Student Athletes React to St. Francis College Eliminating Athletics Program

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Queens, NY

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — St. Francis College in Downtown Brooklyn announced it will eliminate its Division I athletics program, effective at the end of the spring 2023 semester. 

In a statement posted March 20 to the St. Francis College website, Denis J. Salamone, ’75, chair of the St. Francis College Board of Trustees, said the decision — part of the college’s “SFC Forward: Strategic Vision for 2023 & Beyond” plan — is a response to the challenges facing higher education institutions, particularly smaller liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, including increased operating expenses, flattening revenue streams, and plateauing enrollment due to the pandemic. 

“We want to acknowledge that SFC has a rich legacy in competitive athletics, and are proud of our Terriers today and in all years past,” the statement reads. “This difficult decision was guided by a commitment to preserving the college’s 164-year Franciscan mission to provide a high quality and affordable education to working-class and first-generation students.” 

The statement said the school would honor all current academic and athletic scholarships for student-athletes, even though they will no longer be participating in sports. Employment for athletics staff and coaches will end at the conclusion of the spring semester. 

The spring sports include men’s and women’s tennis, men’s track and field, men’s volleyball, and women’s water polo. 

“I am heartbroken that a decision has been made to eliminate the college’s athletics program,” said St. Francis Athletic Director Irma Garcia, ’80, in a statement posted to the Terriers’ athletics social media accounts. “I want to thank every student-athlete that has donned the Terrier blue and red over the many generations that have come in Brooklyn.” 

Some of the current athletes were still trying to figure out what the next step will be in their collegiate careers. 

“It’s very shocking. I didn’t expect myself to be coming into this situation,” said Josiah Harris, a junior on the men’s basketball team. “But I thank [St. Francis] for the opportunity they gave me, with open arms, to come play here.” 

When asked what he will do next, Harris said he is weighing his options about where he might continue playing basketball in the future. 

Abby Oliphant, a sophomore on the women’s swim and dive team, expressed shock over the announcement. 

“I feel like we’re all still trying to process what’s going on,” Oliphant said. “I feel like it’s a mix of so many emotions.” 

“I came here to swim and get my education, and one of those has been taken away from me,” she added, “but I feel like I’m fortunate enough to know I’m going to a school that I’m happy at even if I can’t compete in my sport.” 

The Terriers athletic program is made up of nine men’s and 10 women’s teams, all competing in the NCAA’s Division I Northeast Conference. The men’s basketball program was founded in 1896 — making it the oldest collegiate program in New York City. 

In December 2022, St. Francis closed the doors of its 180 Remsen St. campus, including the Daniel Lynch ’38 Gymnasium, which had been the home of Terriers’ basketball and volleyball programs for 50 years. The new main campus is located at 179 Livingston St. in Downtown Brooklyn. The men’s and women’s basketball teams finished out their seasons at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, Clinton Hill. The women’s water polo team has been practicing at the College of Staten Island. 

Dennis McDermott, ’74, known as “Mr. St. Francis” during his long career as the college’s alumni director, said he met the greatest people in the world through his involvement with athletics at St. Francis. McDermott left the school as the all-time high scorer in men’s basketball history, leading to his No. 22 jersey being retired. 

“It is a very sad day,” McDermott told The Tablet on March 20 in the immediate aftermath of the news. “I’ve been on the phone all day with alumni and talking to different people, it’s hitting me really hard now. It’s sad to hear that it’s really happening.” 

St. Francis served as a local option for student-athletes seeking to continue their sports careers at a competitive level in Division I. 

“It gave people the opportunity,” McDermott said. “To see what the coaches did with the resources they had, it was unbelievable.”