It’s never a good thing when a college cancels its football program. It takes away the opportunity for players to play, coaches to coach and fans to cheer. But it does happen. Football is an expensive sport, and sometimes a school simply cannot afford to continue supporting a program that’s hemorrhaging money. Such is the case with the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Despite the team currently being bowl-eligible and boasting alumni such as Roddy White (and also sporting some sweet helmets), financial troubles have made it likely that the Blazers won’t field a team next season. The University of Hawaii’s football program also looks to be in jeopardy. Although it will certainly be sad if these schools axe their pigskin programs, they wouldn’t be the first. A number of teams with strong traditions have given up on football for one reason or another. Heck, one of your favorite player’s alma mater might not even exist any more! Here are five historic, successful football programs that died too early.
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1. Wichita State University
The Wichita State Shockers played their first football game in 1897, beating a local high school team. When the program was disbanded nearly 90 years later, WSU had played 824 total games and had beaten Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Kansas State and Louisville. In 1905, Wichita State played in the first night football game west of the Mississippi. That same season, the Shockers played in an “experimental” game to see if a different set of rules would make football safer. The game allowed forward passes.
Bill Davis, then Wichita State’s quarterback, is widely credited with throwing the first forward pass in college football history. Before the next season, the forward pass was made legal in all of college football.
In 1979, Wichita State hired Willie Jeffries as head football coach, making him the first African American head coach in Division I-A.
Despite this rich history, Wichita State discontinued its football program in 1986, citing financial strain—specifically the inability to fund a renovation of its stadium. WSU football alumni include Miller Farr, a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback, and Bill Parcells, the legendary coach who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants.
2. Hofstra University
One of the most recent college football programs to disappear, Hofstra University’s team also had long tradition on the gridiron—starting in 1937 and spanning 72 years and a total of 682 games. Hofstra enjoyed immense success, with an all-time winning percentage of nearly .600.
In 2009, this historic program came to an abrupt—and unexpected—end. Players were left scrambling to transfer to other programs, and alumni were shocked. The university president explained that it was a financial decision. Now, NFL players like Marques Colston, Willie Colon, Kyle Arrington and Wayne Chrebet are remnants of a dead program.
3. University of the Pacific
The University of the Pacific first fielded a team in 1895, and over the next century, the Tigers played a total of 773 games, beating the likes of Arizona State, California, Stanford and South Carolina. But by the 1995 season, coaches and administrators knew the program was in jeopardy. That’s why they scheduled several non-conference powerhouse opponents that would pay Pacific to play them, including the eventual national champion University of Nebraska. But they didn’t raise enough scratch, and the program was cut at the conclusion of the season.
Yes, in 1995 the consensus national champion Cornhuskers played a game against a program that ceased to exist at the end of the season. That’s pretty wild! Furthermore, the quarterback of the 1995 Pacific squad, Craig Whelihan, was drafted in the 6th round of the 1995 NFL Draft. Does a program that just sent a QB to the NFL really deserve to get axed? Other alumni include Mike Merriweather, a three-time Pro Bowler for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Dick Bass, the second overall pick in the 1959 NFL Draft and a three-time Pro Bowler.
4. Boston University
BU first fielded a football team way back in 1884, which made them one of the oldest football programs in the United States. Over the next 103 years, the Terriers played a total of 747 football games and amassed over 320 wins. On homecoming weekend of the 1997 season, the administration announced that the program would be terminated—only four years after a 12-1 season that featured a conference championship. Talk about a buzzkill.
Just like that, a program that held wins over West Virginia, Rutgers, Miami and Oregon was suddenly gone. Alumni of BU football include Bruce Taylor, an All-Pro NFL defensive back and the 17th overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft, and Bill Brooks, who amassed over 8,000 career receiving yards in the NFL.
5. Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University played football for nearly 100 years, a total of 624 games, before the program was junked in 1992. The school actually has a stronger football tradition than you might think. They won two consecutive Sugar Bowls over LSU in the late 1930s under the guidance of legendary coach Buck Shaw. They also won the 1950 Orange Bowl over a Kentucky team coached by Bear Bryant.
SCU finished in the Top 10 of the AP poll multiple times. They produced Pro Bowl quarterback Dan Pastorini, who was the third overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft. But the long line of Santa Clara football history came to an end in 1992, when new NCAA regulations forced the school to either move its football program up to Division I or drop it altogether. Unfortunately, they chose the latter.
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