Football Draws To A Close At Azusa Pacific
In its eight seasons as a GNAC member, Azusa Pacific won conference titles four times and advanced to the Division II playoffs in 2016 and 2018.
In its eight seasons as a GNAC member, Azusa Pacific won conference titles four times and advanced to the Division II playoffs in 2016 and 2018.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020
by Azusa Pacific Athletic Communications

AZUSA, Calif. – After significant review and careful consideration, Azusa Pacific University is ending intercollegiate football program this month after 55 years of competition in the NCAA and NAIA.

This decision was reached by the university’s President’s Cabinet with support by the Board of Trustees after discussions throughout the fall that included analysis on multiple fronts with key stakeholders. It reflects the trajectory of intercollegiate athletics in California and upholds the best interests of Cougar Athletics and the university moving forward.

“This is an extremely difficult decision,” said Azusa Pacific Director of Athletics Gary Pine. “I love Cougar football and it has meant a lot to all of us. Unfortunately, the long-term trends of college football in California have eroded the fiscal sustainability of many programs, ours included, and caused annual departmental deficits. The strategic reallocation of funding strengthens our Athletics portfolio and overall commitment to student-athletic success. These measures create the right environment for the next chapter in Cougar Athletics.”

Ending the program is part of a restructure to streamline athletics resources. Moving forward, the program will invest further in advancing excellence in the 18 remaining sports.

“I’m saddened, but I understand the decision,” said former Cougar great Christian Okoye ’87, a two-time NFL Pro Bowl running back with the Kansas City Chiefs. “Like so many other football alumni, I am thankful that God brought me to Azusa Pacific. The influence of the university and those who trained me made me who I am today. My friends and teammates feel the same way.”

This decision reflects the decline of California football over the past 30 years. During this time, 14 California four-year colleges have dropped football from their intercollegiate rosters, while only one (Chapman in 1994) has added the sport. From a high of 37 football-playing schools in California in 1975, only 17 still have the sport. Azusa Pacific was the only NCAA Division II or NAIA school in California with football, and while that status created a unique recruiting proposition for the university, it eventually became an expensive one as well.

With fewer in-state opponents, APU had to stretch its vision for contests. Since 2005, Cougar football has averaged three airplane flights per season. Over the past four years, that average climbed to five, including 2019 when all six road games required air travel, making Azusa Pacific the only NCAA Division II or III school in the nation forced to fly to all of its road games.

Between 2006-09, Azusa Pacific played games in Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Montana, along with its routine contests in Oregon and Washington. In 2007 alone, APU football traveled more than 17,000 miles to fulfill its 11-game schedule. The move to the NCAA temporarily offset the burden of extraordinary travel costs.

More than 2,000 men have identified with Cougar football since the program’s inception. In the program’s GNAC era, that list is topped by running back Terrell Watson ’16 who led college football in rushing and parlayed that success into a three-year career in the NFL.

Azusa Pacific won the NAIA national championship in 1988. The breakthrough in the program’s first postseason appearance started a stretch where the Cougars made the playoffs six times in eight years. Azusa Pacific returned to the NAIA playoffs in 2010 and 2011.

In 2012, APU began its first and only conference membership in the GNAC. During its eight seasons as a GNAC member, the Cougars won conference championships in 2013, 2014 and 2016 and shared the 2018 title with Central Washington. The Cougars qualified for the Division II playoffs in 2016 and 2018.

The university is assessing how to reallocate operational and scholarship funds within the Athletics Department and across the university to promote athletic and academic excellence while honoring the legacy of Cougar football. APU intends to further its recruitment efforts of those transferring from community colleges and urban high schools to uphold the momentum football provided in recruiting students who reflect the rich diversity of its Southern California location.

Current football players holding athletic scholarships who decide to finish their education at APU and achieve satisfactory academic progress will continue to receive that support. The Athletics Department will assist current team members who wish to transfer.