Cabrera 'all for' football, if able to pay

Mason's club football team started in 1993. The team won the first NCFA Mid-Atlantic Conference championship last season and is now in the middle of off-season conditioning. There is no NCAA team. (Jake McLernon)
Mason's club football team started in 1993. The team won the first NCFA Mid-Atlantic Conference championship last season and is now in the middle of off-season conditioning. There is no NCAA team. (Jake McLernon)

Incoming university president Ángel Cabrera told Faculty Senate members last week that he’s “all for” more football in Mason’s future if there’s a way to pull it off financially.

Cabrera, who will become Mason’s sixth university president effective July 1, made the comments at an informal meet-and-greet with Faculty Senate members in context of a question about football in the university’s future. While discussing the unifying pride a sports team can bring to members of an institution, he answered the question saying he was “all for” building upon the pride that already exists in Mason’s men’s basketball.

 Ángel Cabrera spoke informally with the Faculty Senate on March 7, answering questions concerning his view on the BOV to football in Mason's future. (Kevin Loker)

“If there’s a way to have more of that [pride] and not lose our shirt in the process, I’m all for it,” Cabrera said. “If someone can figure out a way to have football and create more of that sense of ‘winning tribe,’ if you will, and we find a way to be able to pay for it, I’m all for it.”

During an interview with Student Media on the day of the Board of Visitors' appointment of Cabrera as the next president, the end-result of a search process that has received criticism from Faculty Senate members, WGMU Radio staff asked Cabrera about the possibility of football in Mason’s future.

At last Wednesday's meet and greet with Faculty Senate members, Cabrera addressed that “football question” as his first “faux pas” with Student Media at Mason.

“It was my first faux pas with Student Media . . . I said, ‘Football? Is that the one with the round ball or the other ball?’,” said Cabrera to the Faculty Senate members in attendance. “And the students looked at each other and said ‘Aww.’”

Cabrera, born in Spain, did joke about football and the “other” football – soccer – during his first interview with Student Media on Dec. 15. He also expanded on his philosophy of athletics at institutes of higher education. While he said Mason has the right approach, he said “at some institutions” a football team "becomes more important than the rest of the university.”

“It’s almost ‘the tail wagging the dog,’” said Cabrera. “It looks more like a football team with a university attached to it somehow, and I think that’s wrong.”

“I think sports and athletics are a key part of an enriched learning experience,” said Cabrera earlier in the Dec. 15 interview. “But they have to be looked at as serving the academic mission of an institution.”

During his time at the podium at the March 7 meet-and-greet, a gathering organized during his second visit to Mason since the BOV’s announcement, Cabrera mentioned he had also been reading up on athletics at American universities.

“I have been reading every book I can find on athletics at American universities,” said Cabrera, who in a separate question said he has “a lot to learn” about some aspects of public institutions, including “how state politics works" and "how the money flows.” Thunderbird School of Global Management, where Cabrera currently serves as president, is a private graduate business school.

“I’d even learn the rules [of football],” Cabrera said after stating he’d be “all for” football if it worked financially, joking again about the “brown ball” versus the “funny ball.”

A desire for NCAA intercollegiate football has come up in a number of online and offline student conversations and comments about President Alan Merten’s decision to step down in summer 2012. Merten, while a proud supporter of men and women’s basketball, is painted by some to be a proponent against the addition of a Division I football team.

Broadside, the student newspaper, asked Merten about the status of football in Mason’s future in a Q & A published Nov. 8 2010. 

Broadside: Are there any plans for a varsity football team at Mason?

Merten: We run the university in a business-like fashion. Things have to make sense financially, and football is a bad idea financially. The last time we looked at it, we would have needed a $15 million gift from a private donor. We would also have to charge students $500 a semester in order to support the program, and because of the requirements of Title 9, we would have had to drop a men’s sport as well. There are about 20 universities in the country that make money or break even with their football programs. All the rest lose money. It just does not make financial sense to have a football team.

Mason currently has a club football team. The team, which has been playing since 1993, brought home the National Club Football Association Mid-Atlantic Conference championship trophy in December with a win over the VCU Rams, finishing the regular season with a 4-6 record.

Questions from other Faculty Senate members involved Cabrera’s opinion of the BOV, the future of online education, concerns on raising funds and what Cabrera envisions in Mason’s future in the next 10 years.

Cabrera, noting that he didn’t think Mason should be “bound” by the idea of a traditional university, said he wouldn’t declare a “vision” now, when he’s not president. He plans to go on a “listening tour” when he officially arrives, and a vision, Cabrera said, will come after.  


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