Whittier College, which has played college football for 115 years, finally told its players on Tuesday that it was shutting down its football program a day after assistant coaches received letters of termination and told the football team of the school’s intent.
In a lengthy statement and declaration by the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Miguel Santana, and the School President, Linda Oubre, Whittier College made it official on its school website Tuesday night.
In addition to dropping its football program, Whittier is also dropping men’s and women’s golf teams and men’s lacrosse.
“After a three-year review process and much careful deliberation, Whittier College announces the cessation of poet football,” Whittier wrote on his website. “This was a difficult decision, supported by the Board of Trustees, and aimed at directing investment in what makes Whittier College exceptional: our academic programs, our high-touch student experience, including expanded efforts to support health and… student well-being, and the 18 NCAA sports that will remain an integral part of the Whittier experience.”
Whittier’s footballers felt the news would come after coaches shared their Monday resignation letters and weren’t happy to be left in limbo until Tuesday night to make it official.
Whittier footballer DJ Williams, a freshman linebacker who played high school football at San Dimas, said the news was emotional for everyone.
“There were a lot of tears at the meeting,” Williams said. “People were scared, confused and uncertain about our future. I am disappointed and sad.”
During the meeting, Williams said school officials cited concerns about head injuries as part of the reason his program was terminated.
“They cut the program due to head injuries and concussions that they stated,” Williams said. “Which is a poor excuse.”
The school cited head injuries as a cause for concern.
“In addition, there are growing concerns about contact sports — lacrosse and soccer — and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease seen in athletes and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma,” the statement said. “When it comes to the health of our student-athletes, we have to take that concern seriously.”
Zach Fernandes, a freshman offensive lineman from Gregori High School in Modesto, hoped the rumors weren’t true.
“I’m devastated, I feel betrayed,” said Fernandes. “I sacrificed everything to play the sport I love and it was just taken from me. I have absolutely no idea what to do now. I don’t know if I’ll ever play football again.”
Whittier College quarterback Adam Pinard, a freshman who attended high school at Santa Rosa Academy in Menifee, said ahead of Tuesday’s announcement that he was “not sure how this could have been handled worse.”
Pinard had more to say after the announcement.
“Obviously that’s unfortunate and puts a lot of players in a difficult situation at the end of the semester, but I can’t say I didn’t see it coming,” said Pinard. “I just hope the coaches and my teammates find a school that values their athletic programs because I love all these guys. It’s really a special bond we’ve built since I’ve been here in August and that can’t be measured in terms of wins and losses.”
Whittier College, which plays at the NCAA Division III level and has won 26 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles, most recently in 2007, joins Occidental College and Azusa Pacific as small local Southern California colleges that have strengthened their soccer programs in recent years years have ended . Occidental College and Azusa Pacific ended their programs in 2020.
The schools have to reckon with falling income. There are also a limited number of small colleges in Southern California that still offer soccer programs, making finding games difficult and driving up travel costs.
“According to data from the Aspen Institute and the National Federation of State High School Associations, football is in decline in the United States,” Whittier posted on his website to explain his decision. “From 2008/09 to 2018/19, the total number of youth ages 6 to 18 playing tackle football dropped by more than 620,000 participants, from about 2.5 million to fewer than 1.9 million. In that same decade, college game attendance at the highest level declined nearly 10 percent.”
With Whittier consolidating its program, only six colleges in California remain to compete in Division III. There are three local schools – Pomona-Pitzer, Claremont-Mudd and the University of La Verne – that play Division III football.
Whittier played his final game of the season on Saturday November 12 against Redlands and lost 58-14 to end his season 0-8.
Whittier, which began playing football in 1907, is famous for having former President Richard Nixon play there as a tackle for the 1932 squad and also for having NFL Hall of Fame coach George Allen coaching the Poets from 1951 to 1956 directed. Allen left Whittier to become the Rams’ assistant coach in 1957, and after bouncing around as an NFL assistant, he was named the Rams’ head coach in 1963.
Whittier’s finest period in football came from 1957 to 1964, when it won eight straight conference titles with Allen and two other head coaches, Don Coryell (1957 to 1959) and John Godfrey (1960 to 1979).
It has had trouble picking winning teams over the past decade. He has not won in five of his last seven seasons.