NYU Football, what happened?

Courtesy of NYU

NYU seems to have everything, right? With top notch academics, a popular career center, an incredibly successful alumni network and global sites from Sydney to Shanghai, NYU has all it needs to compete with state universities like Michigan State and Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Columbia.

Put our sports program up against any of the aforementioned schools, however, and we are sadly outmatched. NYU is a Division III athletic institution, with more pride in its athletes’ test scores than their performances on the field.

The story of NYU’s influence in the sports world begins in 1873, when the Violets became the fifth college football team in the United States. Even in the 19th century, we were trailblazers, bringing a relatively new sport to our campus to compete with Princeton, Rutgers, Columbia and Yale.

In 1905, NYU pushed further ahead when then-chancellor Henry MacCracken called together a meeting of university leaders to make protective football gear mandatory after a slew of gruesome injuries and deaths on the field. Player safety is an issue that the NFL still grapples with today, and NYU recognized it as an issue over one hundred years ago.

The conference reconvened a month later as the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States. Years later, the entity renamed itself the National Collegiate Athletic Association, abbreviated as NCAA. Yes, NYU first called together the same NCAA that now serves as the governing body for all intercollegiate athletics.

Throughout all this, NYU never had a quality football program. When football was discontinued in 1953, the school’s final record was: 199 wins, 226 losses, and 30 ties. NYU had mostly mediocre teams, with a few bright years here and there.

One of those years featured a star running back by the name of Ed Smith, a tough-nosed runner known for his “straight-arm” technique. Smith was later immortalized performing that technique when he served as the model for the Heisman Trophy, which is given to the year’s best college football player.

So after all that, why close the program?

A Time magazine article from 1942 quoted chancellor Harry Woodburn Chase: “For the past two years football has been conducted at a considerable deficit, and the university cannot retain the sport any further.”

Football was brought back the following year, but interest faltered and the cost of the program was not getting any cheaper. In 1953, it was discontinued indefinitely and has yet to make a return. Chancellor Henry T. Heald finally killed off the team due to a reported $100,000 deficit on the program that year. NYU’s football team has remained off the field ever since.

Sebastien van Heyningen is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]

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5 Responses to “NYU Football, what happened?”

  1. Tim on October 14th, 2014 2:03 pm

    With 25,000+ under grads and a $3 billion+ endowment there’s no reason NYU can’t afford a football team. And there’s no reason NYU can’t afford to move up from D3 to D1. The Patriot League is an academically elite league similar to the Ivy League that competes at the D1 level. 60 scholarships for football and another 13 for men’s bball, multiply that by 2 for women’s sports per title ix and you have and you have 146 scholarships total over a four year period. Financially, all it really…

  2. Tim on October 14th, 2014 2:07 pm

    Financially, all it really means is that you’re adding 146 seats to your classrooms. It’s only a loss on paper. The football team can pretty much fund itself by playing guaranteed fbs money games. For instance, a team like Rutgers might pay them $400k to play them because the Rutgers win would count towards bowl eligibility. The fact that a great school like NYU would have a small and insignificant D3 athletic program with no football is kind of dumb.

  3. Richard Traub on April 2nd, 2015 10:48 am

    This year, 2015, Bill Polian, a member of the 1964 NYU Football Team will be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame…Mr Polian has been one of the most ingenious and successful NFL General Managers to have ever “built” ChampionshipTeams…He began his carter in the Bronx playing for Coach Bob Windish at NYU

  4. Carl Bascom on August 17th, 2015 11:41 am

    An NYU upgrade in athletics would be embraced by the NY Metro area. Many high profile academic schools have shown that it can be done. NYU would have more local resources than many to get it done.

  5. Jim Carr on November 29th, 2015 9:02 pm

    “In 1953, it was discontinued indefinitely and has yet to make a return.”

    That is an incorrect statement.

    I played on the last NYU football team, in 1967. The program was revived in the 1960’s as a so-called “club program”, supposedly as a prelude to joining Division II. That year we were beat badly by Columbia at home, played Fordham at Fordham (won 7-0 and the alumni lost their minds with glee), beat St. John’s there, lost to Georgetown at DC, and lost to Manhattan at home (was our home field at heights called “McDonough Field”?). The New York Daily News liked to cover us, the alumni dreamed of a revival of past sports glories (either real or imagined), and our fellow students seemed to enjoy us. The problem was, the school administration was so ambivalent about us we were never going to succeed. There were no scholarships or other forms of financial aid offered. Local recruiting was non-existent. And there was no academic slack extended to anyone. We had players such as myself from the old University Heights campus (which the University chose to sell off after they got financially overextended with new construction in the 70’d) and others commuting to afternoon practices from the Square campus. With some early season injuries, our manpower was limited. A lot of us wound up playing “ironman football” (I played the whole season both ways at middle linebacker and fullback). At the end of the season, most people thought we would get some more kids in, keep improving and progression. But the administration terminated the program, too little interest. Termination of the football program was then followed with the bizarre termination of the basketball program,

    I received a great education at NYU and enjoyed my time at University Heights immensely. But unless things have dramatically changed, sports is not part of the culture in this University. While Fordham and Georgetown have developed solid football programs in the CAA (Fordham was in the playoffs this week), that would not appear to be a path that NYU feels a worthwhile addition to the college experience.

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