Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

My alma mater’s football frenzy

In the early 1990s, I was a student at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Some wags dubbed it “Free And Unemployed” or “Find Another University,” and it was not hard to see why students of the so-called “traditional college age” found the place less than ideal.

Many of the students were commuters, like myself, who attended classes part time and then left for jobs and homes off campus. There was a very active Lifelong Learning Society for retired folks, who got to attend lectures and talks by professors seeking to enhance their pay. Also, the general atmosphere was less party, more work since a significant proportion of the student body was less focused on self-discovery and the freedom of those first years out of parental supervision than preparing for a new career.

But the biggest problem for traditional-age students was that there was no football team.

FAU did have a full array of sports you’d expect to find at a university – baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, tennis, swimming and track – but some people felt the lack of a football team was what stood in the way of being a “real college.”

Even more frustrating, the teams FAU had were not in the top divisions, though the baseball team was pretty good and the coach of the softball team was a former major league baseball player whose daughters attended the college.

But the belief then and now was that “real colleges do football,” as one college president once said. And without football, FAU was condemned to second-class status, some vocal people sincerely believed.

The opinions for and against played out in local newspapers in the mid-90s. One that sticks out in my mind was the argument that the lack of a football team at FAU was all that stood between Boca Raton being just a collection of neighborhoods and being a “community.”

“We’re not a community,” people would say, and then declare that football at FAU would bring people together and create this elusive sense of community.

I was not a fan of the idea of bringing football to FAU because it would be spectacularly expensive and then lead to a whole array of expenses for a stadium and other accoutrements. I wrote a column for the college newspaper, where I was a copy editor, detailing the progression. FAU would need a football team, then a stadium, then a winning football team. There would be academic compromises and all sorts of trouble, I wrote.

I left FAU in 1995 and embarked on my career after college, and withdrew from the debate, though I was soon back in it as a copy editor for the Boca Raton News, where I again commented on the push for FAU football. Nonetheless, the university decided to go for football, and when I briefly returned to the Boca Raton News in 2001 the team played its first game.

Today, FAU has its football team, but not a stadium. It has had to play elsewhere as, horror of horrors, there’s no dedicated football stadium on its main campus in Boca Raton. Plans for a new stadium are always in some stage of development, but money has been a problem of late.

A recent deal with a bank for naming rights fell apart, as the financial crisis is breaking a lot of well-laid plans and sports dreams.

I remember reading an article years ago about how FAU’s then-president, Anthony Catanese (repeatedly misidentified by numerous media outlets as Anthony Cantonese) wanted a football team and a stadium where he could entertain donors in a luxury box as FAU’s football team played Notre Dame or UM or UF or any other great name in college football. To me, it just seemed an absurd and circuitous process to get donations. In any case, some big donors reneged on their pledges after the dot-com and telecom busts.

Catanese left FAU soon after it completed a mansion for him to live in, and I won’t even mention the red Corvette affair.

As finances tighten for colleges across the U.S., it may be time to rethink the most expensive sports, like football, and consider what may be unthinkable: ending football due to the cost. I’ve heard of colleges that dropped the sport and bad things didn’t happen to them.

Colleges with a mission to educate and not try to beat Notre Dame should be the focus now.

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November 15, 2008 - Posted by | Education, The business of sports | , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. You forgot to finish the rest of your post. Catanese left in 2002. Since that time, FAU has become a Sunbelt co-championship and won the New Orleans Bowl. School spirit has seen exponential growth as a result. This growth has not only led to an increase in fans at football games, but other sports as well. FAU’s basketball team had their largest home crowd a couple days ago since playing Miami. The university has also seen a large increase in admissions, so much so that they recently increased admission standards.

    Football has done numerous other things. The fact of the matter is that the university is no longer a commuter school. And while stadium plans are stagnant at the moment, the football team and the stadium (if FAU ever gets around to building it) are good for the university.

    Comment by Tom | November 16, 2008 | Reply

  2. Why did Catanese leave?

    Comment by Mary | June 13, 2009 | Reply


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