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Occidental College to end football program

Students stroll the campus at Occidental College in Eagle Rock, north of downtown Los Angeles.
Occidental College is a liberal arts college that was founded in 1887 and has a current annual enrollment of about 2,000 students.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Occidental College will discontinue its football program, President Harry J. Elam Jr. announced Tuesday, ending three years of deliberations about its future that ultimately was affected by the substantial financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Football was approximately 20% of the athletics budget at Occidental, which notified the campus via email of the decision. Part of the reason to announce the decision now was for the sake of high school seniors and transfers considering Occidental as a place to play football.

The college cancelled the last four games of the 2017 football season because of safety concerns with an injury-depleted roster and managed to play two more seasons through increased donations and funding by the school.

Occidental, which is a founding member of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, now has 20 men’s and women’s sports that compete at the NCAA Division III level.

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“Only after very careful consideration and a thorough review of past planning efforts, as well as with the deepest regard for the context and history of football at Occidental, do we make this decision,” Elam said in the email. “As difficult as this decision is, we believe it is the right one for Occidental. …

“We want to offer the best possible experience for our student-athletes, and the college has determined that to do so for football would require a level of investment that is not sustainable, especially relative to other priorities and following the impacts of the pandemic.”

Elam pointed out that Occidental, which has an annual enrollment around 2,000 students, is not as well-funded as other SCIAC rivals.

“We are often at a disadvantage competing against teams that draw upon larger pools of prospective student-athletes, or in some cases, have larger endowments and greater resources on which they can draw,” he said. “As a result, despite the best efforts of our dedicated coaching staff, we have found it increasingly difficult to consistently recruit at the level we would need to be competitive.”

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Occidental, which was founded in 1887, first played football in 1894. Among its alumni are Jack Kemp, an All-American quarterback who played professionally before a career in politics, Jim Mora Sr., a tight end who coached in the NFL, and Bill Redell, a quarterback and defensive back who coached at the college and professional levels as well as helping start the powerhouse Westlake Village Oaks Christian High program.


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