For the first time since 1896, Haskell Indian Nations University will not field a football team. The football program, whose players were once called the “Lords of the Prairie,” is no more.
In a decision that sent shock waves across the campus in Lawrence, Kansas, Haskell officials announced the school will be suspending the football program effective beginning this season, citing lack of funding. The cost of maintaining 10 athletic programs, conference changes, the lack of coaching staff, and the dependency of intercollegiate athletics on university funding were listed as contributing factors, according to a Haskell news release.
“This isn’t a decision that was arrived at easily,” Stephen Prue, executive assistant to Haskell President Venida Chenault, and a 2002 Haskell graduate told the Lawrence Journal-World. “This has been something that previous presidents have looked at, and we’ve come to that point where the amount of money to put on a sport like football and be able to compete at a high level is more than we have available.”
This is a bittersweet time for long-time coach Gary Tanner, who has been at Haskell for 30 years. Tanner was the head football coach for 14 seasons, and a long-time assistant before that. “It’s not just ‘do we have enough money to buy helmets and shoulder pads?’” said Tanner, who is currently working as the school’s golf coach. “It’s a matter of getting these kids some coaching, and having the people teach them how to play safe and how to compete.”
Haskell student-athletes are not on athletic scholarships. The incoming senior class will take the biggest hit. According to the release that Prue wrote, underclassmen will not lose their eligibility.
“They’ve been trying to put bandaids on a bleeding wound for four or five years and finally did something,” Tanner said. “We’ve been trying to get funding for years, and haven’t had any response from the people we need to hear from. If anybody’s not happy with it, they can become part of the solution and send money to the foundation supporting our athletic department.”
Football is not the only athletic program on the chopping block. The board of directors is reviewing the remaining nine athletic programs with plans to cut three. There is no indication hich programs will get the axe. But from an economic standpoint, track and field, and men’s and women’s basketball cost more to run than golf or cross country. Title IX must also be honored.
“This wasn’t the popular decision, but it was the right choice,” Tanner said. “Anybody that’s familiar with [Haskell football] knows we could not put another team on the field like we did last year without somebody getting hurt.”
Long-term external funding and donations can be made through the Haskell Foundation at give @HaskellFoundation.com.