Florida Tech cuts football program, announces layoffs due to COVID-19 impacts
After nearly a decade, the Florida Institute of Technology's football program is coming to an end.
The move was one of several cost-cutting measures the university announced Monday as a result of the economic fallout of COVID-19.
Beside the termination of the football program, college officials said in a news release a series of impending staff reductions and furloughs, along with the closure of the Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts, were necessary to "meet the financial challenges" caused by the pandemic.
In an email to FLORIDA TODAY, officials cited a lack of certainty regarding fall enrollment numbers as the main reason for the cuts.
“With revenue projections for fall in question and enrollment in flux, given the uncertainty of COVID-19 and its ultimate impact on students making decisions to attend fall classes, this difficult decision was necessary,” spokesman Wes Sumner said in the email.
The football program, part of the Gulf Coast Conference, fields up to 120 players. Student-athletes on scholarship will retain their scholarship awards for up to four years, the release said.
Records from the U.S. Department of Education show the program operated at a net loss of about $4,500 in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available. Total revenues for the 2018 season were $3,096,914, against a total operating cost of $3,101,393.
University staff also will face layoffs and furloughs later this month as the college grapples with falling revenue due to the virus, the release said.
Some employees will be offered early retirement as an alternative. Estimates of affected employees won't be known until the number of those who opt for the retirement packages is finalized, officials said.
Furloughs will likely last through the summer, with the majority of furloughed employees expected to be recalled just before the start of the fall semester on Aug. 17.
Officials did not give a firm date for the closure of the Funk Center, saying only that it will close its doors for good "later this year." The center has been closed to the public since March 20 due to the spread of the new coronavirus.
Founded in 2009, the Funk Center was created to preserve and showcase a collection of international textiles donated by artist and author Ruth E. Funk. The university will retain the collection and is making alternate plans for its display.
In a letter to campus, Florida Tech President T. Dwayne McCay said these were "difficult times" for the university.
“The unprecedented uncertainty created by COVID-19 makes these moves prudent, but no less painful,” McCay said in the letter. “We must do what is necessary to preserve resources critical to our educational mission and ensure our ability to successfully serve students when face-to-face instruction resumes this fall. I appreciate each of you, and I am humbled by your hard work and sacrifice.”
Florida Tech launched football-program planning in April 2010 amid an unprecedented wave of campus expansion and fundraising spearheaded by former president Anthony Catanese. He had previously led the launch of Florida Atlantic University’s football team during his presidential tenure there.
In June 2011, Indiana State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks and running backs coach Steve Englehart was hired as the Panthers' inaugural head coach.
After more than three years of development, the Division II Panthers debuted in September 2013, defeating Stetson 20-13 with a fourth-quarter comeback at Palm Bay High's Pirate Stadium.
In tandem, the university founded the annual Homecoming Fest street parties in downtown Melbourne, which have hosted free concerts by Wyclef Jean, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Taking Back Sunday, Cold War Kids and Matisyahu, among other headliners.
Start-up costs for Florida Tech’s football program included $2.1 million in construction, primarily the 12,600-square-foot Varsity Training Center and upgrades at Pirate Stadium, including artificial turf.
By fall 2014, university officials estimated football start-up operational costs had reached $3.5 million, including equipment purchases and payroll. These figures were included in a university analysis that estimated the football program had generated $9 million in economic impact across the Melbourne area.
In April, Florida Tech officials announced the pending sale of the Foosaner Art Museum and adjoining Renee Foosaner Education Center in downtown Eau Gallie. The university had listed the Highland Avenue sites for $3 million last month, and museum and education center operations will continue through July 2021.
A developer, Larry Jarnes of Northboro Builders, hopes to replace the museum with a multi-story hotel of about 200 rooms. He also hopes to partner with the city of Melbourne to construct a public parking garage.
Last year, Florida Tech cut the men’s and women’s tennis programs and the women’s golf program. After the announcement, the women’s golf squad won the program's first NCAA Division II National Championship in May 2019 in Palm Beach Gardens.
Eric Rogers is the education watchdog reporter and Rick Neale is the South Brevard watchdog reporter with FLORIDA TODAY.
Contact Rogers at 321-242-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or email@example.com.
This story originally published to floridatoday.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.