ARLINGTON, Texas -- Former congressman Tommy Vandergriff, who was willing to contribute $200,000 to revive Texas-Arlington's moribund football program, says the university's president may have had reasons other than finances for scrubbing the sport.
University President Wendell Nedderman confirmed his decision Monday to abandon the program. He announced Nov. 23 football at the state's fifth-largest university would be terminated because of a $950,000 athletic department budget deficit.
'To those alumni who say, in the emotion of the moment, that they will withdraw all support to their university without football, I beg that you reconsider,' Nedderman said. 'Surely your university transcends football.'
Nedderman said tight finances and a need to give priority to academics led to his decision, but Vandergriff, a former mayor of Arlington who helped attract the Texas Rangers baseball team to the city in the 1970s, said the president likely had other, unspoken reasons for his decision.
'I'm very disappointed -- heartsick, I suppose, would be a better word,' Vandergriff said. 'I'm not convinced that economics was really the reason, because worlds of people had come up with new money. He (Nedderman) had other reasons, and perhaps we should have realized that.'
Nedderman met Friday afternoon with officers of the Mavericks Club, which secured pledges of more than $800,000 to save the sports program. He said Monday that while fund-raising efforts by faculty, students, alumni and Arlington residents was 'gratifying,' low football attendance shows the lack of support for football by most students.
'The continued lack of interest by the student body is especially significant,' Nedderman said. 'In my opinion, we must recognize the nature of our fine student body. They are mobile. They live in an area which is saturated with competing entertainment attractions.'
Nedderman asked that the alumni and students who ethusiastically supported the football program throw their support behind other sports at the school.
'Serious underfunding of our sports other than football continues to be a matter of great concern,' he said. 'Costs will continue to escalate. We must limit ourselves to those (sports) we can support adequately.'
Vandergriff said he doubted that boosters would support basketball and other sports without a football program, and that all athletic programs at the school 'will eventually go by the boards.'
'They may as well go ahead and withdraw all funding from the athletic program and devote their time to intramural athletics,' he said.
Ruth Davis, president of the Maverick Club, who confirmed Vandergriff's willingness to donate or locate $200,000 in funds to keep the football program, said Nedderman's decision was a 'slap in the face.'
'Apparently he had two reasons for dropping football -- the one he gave and the one he had,' Davis said. 'We overcame the one they gave - the lack of funds. We raised $830,000, and that combined with concessions, programs and game guarantees would be enough to fund the program without the need for money from other sources.'