Fairfield University has announced it is dropping two varsity sports — including men’s ice hockey — after this season. School president Aloysius Kelley said the move, which also includes football, was made as a cost-cutting measure, and the decision came during annual budget preparations by the school administration.
“Decisions such as this are always difficult, and our first concern is for those student-athletes, coaches and other personnel who will be affected directly by it,” Kelley said. “The university will honor commitments made to those individuals and will assist them in every way possible.
“At the same time, this is a decision that will give us a greater opportunity to maintain our ambitious goals in the area of Division I intercollegiate athletics while strengthening the resources we need to meet our primary mission of educating young men and women.”
Fairfield players will be able to transfer to other schools after this season without having to sit a year.
The move will save $570,000, according to the school.
“I’m very disappointed, but I understand each institution has its own challenges,” said Jack McDonald, athletic director at Quinnipiac and spearhead of the formation of the MAAC five years ago. “Fairfield is an outstanding institution and certainly I understand the institutional decisions and respect them. They were a charter member of the MAAC. It’s just too bad. Every coach’s and AD’s nightmare is to be in the locker room and tell them that they’re over.”
The Fairfield football program did not offer scholarships, and the four awarded by Fairfield will be redistributed to other sports, Kelley said.
Hockey will become a club sport, Kelley said.
“The costs of simply maintaining the current level of support for our Division I intercollegiate athletic program are escalating,” said Fairfield athletic director Eugene Doris. “Even though football offers no athletic grants-in-aid, and hockey receives limited support in that area, each has significant operating costs. We have had a growing awareness of the level of increased funding each program would require in the immediate future simply to maintain them.”
Fairfield played at the Division III level in hockey until the formation of the MAAC in 1998-99. Under Mike Doneghey, the team went 1-31-0 in its first season in Division I. The next year, Mark Dennehy took over and made headway, going 3-28-3, but left after one season to become an assistant coach at Massachusetts.
Hunt coached the team to an 11-19-2 record in 2000-01, and 6-23-3 last season. This year, the Stags are 5-16-2 (4-10-2 MAAC).
“It’s obviously disappointing,” said MAAC Director of Championships Ken Taylor, “but with the economy the way it is right now, when schools have to cut and find different resoures, unfortunately athletics are one of those areas that become expendable.
“You really feel for people like Jim Hunt and particularly Pat Nugent, who put his heart and soul in the program for years. But the flip side is the economics. So we move on, and fortunately, we have 10 good members, and the league is committed to moving on.”
Doris said that Fairfield operates its athletic program on a tiered structure whereby Tier I programs — men’s and women’s basketball — receive the maximum allowable athletic grants-in-aid and Tier IV programs, including football, receive no such aid. Men’s ice hockey was a Tier III sport, meaning it received a limited number of grants-in-aid.
“Restructuring the varsity athletic program in this fashion is the soundest way to provide the kind of support we believe is necessary for the remaining 19 varsity programs to achieve the levels of quality and success that we desire,” Doris said.
Eighty-five students are involved in the two sports: 64 returning football players and 21 returning hockey players.
“The scholarship commitments the University has made to those hockey players will be honored if they choose to remain at Fairfield,” Doris said.
“We hope that student-athletes will choose to complete their academic careers at Fairfield, although we also understand the role that a sport plays in an individual’s life. Should a student wish to transfer to another institution to continue participating in his sport, Fairfield will assist him in every way possible.”
McDonald said there was no particular urgency to add a MAAC school because of Fairfield’s departure.
“Not for the MAAC, because being at 11 [currently], we’re in good shape,” McDonald said. “But any time there’s an opening, it does create interest. The good news is that there are other [schools] with interest.”