to make an example of anything. However, it happens that in my taking this action, it makes that action possible. The . . . statement I made earlier was intended to do just that."

McCray painted a picture of a campus on the verge of financial collapse. Money is in such short supply, he said, that many departments have run out of basic supplies. He said he expects the university to take another $15-million cut next fiscal year.

School officials said they are studying the feasibility of returning to football in Division I-AA in a proposed California Conference that could include, among others, Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal State Northridge. But the return would be tempered dramatically by "cost-containment," according to O'Brien.

"It's our hope and vision that football has a place here at Long Beach State," he said. "But (the new version) will not be nationally competitive."

Football players, many of whom were not informed of the decision until early afternoon, responded bitterly.

"This is crazy," senior quarterback Todd Studer said. "They shouldn't drop it. It's a real bummer for the good players that will still be here."

Said junior linebacker Lance Blaylock: "All they care about is money."

After first refusing to comment, Coach Willie Brown told reporters that he would have "a lot of time on my hands."

Brown said: "I'm just going to sit back and see what happens."

Brown reportedly was given a three-year commitment by Corey Johnson, the former athletic director who left the school in mid-September to take a similar position at Colorado State. But McCray said the university would pay Brown an extra two seasons of his estimated $70,000 annual salary.

Although it had been rumored for months that football would be dropped, the announcement was made before many players could be reached in time to attend a meeting with Brown.

"I feel sorry for the kids," Brown said.

Several players, some in tears, bolted from the room when told the program was being dropped. Later, they milled about in light rain near the University Gymnasium.

"As a junior, it's kind of hard to just pick up and go play somewhere else," defensive back Darrick Davis said.

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