Contemplating Long Island Without Hofstra Football

In a week of stunning announcements – from Tom Suozzi’s concession to ‘Junior’ Gotti’s mistrial – nothing compared with the sudden death of Hofstra University football.

School president Stuart Rabinowitz made the announcement to immediately terminate the football program at a hastily-called press conference Thursday morning, and the news struck the Long Island sports community like a punch to the gut.

There’s no arguing the merits of the decision. Running a major college football program can be prohibitively expensive. And in these tough economic times, the small private school in Hempstead – investing $4.5 million annually on the sport – made a prudent call with the best interest of the institution at heart.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be lasting repercussions. Football stirs a sense of pride – even among students who have never attended a game – that no other function or event can replicate.

The football program also served as a calling card to all of Long Island for 72 years. There was no better ambassador. The connections ran deep.

To name two: Wandy Williams began his career at Hofstra before moving on to the NFL in 1969 and then settling into decades as a successful high school basketball coach in Long Beach. Freeport football coach Russ Cellan, who just guided the Red Devils to the Long Island Class I championship, routinely called on the staff at Hofstra for coaching insight.

Hofstra regularly gave tickets to high school and youth league groups. The entire coaching staff, from Dave Cohen on down, served as a resource for coaches across Long Island. The skills camps the Pride ran helped aspiring teenagers grow.

Even the facilities were wide open to any number of events, including the Long Island football championships. The Road to Hofstra meant something to every budding high school athlete in Nassau County, hoping to make the playoffs and land a scholarship to play at the next level.

Now Hofstra’s 63 scholarship players, many of them from Long Island, must attempt to find new homes or give up the game. An entire football community must look elsewhere for inspiration too.

Sure, Stony Brook’s growing football program (this was their first year as a fully-funded scholarship Division I-AA team) will reap the rewards. Greater exposure. A monopoly of talent. It will even land a few of Hofstra’s best players in an instant talent infusion. But it cannot ever completely fill the void.

It’s a sad state for Long Island sports fans. The New York Nets of the ABA once played at the Nassau Coliseum. So did the Arena Football League’s Dragons. And the Saints of indoor lacrosse. The women’s pro soccer league Power played down the street at Mitchel Athletic Complex.

Let’s not forget that the New York Jets relocated their home office from Hofstra to new digs in New Jersey after the 2007 season.

Those are just a few of the pro teams that once called the region home. Now the Islanders are threatening to bolt if the Lighthouse project doesn’t get green lit. With a new Nassau County executive set to step into the fray, that’s a big if.

So Hofstra’s capitulation is more heartbreak on top of decades of heartbreak. Say it ain’t so.

Four former Hofstra stars are still carrying the banner by playing in the NFL, from New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Stephen Bowen, Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Willie Colon to New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston. Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris spent his formative years at Hofstra.

They will continue to represent Hofstra Pride for years to come. In fact, Colston converted a big third down in overtime on Sunday, setting the stage for Garrett Hartley’s 18-yard game-winning field goal as the Saints moved to 12-0 with a 33-30 win over host Washington.

Colston finished with two catches for 46 yards, highlighted by a second-quarter 40-yard touchdown grab. Colston is on pace for another 1,000-yard season. And his Saints may well reach the Super Bowl. His play offers some consolation.

Hofstra may have pulled the plug on football, but Hofstra football isn’t dead yet.

jason molinet

Jason Molinet spent three years at Patch.com as regional editor and was a reporter at Newsday for a decade. He is a four-time Press Club of Long Island award winner. Molinet celebrates his Cuban heritage, reads Ernest Hemingway and roots for the Miami Heat.