Enterprise: What Happened to Seton Hall’s Football Team?

Despite the dominance the American South has over the sport, New Jersey is the birthplace of American football. The first American football game ever played took place on Nov. 6, 1869, between Rutgers and New Jersey (later known as Princeton), with Rutgers winning the contest 6-4. That said, as of 2021, the Garden State only has three NCAA Division I programs: Monmouth, Princeton and Rutgers. That begs the question—what happened to New Jersey football?

The origin story of Seton Hall football begins in 1882, 139 years ago, when the Setonia varsity eleven played the first American football game between two Catholic affiliated colleges (Fordham). The formative years of Seton Hall’s football program was widely successful, posting nine straight winning seasons from 1882-1890, a 15-game winning streak from 1896-1898 and a 14-1 record in two seasons from 1903-1904.

However, despite the program’s success, Seton Hall football was dropped as a varsity athletic program in 1906 and laid dormant from 1914-1929 following a brief, one season resurrection in 1913. Later on in 1930, former Notre Dame star Richard “Red” Smith reinstated Seton Hall’s football program and the Pirates played three seasons before dissolving the program once again in 1932.

The town of South Orange did not have a collegiate football program again until the mid 1960s when the Pirates once again returned as a club team in 1965. Head coach Ed Manigan guided the program for 16 years and even won a club national championship in 1972.

Following their championship, Seton Hall transitioned back to a varsity program in 1973. The Pirates played their first varsity game in 41 years that season, a 21-20 loss to Hofstra. Seton Hall competed in the Metropolitan Conference and the East Coast Athletic Conference for the ensuing nine seasons.

The Pirates’ final varsity season was in 1981 and the university has not seen a team compete on the gridiron since. There are numerous reasons why universities do not have football programs, and perhaps the most important one is expenses.

During an interview in 2016, Drexel University president John A. Fry said, “Many universities are demanding that their students pay more to support sports at the same time they are raising tuition, forcing many students to take out bigger loans to pay the bill.”

According to research done by NBC News, “Four out of five of the 230 Division I public universities charge students a fee to finance sports teams.” As of March 2020, universities such as Rutgers have an annual athletic fee of $376 while other schools charge upwards of $3,000 for a yearly athletic fee. It is also worth mentioning that in many states, the highest-paid state employee is the head coach of the state university football or basketball team.

University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban is due $9.1 million for his 2020 championship season and will make about $9.5 million for the 2021 season. And despite finishing dead last in the SEC last season, Missouri football coach Eliah Drinkwitz made about $4 million during the 2020 season, which is about 38 times more than the average pay of a full-time professor.

Another reason why people believe football is on the decline is because of the danger of the sport itself. Anywhere between 1.6 and 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur annually in the United States, with football being responsible for the majority. While short term consequences like headaches and fatigue do not concern many players and coaches alike, research suggests that even small impacts that occur on the football field can cause neurological and psychiatric problems down the line.

In preparation for the next college football season, the NCAA is making changes to training camps and practices in order to help keep their players safe when it comes to concussion related injuries. According to Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, a study conducted from 2015-19, showed that more concussions transpire in practices than in the actual games. In order to prevent more concussions the NCAA is considering removing specific practice drills and lessen the amount of team scrimmages in training camp.

It is imperative for universities to assess both of these factors when considering implementing a football program. Seton Hall’s total enrollment as of 2017 is 10,300 students, with 5,914 of that number being undergraduates, compared to a state school with football like Rutgers who has over 67,000 enrolled students. Given the small amount of students at schools like Seton Hall, it is simply not worth the hassle to have a football program.

In December 2012, the “Catholic Seven” members of the original Big East Conference elected to split from the football-playing schools in order to start a new conference focused on basketball. On July 1, 2013, the new BIG EAST was established.

At the moment, UConn is the only member of the BIG EAST with a varsity football program in the top-level, Division I FBS. Georgetown, Villanova and Butler do have football programs in the second-level Division I FCS, but only Villanova offers scholarships to its players.

Given that the university has not had a football program since the early 80s, not as many people today are aware that they even had one in the past. While Seton Hall has been and could be without football for an extended period of time, there is no questioning the importance of the program’s history.