"They had to do something."
That statement is perhaps not the most profound or even eloquent reaction to the big news last week that the University of Minnesota Crookston is pulling the plug on its Golden Eagle football program.
But the statement is 100% accurate. UMN Crookston, the University of Minnesota system, or a combination of the two, had to do something, and they had two choices.
The status quo was not among their options. The status quo was no longer tenable: Going into a season hoping you might be able to squeak out a victory in the mighty NSIC NCAA Division II athletic conference. Going into a season assuming you're going to lose way more games than you're going to win, but hoping the games are at least still competitive at halftime in order to keep the fan base from going home early. Being 2-64 over the past five seasons.
If staying the course was not an option, that leaves investing a lot more money into the football program, in the form of a major boost in scholarship money as well as major improvements to Ed Widseth Field. That hasn't been a realistic option for a long time. Money is tight in higher ed, and more money simply wasn't going to be taken from somewhere else and poured into efforts to make Golden Eagle football more competitive.
That left a lone remaining option, and UMN Crookston and/or the U of M system picked it: Ending the program.
Still, it's unfortunate. Sad, even. If you tailgated or went to the games, you knew the Teambackers cared about this team and this program, and that the coaches and players put their hearts and souls into every game.
It's a big hit to UMN Crookston's enrollment, too. We're talking about 69 football players on the current roster, and even though the University has said they'll honor their scholarships if they stay at the Crookston campus and remain academically eligible, you can bet a lot of these student-athletes will leave. They still want to play football, and no one can blame them for that.
It's a hit to student diversity on the Crookston campus, too. Watching the players when they ran the local youth flag football league interact with hundreds of Crookston and area kids at Ed Widseth Field during the weekly games, it was obvious they were having a ball out there, and it was even more obvious that the young flag football players loved being around these cool college football players.
UMN Crookston's leadership team said last week that at least some of the money saved by eliminating football will be invested in other Golden Eagles athletic programs. Let's hope that ends up being the case, because the Golden Eagles athletic teams that remain deserve the added investment.