After 55 years, Cougar football is coming to an unexpected close.
American football is the most popular sport in the United States. The sport originated in the States and was quickly accepted, with leagues from all ages and skill levels being established. Throughout the league’s history, the NFL’s championship game, known as the Super Bowl, has turned into one of the biggest television events of the year.
Unfortunately, Azusa Pacific University will no longer have an attachment to the sport. The APU Athletic Department released an announcement yesterday that stated the school’s football program, which began in 1965, is being shut down. The news comes after the 2020 season was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. That wasn’t the reason for the program closing its doors, though.
The program’s closure is due to the lack of finances and nearby opponents, bringing an inability to fly APU’s football team to road games. With the increasing number of California colleges cutting football from their athletics, APU was forced to travel out of the state more in order to reach the proper amount of games played for their regular season. Last season, APU played a total of ten games, none of which were against a California school. Four of those games were played at home, while the remaining six sent the team on the road.
“With fewer in-state opponents, APU had to stretch its vision for contests. Since 2005, Cougar football has averaged three airplane flights per season, and over the past four years, that average climbed to five, including 2019 when all six road games required air travel, making Azusa Pacific the only NCAA Division II or III school in the nation forced to fly to all of its road games,” the APU Athletics Department shared in their announcement.
Athletic Director Gary Pine backed this reasoning in an email, as well as shared insight on what will happen to the program’s fundings in the future:
“With these financial obstacles mounting and impeding a successful program, APU concluded that football is no longer viable. This decision will reduce costs university-wide. Funds will be allocated to strategic needs as part of APU’s restructuring process in order to promote institutional financial sustainability. While costs will be significantly reduced, funding will support other sports or be returned to the university for general operations and needed scholarships.”
Despite the major fundings being reallocated throughout other APU programs, athletes on scholarships for Cougar football will not be penalized. Furthermore, students who may have accepted their invitation to APU in order to play football will be aided in transferring if that is something they are interested in.
“Current football players holding athletic scholarships who decide to finish their education at APU and achieve satisfactory academic progress will continue to receive that support,” Pine shared in an email. “The Athletics Department will also assist current team members who wish to transfer.”
Regardless of the news, APU senior and Cougar football player Michael Malepeai had lots of love to share for the program.
“The program did its mission. Building champions while pursuing championships!” Malepeai shared in a statement.
Cougar football alumni and former NFL running back Christian Okoye shared his sympathies for the program’s closure.
“I’m saddened, but I understand the decision,” said Okoye, arguably the most famous football player to play at APU. “Like so many other football alumni, I am thankful that God brought me to Azusa Pacific. The influence of the university and those who trained me made me who I am today. My friends and teammates feel the same way.”
The Cougars will end their 55-year program with a 1-9 record from the 2019 season. This is not to overlook the football stars produced by the program, including Okoye, NAIA Hall of Famer Doug Barnett and NFL running back Terrell Watson.
The fate of the players and the reallocation of the program’s funding is to be determined.