GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Grand Rapids Community College announced Monday that it is pulling the plug on its football program immediately.
GRCC officials cited four reasons, one of which was the recent departure of head coach Tony Annese.
"Once we got to a point where Coach Annese decided to depart, that's when we decided to look at it," said GRCC Athletic Director Charles Wells.
Former football players on GRCC's campus Monday night said they were incredibly upset that the program was eliminated.
24 Hour News 8 got a chance to speak with the father of one of the players Monday night.
"He called up, really disappointed, and said, 'Dad, they just discontinued the football program,'" said Philip Fricano.
Fricano's son just finished his first year on the GRCC football team. He said his son planned to return for a second year, but all that changed after a Monday afternoon meeting.
At that meeting, the football players learned -- before anyone else -- about the school's decision to end the program.
"The school and football kind of went hand-in-hand. I don't want him to give up on one just because the other one's gone," said Fricano.
Fricano said a lot of his son's teammates feel the same way, and that many are thinking about transferring. GRCC officials said they anticipate between 10-15 players out of the 35-50 players left on campus will likely transfer schools.
Fricano said his son told him the players feel lost and confused.
"Everything just looked like everything was going perfectly, and bringing in kids last year from Florida, Georgia all over the place you would think, what happened since last year that now everything's changed to the point where we are just gonna end it," said Fricano.
Former head coach Tony Annese said that when he first heard the news, he was somewhat shocked and angry, and that the text messages and phone calls he's gotten from players are painful.
"In the history of the whole thing, this has been an on-going dialogue for a while," said Annese. "Now that I'm leaving, I guess it's a comfortable time. I don't think it's the force that's causing them to get rid of the program -- it's just a comfortable time."
Annese said he believes GRCC's president loved football and loved GRCC's football program.
24 Hour News 8 was told budget concerns also played into the decision to discontinue the program.
"These are tough times and we've had to cut budgets across the board over the last several years," said GRCC Dean of Student Affairs Tina Hoxie. "Our athletic program has certainly not been shielded from that."
"This has been a painful decision for all involved," said Dr. Steven Ender in a statement released to the media. "We are aware of the 80-year history of the football program, and are pained to discontinue its existence. It was not an easy decision, but one that needed to be made."
Other reasons given for dropping the football program were scheduling difficulties, which required bus trips that could be as long as 19 hours; and compliance problems with Title IX regulations. Athletic Director Charles Wells said keeping the program would require creating two new sports for females to balance things out. He said in these economic times, that would not be feasible.
Finding housing and other things for some of their out of area student-athletes was another factor.
A Target 8 story on Dec. 5, 2011 revealed dozens of GRCC football players were evicted from their apartments and dozens of others walked away before that could happen.
The evictions happened because landlord Beckett Property Management is still owed $85,000 in rent that was due in September, CEO Josh Beckett said.
He said he rented to the players after team coaches approached him earlier this year and they struck a deal to provide housing for roughly 70 students tied to the team.
School officials said they plan to have a spring conditioning program for football players this year and will work with them whether they want to transfer or stay on at GRCC.
Annese said he has already worked with four students who plan on transferring.
When asked if the football program would ever come back, school officials said maybe -- if the economy improves.
Annese said in the past five years, four junior colleges in GRCC's conference have cut their football programs. Annese said he would be shocked if GRCC reinstated its football program.
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