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SCSU football program looks to increase number of scholarships

NEW HAVEN — On the surface, the Northeast-10 Conference football coaches’ poll offers few surprises.

Assumption and LIU Post, who’ve split the league championship the past three seasons, are predicted to finish 1-2. New Haven, a perennial contender since joining a decade ago, is fourth.

Southern Connecticut State snuck into the top half at fifth, hardly unexpected considering the Owls finished last season with four straight victories to tie New Haven and Stonehill for fourth in the standings.

It’s a testament to the recruiting and coaching of Tom Godek and his staff, which operates with the fewest total scholarships and scholarship funds in the 10-team conference.

And it’s not even close.

According to figures obtained by Hearst Media Connecticut, Southern currently has 8.9 scholarships for football. There are 95 players on this fall’s roster. Every other team in the league offers at least twice as many scholarships with the exception of St. Anselm, which has 15.3.

The NCAA allows Division II football members a maximum of 36 scholarships. Five schools in the NE-10 offer at least 30 — American International (35.9), LIU Post (34.7), Assumption (33.2), Pace (31) and New Haven (30). Stonehill (29.5) and Merrimack (24.3) offer triple the number of scholarships of Southern.

“We’re competitive now,” Southern athletic director Jay Moran said. “Imagine if we had a little more money for scholarships.”

Southern lags well behind its conference brethren in total scholarship funds. The school operates with a budget $214,800 allotted for scholarship money over a four-year period, or roughly a third of the total of its closest competitor, St. Anselm, which has $653,324.

Every other school in the league has at least $1.2 million in scholarship funds, with Pace ($1.959 million), AIC ($1.8 million), LIU Post ($1.796 million) and Assumption ($1.722 million) leading the pack.

It’s not a new issue at Southern, the only state school in the NE-10. The lack of funding affects all sports. That wasn’t the case twenty years ago, when tuition for in-state students was reasonable. The cost to attend Southern is roughly $25,000 a year for in-state students; $35,000 for out-of-state.

Rising costs place a financial burden on all prospective players. Yet nearly every other program in the NE-10 has increased resources for football in the past decade. The Owls have struggled to keep up in what’s become a constant uphill battle. For recruits, the choice between a partial scholarship that may come with a $20,000 annual bill or a full ride to another school in the same conference isn’t difficult.

Private schools also have the luxury of deciding how athletic funds are distributed and which sports to emphasize. That’s not the case at Southern, which operates as part of the Connecticut State University system.

In spite of the competitive disadvantage on the recruiting trail Godek, a former captain and longtime assistant at Southern, has done marvelous work. The Owls have finished fourth each of the past two seasons.

Still, the Southern Football Alumni Network would like to narrow the gap. In January it launched with the goal of raising funds to assist the program. The group includes several with prominent sports backgrounds. Larry Ciotti, who coached football at Hand-Madison before a long career as a Yale assistant, is a proud Southern alum and member of the board’s executive committee. So is Mike Katz, a former New York Jet and Mr. Universe and Andy Talley, the recently retired football coach at Villanova.

“You’re not going to pull the state department of education and try to get more money for scholarships,” Ciotti said. “They’re not going to move on that. With the financial state we’re in at this point, who knows what’s going to happen. Why bother? Let’s take our energies and put it into an area where we can raise money.”

The committee set a goal of adding $100,000 each year to Southern football’s scholarship fund. Ciotti said the group is already at $52,000, with a major fundraiser set in September.

Dan Lauria, a Southern football alum from the late 1960s, and co-star Wendie Malick, will star in a production of “The Guys” on Sept. 8 at Southern’s Lyman Theater. Tickets are on sale through the theater box office.

Lauria, an accomplished character actor, was an all-conference linebacker at Southern. He is best known for his television role as Jack Arnold on “The Wonder Years.” He’s also appeared in over 60 theater productions, including a turn as Vince Lombardi on Broadway. Malick is an Emmy-nominated actress best known for her roles on “Just Shoot Me!” “Dream On” and “Hot in Cleveland.”

Ciotti said the alumni network will plan one major fundraiser each year to help level the playing field for Southern football.

“We want to make things more even so kids can make a valid choice between schools,” Ciotti said. “We think $100,000 each year, which would double what the state gives, will go a long way. We’re confident we can do it, but we need help.”

Moran said with the state of Connecticut’s budget deficit, fundraising is imperative for the athletic department to move forward. He expects assistance from the school’s football alumni to have immediate impact.

“Maybe that linebacker or quarterback decides to come here over another NE-10 school or low Division I because we can offer him a few thousand dollars more,” Moran said. “Raising money for any athletic department is a challenge. When you have a group of volunteers that want to do it for you, it’s a great help. This group wants to help us beef up the program and raise money now. When I took the job I knew there was a lot of pride in the Southern Connecticut family. I’m impressed with the way they’ve lead the charge.”

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