Taylor Mitchell is a Humboldt State graduate, a former Lumberjack linebacker and a former Lumberjack linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator. (He's also a former FootballScoop intern.)
Mitchell is now a recruiting specialist in the player personnel department at Washington, but took time from his day job to write a response to the ongoing controversy at his alma mater. As we wrote earlier this week, Humboldt State is openly discussing the possibility it will shut down the Lumberjacks football program at the conclusion of this season.
This is a long response, but those interested in this story should read it to its conclusion.
Here is the full post:
I hope that this letter reaches all of my former Humboldt State teammates, former Lumberjacks that have worn the Green and Gold, and all of the Lumberjack supporters out there. I will be sending this letter on to Dr. Lisa Rossbacher along with the rest of the leaders on the HSU campus and in the CSU. Football won't be cut from Humboldt State without a fight.
This past week some awful news, news that many inside the Humboldt State Athletic Department and University have known about and anticipated for years, was released. Instead of the focus being on the Humboldt State football team going on the road and taking down the #8 team in the country, rival Azusa Pacific, it was on whether there will be a football program in two short months. The outcry and response from the news that I have seen through multiple news outlets will hopefully force the administration to pause and think again before they make this decision.
First, to be clear, there is not a financial problem at Humboldt State, there is a leadership problem, starting at the top. Having known about the financial shortfall that was coming, the president has only let it grow and has lacked the decisive decision-making that is required of the position. HSU spent tens-of-thousands of dollars to bring in a consulting firm to help advise her in the process of finding solutions to the current financial problem which she COMPLETELY THREW OUT and ignored. She has also postponed making decisions several times, which has continued to let the deficit grow.
The President stated a year ago that the “Humboldt State University strategic plan is focused on four key areas: supporting student success, providing a welcoming environment for our diverse community, ensuring that we have the resources needed to fulfill our educational mission, and expanding partnerships, both on- and off-campus." In what ways will cutting the one of the most successful programs on campus be beneficial in serving your strategic plan?
How is cutting athletic programs, specifically football, in line with your strategic plan for the University, which INCLUDES athletics. Getting rid of football is harming students and their pursuit of receiving a degree, gets rid of the diversity that our University desperately needs that football and Athletics provides, and also will damage partnerships and relationships that have been cultivated over the past decades. There are countless donors and supporters that support the Athletic programs because of the positive impact sports have on student-athletes.
Coming from a small town in North Bend, Washington, Humboldt State football helped build me into the man I am today. The relationships I made, the people I met, the lessons I learned are all 100% attributed to the Humboldt State football program. Coming from a high school that lacked diversity, I was thrown a major curve ball when I arrived in 2011 to a locker room that had players from every corner of the west coast. Oakland, Sacramento, Rocklin, San Diego, Poway, Compton, Los Angeles, you name it. I was able to meet, bond, connect, and work with individuals that I can now call my teammates and brothers FOR LIFE even though we all came from entirely different backgrounds because we all shared a common goal. Nowhere else on campus does a group of students come together like they do in college athletics.
A current report states that there are only 281 (3.41%) black or African American students at the University. How are you promoting diversity when a high number of these students are involved with college athletics? There is no question that this group is under-served and not represented properly at Humboldt State and in our community. How is cutting Humboldt State football and athletic teams helping with your strategic plan in promoting diversity when it does the complete opposite?
Most importantly through this ugly situation, what about the kids? What about the impact on the coaches and their families if they lose their jobs? Announcing this decision in November will only allow student-athletes one month to find new homes before the start of the spring semester, as they will no longer be able to pursue their goals and passion in college athletics at Humboldt State. You are in a position to SERVE our students. Announcing this decision in November may be what's best for you and your colleagues, but don't forget WHY you have a job and WHOSE best interest you should be considering. The fact that this news broke in the middle of another historical football season at HSU is beyond inappropriate and unprofessional.
I have seen the estimate of “around 100 students” will transfer from the University if football is dropped. I believe that number is low, as that is only the number of student-athletes that will be leaving. This does not include the other students at Humboldt that came because of football and the other athletic programs, because they wanted to be a part of an active campus community. With struggling enrollment that is showing no signs of improving, how is getting RID of more students going to help? The athletic teams continue to fill their rosters to the maximum number, what good is it to get rid of the schools best recruiters?
What about Arcata and Humboldt County? Only five times a year does the community come together like they do on Saturday nights in the Redwood Bowl. What will Homecoming weekend be like without football? What purpose will the weekend serve if it is not highlighted by a football game in the Redwood Bowl? The sense of community and togetherness that the football program and Humboldt Athletics brings cannot and should not be underestimated. It should also be noted the potential financial impact that HSU Athletics and the football program has for the community, what about the local businesses?
When you add the tens of thousands of dollars spent on the Strategic Edge Report, the hundreds of thousands of dollars missing from IRA fees of the "missing" students that were projected to be attending the University, and another $58,000 in the form of a cancelled Pepsi sponsorship, you have several HUNDRED THOUSAND dollars in lost revenue. In the face of this major financial hole, the leaders on campus ALSO elected to not renew the Pepsi sponsorship which had totaled $58,000 in revenues.
Seeing the overwhelming support for the program on social media has been special, but changes will have to come from within the University. Just this past spring, all of the Athletic programs were asked to raise money for scholarships as their budgets were tightened. The Football program raised $100,000 with ease which went directly toward athletic scholarships.
Cutting the football program will set the University back years and millions of more dollars in lost revenues. Taking the easy way out by simply cutting the "biggest" budget item is lazy, simplistic, irresponsible, and it won't be tolerated. Before you think about cutting the football program, think about the long-lasting impact this will have on YOUR students, coaches, administrators, community members, local business owners, and alumni. The impact the HSU football program had on myself and so many others is an important component of the mission of Humboldt State University.
The University leadership needs to do something that many in government lack the ability to do: get creative, think broadly, have a vision, recognize the big picture, work to find solutions, and engage all affected parties THROUGHOUT the process. Hiring consultants and forming committees, then disregarding the advice of said consultants and disbanding the advisory committee is selfish and shows that you do not value the opinions of others. There’s nothing decisive or showing in LEADERSHIP by these steps. Humboldt State University is in disarray due to a lack of leadership, vision, and decision making. Blackmailing one program into raising monies to cover the athletic department deficit is a symptom of the lack of leadership and is the last ditch efforts of someone who cannot make decisions and who has repeatedly ignored the problem. It is irresponsible of the University leadership to throw the entirety of this problem at the feet of just one program. Especially DURING THE MIDDLE OF THE SPORTS SEASON with a deadline less than 60 days away.
President Rossbacher and the University Board need to understand the impact that eliminating football will have on the University Campus, the University financial situation, the entire athletics department, all of the student-athletes, the other HSU students, and the greater Humboldt County community. It is short-sighted and simplistic. And it will most certainly be terminal for the University. I understand that finding a solution will not be easy, but it is possible. It will require involvement from ALL interested parties THROUGHOUT the process, not just at the eleventh hour. It will require making some difficult decisions and working TOGETHER to forge that solution. Lead. Engage. Think. LISTEN. Find Solutions. It’s possible. Humboldt Football isn’t going anywhere.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree?