By Ray Hamill — Humboldt State kicked off its 90th and final season of football last week, after the decision to cut the program was made by school president Lisa Rossbacher earlier in the summer.
The fact that Rossbacher wasn’t even in town when one of the most momentous decisions in the school’s history was announced — in a press release, no less — tells us all we need to know about her leadership, with criticism of her presidency wide and varied.
In regards to the athletic department, it was Rossbacher who oversaw the hiring of interim Athletic Director Duncan Robins, who many boosters — and department insiders — feel does not have the necessary experience for the role.
And they see that as the fundamental problem right now, and a problem that is only going to get worse.
Setting the Jacks up to fail
Whether Rossbacher and/or Duncan set out to eliminate football, as many seem to believe, and as former head coach Rob Smith claimed, is a moot point at this stage.
But there is no doubt that their decision making has set this program up to fail at every step of this disheartening journey, which began in earnest when Robins was hired in June of 2017.
The players were forced to compete under a cloud of uncertainty for the entire 2017 season after it was announced early in the campaign that it could be their last and that a decision on the future of the team would be made after the final game.
The Real Cost of Cutting HSU Football is a season-long series published on HumboldtSports.com, with different stories throughout the fall, each breaking down a different aspect of the decision, why it was made, and what it really means to HSU and the surrounding community.
That prevailing environment of uncertainty surrounding their future not only made it difficult on the players and coaches, but also served to scare off potential recruits, simultaneously setting the team up to fail for both the present and the future.
In addition, the school told the community that $500,000 would be needed annually to keep the team financially viable.
Many former players, boosters and fans of the Jacks suggest this was a figure the school threw out believing the community would be unable to raise it.
If that was the case, they underestimated not only the fundraising capabilities of the athletic boosters, but also just how much Humboldt State football means to them.
Failing to grasp a fundamental concept
Perhaps what’s most startling is that Rossbacher seemingly continues to fail to grasp this.
Every university in the nation relies on the fundamental relationship with the local community in order to thrive, especially at a school as relatively isolated as HSU.
As much as the students themselves, the community is often the lifeblood of the university, and the athletic boosters are the lifeblood of the sports department. And without them you lose more than just fans.
The HSU administration, however, has instead alienated the local community on many different levels, and continues to do so, not just with the decisions they make, but the manner in which they make them.
Again, this is not a sign of good leadership.
The process of hiring a new full-time head coach after Smith stepped down also displayed poor leadership and once again set the program up to fail.
The delayed process and continued uncertainty surrounding the program put the team years behind in terms of recruiting, while the unreasonable restrictions being placed on the potential candidates for the job were bewildering at best.
The candidates were told they would have to limit the number of players on their roster, which defies logic because adding players adds revenue to the entire department due to additional student fees and the minimal costs of adding extra players. (They don’t all travel, but they do all bring in student fees.)
Which in turn magnifies the financial cost of eliminating football, and suggests that not only did the current leadership set the program up to fail, but that they wanted it to fail.
It also resulted in at least two top candidates for the job backing out at the last minute, and later that week it was announced the search for a new head coach was being suspended.
Scaring away top candidates with unreasonable restrictions is setting the program up to fail.
Whatever way you want to look at that process, it showed extremely poor leadership.
Anonymous press release
In her relatively anonymous press release this summer, Rossbacher suggested cutting the program came down to a simple matter of dollars.
Yet an independent study conducted by Strategic Edge Athletics Consultants, hired by the university in 2016, not only refutes this claim but suggests instead that the athletic department’s budget problems will worsen with the elimination of high participant sports such as football or women’s crew, because of the amount of student athlete fees involved.
Again this points to poor leadership and a lack of foresight from the administration.
Not only that, but there are other ways that cutting football will have a domino effect on the rest of the athletic department, and indeed the entire school (and local economy).
With the elimination of football, the school will lose roughly 100 potential student athletes in any given year, as well as the many girlfriends, friends and family members who would enroll, not to mention the diversity within the student population that football brings to campus.
If you want to build enrollment at the school — instead of watching it decline year after year — you need to make it a more comfortable environment for everyone, especially with the huge potential pool of minority students throughout California.
The current administration has done the exact opposite.
The decision is also one that will inevitably have a knock-on effect on women’s sports at the school and the number of athletes they will be able to recruit.
As of right now, excluding football, there are roughly twice as many female athletes at the school as male — with seven women’s teams to four men’s — and that’s a long way out of compliance with Title IX.
Robins insists no women’s sports will be cut and that the school will instead add to its men’s rosters in order to come into compliance.
Not everyone believes him, however, and there’s a strong sense within the local sports community that women’s crew — one of the most successful programs at the school — could be on the chopping block next.
Throughout this entire process, the current school administration has displayed poor judgement and a disturbing lack of leadership.
They either fail to grasp the real cost of cutting football at HSU or they are completely apathetic to it.