Remember the Cossacks

The 2013 National Collegiate of Athletics’ football season kicked off on Aug. 29 with the matchup of North Carolina and South Carolina, the latter winning by a score of 27-10. With the start of NCAA season many Sonoma State students have wishful thinking of cheering on their own team each Saturday afternoon. Many also wonder what happened to our once promising football program.

The Sonoma State football team began its first season in 1961, competing at a JV level and ending with a record of 5-3, and was led by head coach Lloyd Helgeson. The program continued for the next two years but was discontinued from 1972 to 1979. The team was rebooted as a club team in 1980, in which they were led by head coach Milt Cerf, posting a 6-4 record. The program was again discontinued in 1996, and since then a football team has not existed at Sonoma State University.

“It was getting more difficult for our team to continue playing and competing, due to the fact that many Division II institutions were dropping their programs,” said Sports Information Director Tyler Lobe. “It became way more expensive than it had in recent years.” 

Budget cuts were the main reason why Sonoma State dropped their football program in 1996, along with the fact that many Division II institutions in California were dropping their programs. Without local Division II California teams, the Sonoma State team would have to travel outside of California, which would further extend expenses that the school could not afford. 

According to an article written in the San Francisco Chronicle in December 1996, the football program was shut down in order to comply with gender equity provisions of Title IX. The article also stated that Sonoma State expected a shortfall of $194,000 in the 1997-98 academic year, and that the university would save about $300,000 from the elimination of the football program. 

The Sonoma State football team competed in the Northern California Athletic Conference, which consisted of California State University, Chico; University of California, Davis; California State University, Hayward; Humboldt State; San Francisco State University; Sonoma State University; and California State University, Stanislaus. CSU Stanislaus never had a football team. Humboldt State is the only California State University to still have a Division II football program.

The Cossacks, which they were formerly known as, won the NCAC in the 1991 season, and they were co-champions in the 1994 season, and a 7-3 in 1992 in which they were ranked ninth in the nation. But the one person who sums Sonoma State football is Larry Allen.

Larry Allen came to Sonoma State in 1992 when he transferred from Butte College in Oroville, Calif. Allen went on to be a two time All-American while he was at Sonoma State, and also competed in the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Senior Bowl in his senior season in 1993. He was drafted in 1994 by the Dallas Cowboys, and went on to have a successful career in the National Football League until he retired in 2008. Allen was an 11 time Pro Bowler, and a Super Bowl XXX Champion with the Dallas Cowboys. He was also regarded as the strongest player to ever play in the National Football League, with a bench press of 705 lbs., and a squat of 905 lbs. Allen was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past year.

According to an article from the Press Democrat in December 1996, Allen loved the coaches at Sonoma State, and overall enjoyed the small school atmosphere. Allen was not the only one whose life was changed by the Sonoma State football program. Devin Smith, who was a cousin of Allen’s, came to Sonoma State from Compton like Allen. 

“This is a great school. I love it here,” said Smith. “Our record wasn’t very good but not one guy gave up because we knew good things were going to happen next year.” 

Smith and the rest of the team found out the following Monday that the program would be discontinued. Many players and coaches, lik Smith, were infuriated and upset at the announcement of this. But the university could just no longer afford to keep the program.

People ask constantly about the possibility of the team coming back. According to Lobe it would not financially make sense for the school to bring back the program because of the lack of Division II teams in California, and a team is not in high demand from the community.