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Iona College Discontinues Football
New Rochelle - Buddies Tim Mastrino and Andrew Litski were planning to finish out their senior years together at Iona. Maybe get their master’s too. The wide receiver from Illinois and the linebacker from Long Island became friends on the football team and were looking forward to their final year of eligibility in 2009.
Yesterday they found out there won’t be a 2009. Not for Iona football anyway.
The college announced yesterday that it would disband its football program, effective immediately. It had been the only Division I football program in the Lower Hudson Valley, playing in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA.
“It is with a heavy heart and careful deliberations that we have come to this extremely difficult decision,” athletic director Patrick Lyons said. “The dissolution of the MAAC Football League after the 2007 season and the lack of equitable opponents in Division I FCS football was the main factor in the decision.”
The move leaves 110 players at the New Rochelle school with very cloudy futures. With no football available, they are left to choose between staying with a familiar campus and friends or leaving everything they know to pursue football at another school.
“Now we basically have to go through a whole recruiting process like we’re high schoolers,” Mastrino said.
He lamented the breakup of friendships as much as the team. The next few months will be spent looking at teams with openings.
Freshman quarterback Warren Smith believes that of the 60 football freshmen, there won’t be more than five who stick around.
“All the young men are devastated, as are the parents and the coaches and everybody associated with the program,” said Litski’s father, Gerard. “It’s a sad day for Iona.”
Iona sports information director Brian Beyrer said that while everyone will be asked to continue their educations at Iona, the school is putting systems in place to help ease the transfer of those who decide to leave.
Coach Fred Mariani will begin individual player interviews today to assess their needs. He hopes to see everyone in three days. He said his phone is already ringing off the hook with other coaches wanting him to send kids their way.
“We’re not going to let this destroy our lives,” Mariani said. “I’m not going to let it destroy my career, nor will I let it destroy my players’ careers.”
Mariani spent the last 11 years of a 35-year coaching career at Iona, where he saw his daughter through school and won a conference championship. He plans to seek coaching work elsewhere once the players have determined their futures.
The announcement came at a 4 p.m. meeting yesterday attended by players, athletic faculty and Brother James Liguori, Iona’s president. Liguori explained the rationale behind the decision and took questions from upset players. Some were so upset they walked out. Those who stayed were generally unsatisfied with the answers.
“He said this was an experimental year to see how things went,” quarterback Nick Rossetti said. “A lot of the freshmen were upset because they felt like if this was an experimental year they should have been told that (before being recruited).”
Iona became the seventh Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference school to disband its football program in the last seven years. They began disappearing in 2002. By 2007 there were only four left. Iona went 7-4 and won the conference championship. A year later, Iona and Marist were the only programs remaining. Iona played this season as an independent, going 3-8.
On Oct. 23, Liguori was quoted in the school newspaper, the Ionian, warning about the football team’s inability to compete as an independent against programs that offer 25 or more scholarships. Iona does not offer football scholarships. Those comments, which suggested the football team might be dissolved, were blamed in part for a season-ending, four-game losing streak.
It led to a meeting with parents and supporters petitioning for the program to be saved. They did not get their wish. It left parents in many cases angrier than their kids.
“The bottom line is that the decision today stuck a dagger in Iona,” said Ed Day of New City, father of tight end Michael Day. “Not Iona the football team, Iona. Because nobody will ever believe Iona at its word ever again.”
The money saved on football will be reinvested in the 21 remaining athletic programs.
Iona College discontinues football
By Jake Thomases, The Lower Hudson Valley Journal News
Photo Credit: Stephen Schmitt/The Lower Hudson Valley Journal News