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August 5, 2020

Cabrillo football program suspends operations for two years

It’ll be a few years before fans will see any action from the Cabrillo College football team. 

The community college’s Board of Trustees held a special virtual meeting Tuesday evening and came to a unanimous decision to suspend football operations for at least two years.

Cabrillo self-reported to the California Community College Athletic Association that the program was in violation of players receiving “impermissible benefits.” 

Dr. Matthew Wetstein, superintendent and president at Cabrillo, said it was a tough decision but one that he felt the board needed to take given the violations reported.

“It’s an unfortunate decision but we want to make sure that we do a reset and have a good review, if we’re going to have football at Cabrillo,” he said.

Reports stated that offensive coordinator Frank Espy signed two rental agreements for players, a violation of Bylaw 1.2 of the CCCAA constitution. 

The program was put on two years probation and forced to forfeit its 2019 season results. Cabrillo appealed the penalty but it was rejected by the CCCAA on April 16.

That means the program’s 8-3 overall record and first bowl game appearance since 2007 won’t count. 

Cabrillo’s football program played its first season in 1959 but there’s a chance it may never return, Wetstein hinted.

As of now, all other team sports will continue subject to probation review by CCCAA in line with other recent sanctions imposed.

Joe Gregorio, a vice principal at Watsonville High School and former Cabrillo football player, said he was sad after hearing the news. He mentioned he was also upset about the fact there was no conversation about the process.

“I understand there’s rules and rules need to be followed,” Gregorio said. “If something happens I understand the punishment but sometimes talking out the punishment is also part of the process.”

Gregorio said he’s disappointed there wasn’t enough dialogue from the community, especially when there’s a strong group of alumni in south county who attended Cabrillo and were a part of the football program. 

Gavilan College had a similar situation in 2017 when it brought in 17 out-of-state players and placed them in a three-bedroom house in Hollister.

According to a story reported by The Gilroy Dispatch, the football program was put on probation for three years and barred from postseason play for two years.

Gavilan students were given plane tickets or gas cards to return to home. Players came from as far away as Oregon, Chicago, Houston, Florida, Baltimore and Virginia, among other places. 

The cost to send the students home was estimated at $10,000, according to Gavilan officials. The college confirmed that this money came from “undesignated funds” from the Gavilan College Educational Foundation.

“They paid their price for breaking the rules but they didn’t disband the program,” Gregorio said. “Maybe there’s more investigation and I understand that part of it also.”

Wetstein said the purpose of the suspension is to allow Cabrillo to have sufficient time to study the pros and cons of maintaining the football program.

“There’s so many different issues that are tied up in having athletes come to Cabrillo, especially if they’re coming from out of state,” he said.

Wetstein said bringing out-of-state athletes who have no clue about the cost of living, food insecurity and poverty situation is an ethical concern.

In the fall semester of 2019, the administration discovered several violations of CCCAA bylaws within the football program. They also initiated an in-depth investigation by an external investigator, which is still ongoing. 

“Certainly one of the things that came up in that investigation is having students come here from out of state who are subject to these living conditions that were not ideal,” Wetstein said.

Wetstein did mention that the financial aid system in California is designed to disadvantage community college students. Especially athletes because they can’t apply for Cal Grants that pay for more than just tuition. 

“To help pay for living expenses, food, books, rent and all the things that come with going to college,” Wetstein said.    

Wetstein said Cabrillo will establish a Program Viability Review Committee for athletics beginning Wednesday.

The committee will look at numerous components of the program, including the housing situation, revenue and expenses, as well as the graduation rates and transfer-out rates of its student-athletes.

Wetstein said he’s a big fan of sports and attended each home game at Carl Conelly Stadium.

“I understand the holistic development that sports brings to student-athletes,” he said. “It’s a student success program. In many cases our athletes have higher completion rates, higher GPA and they’re more motivated to succeed in their course work.”

The Program Viability Committee is scheduled to return with a report back to the board by March 30, 2021. 

At that point, they will provide a recommendation on the future of the football program as well as other intercollegiate sports.

Gregorio said he hopes that this isn’t the first step of completely taking away Cabrillo football forever, forcing players to drive to Gilroy, Monterey or Salinas to play.

“That would be an unfair decision based on future kids here, especially in the south county, that will never get a chance to go play Cabrillo football,” he said. “You really have done a disservice to those kids.”

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