Florida Institute of Technology announced Monday that the university will eliminate its football program because of the economic uncertainty of COVID-19.
Florida Tech, a Division II program founded in 2011, competed in the Gulf South Conference. This decision will affect about 120 student-athletes and eight coaches. The student-athletes' scholarships will be honored for up to four years, the school said. They can transfer to be immediately eligible at another program, per NCAA rules.
“The unprecedented uncertainty created by COVID-19 makes these moves prudent, but no less painful,” Florida Tech president Dwayne McCay said in a public letter to the campus community.
“We must do what is necessary to preserve resources critical to our educational mission and ensure our ability to successfully serve students when face-to-face instruction resumes this fall. I appreciate each of you, and I am humbled by your hard work and sacrifice.”
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According to The Tampa Bay Times, which cited U.S. Department of Education data, Florida Tech spent $3.1 million of the athletic department's $10.7 million on football during the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Florida Tech launched its football program amid an unprecedented wave of campus expansion and fundraising spearheaded by former president Anthony Catanese. He had previously led the launch of Florida Atlantic University’s football team during his presidential tenure there.
After more than three years of development, the Panthers debuted in September 2013. The school had a 44-35 record in seven seasons.
Start-up costs for Florida Tech’s football program included $2.1 million in construction, primarily the 12,600-square-foot Varsity Training Center and upgrades at Pirate Stadium, including artificial turf.
By fall 2014, university officials estimated football start-up operational costs had reached $3.5 million, including equipment purchases and payroll. These figures were included in a university analysis that estimated the football program had generated $9 million in economic impact across the Melbourne, Florida, area.
Last year, Florida Tech cut the men’s and women’s tennis programs and the women’s golf program. After the announcement, the women’s golf squad won the program's first NCAA Division II National Championship in May 2019.
The university also announced the elimination of staff positions and furloughed some employees, as well a closed the Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts.
Contributing: Florida Today, part of the USA TODAY Network