In 1996, much took place in the realm of sports. Major League Baseball crowned the New York Yankees as World Series champions for the first time in nearly two decades; the Dallas Cowboys secured what would be their last championship until further notice, and Sonoma State University played its final game as a collegiate football program.
Initially added as a junior varsity team in 1969 and briefly discontinued from 1972 to 1979, Sonoma State played 20 seasons of competitive football, compiling a grand total of 77 wins, 120 losses and two ties. Not much to write home about.
Notably, the Cossacks earned their only NCAC championship in 1991, the first title in 14 seasons under the NCAC label. That season, head coach Tim Walsh led the squad to a 9-2 record after seven years of subpar football.
But five years removed from its conference title, Sonoma State decided to sack the program, citing budget constraints amid concerns that compliance with Title IX would pose more difficulty than anticipated if the team remained intact. Among other reasons, the NCAC also disbanded its football division in 1996, then fully shut down in 1998, streamlining the process for the administration to eradicate the program.
At the time, the university claimed it would save nearly $300,000 by eliminating the football team and, in the process, create financial stability within the athletic department in doing so.
Now, as 22 years have passed since the football program met its demise, the school still remains without a team and has no plans in the future to resurrect it.
In reality, it’s too costly to support a football team and profit from it in the process – especially at a small division II school like Sonoma State. Hampered by factors like travel, equipment, scholarships, coaching, employees, a stadium to build or rent and Title IX requirements, Sonoma State wouldn’t be able to sustain a healthy football program without hefty amounts of money purged from other resources in the school and a mass amount of funding from the community.
After all, Sonoma State’s a tiny warrior in a large battlefield of gladiators. With top football schools such as the University of Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State raking in millions of dollars annually thanks to fans, boosters and sponsorships, it’s not hard to understand why a small school north of the Golden Gate Bridge is unable to call home to a football program.
Those schools generate millions of dollars in revenue each year because boosters are willing to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to make sure the product on the field is a perennial national title contender. At the same time, students and fans contribute to the cycle by spending money on season tickets, merchandise, food and drinks and parking. At those schools, it’s the perfect formula for success.
Unlike other universities that are swimming in cash, at this school it’s hard enough to provide student-athletes with enough scholarship money to keep them here, let alone build a football program with costs upward of a few million dollars just to revive something that has a high risk of flopping.
Unfortunately, this is a truth that we as students must face. Football is dead at Sonoma State, and not even a last-second hail mary could resuscitate our formerly beloved team.
And for a school that once helped Larry Allen pave his way to the NFL Hall of Fame, all that remains of the sport is a deserted track that once housed a football field, some shirts that say “undefeated since 1996,” and a massive banner of Allen in the gym that taunts our every desire to bring a football team back to Sonoma State.
Alas, these tokens will forever exist as the ghost of Sonoma State football.