Former members of the recently dissolved football program at APU are faced with the challenges of their uncertain future.
It has been over three months since Azusa Pacific University announced the discontinuation of its beloved football program. For those whose lives were positively impacted — or altogether changed — by APU football, Dec. 15th, 2020 will forever be a day marked by the scathing pain of loss. It was the day our 55-year-long tradition, a vessel of Godly ministry, was constrained to days bygone, and her work left unfinished.
“A lot of the guys on the team were really taken back by the news because we really didn’t see it coming,” said former defensive back Josiah Sergeant. “It kind of uproots everyone in terms of their future and football.”
The decision came after months of discussion between APU President Paul Ferguson and Athletic Director Gary Pine. Acting in accordance with current trends in California collegiate sports, their decision to cut football gained the support of the Board of Trustees and was announced to the team by Pine via a Zoom call. The growing expense of being the lone NCAA Division II representative in the state coupled with the school’s recent financial struggles provided the rationale for the decision.
From a national perspective, APU’s situation is not necessarily unique. The pandemic has put every school in some form of a financial quandary. According to USA Today, the NCAA reported a $600 million decrease in total revenue for the 2020 fiscal year. Its Division I affiliates alone have cut a total of 92 individual sports programs across 28 schools, as reported by the Business of College Sports.
The Cougar football family has grieved this loss with bravery. Though the ZU will no longer grace the sunset-lit stands of Citrus Stadium in the fall, the memories of the programs’ triumphs will comfort them. For former players and coaches, the recollection of past achievements will surely settle into the vacancy the dissolved program has left in their hearts.
However, those who most recently called the program home are faced with an entirely different set of challenges. Theirs are just as existential as they are emotional. Current APU players and coaches are forced to grapple with the question, “What do I do now?”
Players were given two main options. They could leave APU and transfer to a different institution’s program before the spring semester, or they could finish out their degree at APU. Pine and the athletics office assured the team that the school would honor players’ athletic scholarships throughout the duration of their academic program if they chose to remain at APU.
Defensive line coach and co-academic coordinator Zach Minter understands the program’s cancellation to have pragmatic implications for players.
“One of the worst parts about what’s happened is the effect that it has on not only players but their futures and their education,” said Minter. The cultivation of fellowship through football has been a unique motif in the APU football tradition. As one who was deeply impacted by the relationships he made during his own collegiate and professional playing career, Minter is disappointed that players are also, “missing out on lifelong friendships they could make.”
Deciding what to do after the cancellation of the program is a process that involves weighing out several complicated factors. Their remaining years of eligibility, amount of needed credits to graduate, living situations, scholarships and transferability were commonly taken into consideration by players and their families. The decision to transfer would theoretically be easier for younger guys who have more remaining eligibility and less time invested in the school. Older guys who are closer to graduating might feel more inclined to stay and finish their degree.
If they do choose to stay, they will still have the opportunity to play somewhere else by completing a graduate transfer. Junior quarterback Wyatt Eget, who transferred to APU last summer, plans to take this spring semester to determine whether he will pursue his football career in graduate school or focus on his professional career.
So far, almost 50 total players have transferred to other football-playing institutions. Former wide receiver Brandon Jackson now plays for APU’s former Division II opponent Colorado Mesa University. Defensive tackle Joe Marino transferred to Division I Houston Baptist University. Offensive lineman Eric Esquer is now at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Players like safety Austin Kramer believe the cancellation has blemished APU football’s legacy. “As sad as it is, the way the information was handled under wraps and in the dark, the alumni was hurt by that,” said Kramer, who is a member of an online APU football alumni forum. “I feel like, from the alumni’s perspective, APU did them wrong.”
APU football’s legacy will certainly stand the test of time for all it achieved and the champions it built in pursuit of championships. The lessons learned at the cross under the shaded northeast corner of Franson Field will echo in the lives of current players, those brave young men who will seek to further the legacy of APU football in their future endeavors.