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Canisius College Playing Last Game

November 14, 2002

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ Looking ahead to a 10-hour bus ride, the Canisius College football team knew Saturday’s game at Stony Brook would be its final one of the year.

It might also be the Golden Griffins’ last game ever.

``This week’s going to be tough,″ coach Ed Argast said, aware that few fans will make the long trip. ``It’s us. That’s it. We’ve had each other all year, and that’s what we’ve got to hang on to this week.″

Last month, the school announced it was dropping eight sports programs, including football.

Cost and competitiveness spelled the eventual demise of football, a program that began at Canisius in 1918. It was folded in 1949 and revived again in 1975.

It’s unlikely it will ever come back.

``No,″ athletics director Tim Dillon said. ``We thought about it for an awful long time. We looked at things every possible way to see what we could do and how we could do it. ... But offering football again, I don’t see that happening.″

The decision, affecting 89 student athletes, was the result of an extensive study to determine how the small Catholic college in midtown Buffalo _ with an annual enrollment of about 3,300 _ could stay competitive in athletics.

The school concluded it had to cut back, freeing up about $500,000. The money will be reallocated to Canisius’ 16 remaining programs to boost recruiting budgets, add scholarships, elevate coaches from part-time to full-time status, and renovate the school’s facilities.

``I don’t know if `fair’ is a way to categorize it,″ Argast said, glancing at his 2-8 team working out for one of the last times on Demske Field. ``Fair or not fair, it’s life so you do what you need to do to get through the next day the best you can.″

All the affected athletes will be allowed to complete their scholarships at Canisius.

Since making the jump from Division III to I-AA in 1993, Canisius has gone 26-74 playing in the low-profile Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The last four years have been the hardest, with the Golden Griffins managing just four wins in 41 games.

Now, the school can focus on programs _ particularly basketball, ice hockey and a highly rated cross country team _ where it believes it has the potential to excel.

``Part of it was, ‘Can we be all things to all people?’ And we came to the realization that we couldn’t be,″ said Dillon, who took on the re-evaluation when he was hired three years ago. ``Just like any company, any school, anything, at some point you look at what you’re doing and you evaluate.

``And sometimes you make changes,″ he said.

According to the NCAA, 25 schools have added football since 1993, while Canisius becomes the 14th to drop its program since 1991. It might not be the last.

Dillon said he’s already received calls from other schools wondering how Canisius reached its decision.

None of the reasons sit well with players and coaches.

``I don’t think the people that made the decision understand what they did yet. And I think someday they will,″ said Tom Perkovich, a senior offensive lineman and one of three team captains. ``It’s leaving a bad mark on my heart for the school because I think they haven’t done everything they could’ve done to help out the sports programs here. It’s always a money issue, I guess. It’s a business.

``Money talks and people don’t understand feelings.″

Sophomore running back Eric Mitchell finds it hard to remain focused, battling the emotions of playing his final game while worrying what his future holds.

``All things come to an end unexpectedly of course, but you have to move on and deal with it,″ Mitchell said. ``I’m just trying to have fun with the time that I do have.″

Shortly after the announcement was made, Argast sent lists to about 90 schools to try to find spots for his eligible players. So far, he’s sent about a dozen game-tapes to interested schools.

Argast said he hasn’t begun considering his own future. He’s more concerned about his players.

``It’s just a very hard lasting life lesson at a time when this is supposed to be the best years of their life,″ Argast said. ``These are the years that they’re supposed to look back nostalgically and remember with a smile. And they’re not going to be able to do that. And that’s a real shame.″

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