79ºF

Florida Tech cuts football program, announces layoffs due to coronavirus

Changes necessary to ‘meet financial challenges’ caused by pandemic, school officials say

MELBOURNE, Fla. – After nine years, 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, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.

Along with 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.

University staff also may face layoffs and furloughs later this month as the college grapples with falling revenue due to the virus, the release said, although 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 retirement packages is finalized, officials said.

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.” Due to the spread of the new coronavirus, the center has been closed to the public since March 20.

The center and museum was founded in 2009 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 its football program in April 2010 amid an unprecedented wave of campus expansion and fundraising spearheaded by former president Anthony Catanese, Florida Today reported. He had previously led the launch of Florida Atlantic University’s football team during his presidential tenure there.

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, according to Florida Today. 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.