Hofstra University, which has fielded a football team for the past 69 years, is dropping the sport.
The school said it cut the program because of costs and fading interest and will use the $4.5 million spent annually on the team on scholarships and other priorities.
The board of trustees voted unanimously Wednesday night to shut the program, which had been in existence since the Long Island school's founding in 1937. The coaching staff was told Thursday morning, sources told ESPN.com.
Hofstra, which has competed in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA) since 1991, is the second member of the Colonial Athletic Association to drop its football program in the past 10 days. Northeastern University, in Boston, announced Nov. 23 it was dropping its program after 74 seasons.
"The cost of the football program, now and in the future, far exceeds the return possible," Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz said Thursday. He added that despite Hofstra having sent several players to the NFL, the program does not attract enough national attention.
"Given that, along with the low level of interest, financial support and attendance among our students, our alumni and the community, the choice was painful, but clear."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris, who played at Hofstra from 1994-97, called the move a "sad state of affairs."
"It was weird because it kind of happened out of nowhere," he said.
Rabinowitz noted the scant interest on campus in the team. He said students were offered free tickets to games, but an average of only 500 attended games at the 13,000-seat campus stadium, and that included cheerleaders and a pep band. Hofstra has a student body of 12,500, but only 4,200 live on campus. The average attendance this season -- students and nonstudents -- was 4,260.
Four former Hofstra players are now in the NFL: New Orleans Saints star receiver Marques Colston, Kyle Arrington of New England, Stephen Bowen of Dallas and Willie Colon of Pittsburgh. One of the best-known Hofstra players to have played in the NFL was receiver Wayne Chrebet of the New York Jets.
"I am both saddened and shocked to hear the news that the Hofstra University football program has ceased," Colston said. "I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to the university, my coaches and my former teammates and I am sure that they share in my disappointment."
Rabinowitz noted that even on the Hofstra campus, there was little interest in the team. He said students were offered free tickets to games, but an average of only 500 students attended games at the 13,000-seat campus stadium, and that included cheerleaders and a pep band. Hofstra has a student body of 12,500, but only 4,200 live on campus. The average attendance this season -- students and nonstudents -- was 4,260.
Rabinowitz said the stadium would still be used for NCAA lacrosse matches, where crowds sometimes top those at football games. It also will be used for high school football playoff games and possibly outdoor concerts.
The decision follows a two-year review of sports spending at Hofstra. Rabinowitz says there are no plans to cut any other sports at the school.
He said the 84 players were told of the decision Thursday. All players were told they can keep their scholarships if they remain at the school. Those who transfer will be eligible to play immediately.
"It's devastating," redshirt junior linebacker Rashad Swanson of San Francisco said. "Football is pretty much our lives here. There's some guys who are thinking about staying. But me, personally, I'm thinking about leaving. I can't be here if I can't play football."
Keith Ferrara, a junior from Queens, said his teammates were shocked.
"It was the last thing I was expecting them to say," he said. "I had no idea it was coming. I want to play football, so I'm probably going to transfer out."
School officials told ESPN.com that athletic director Jack Hayes and coach Dave Cohen were unavailable for comment Thursday morning.
CAA commissioner Thomas Yeager was unavailable for comment, conference spokesman Scott Meyer said.
The Pride went 5-6 this past season, tying for third with a 3-5 record in the CAA North. Hofstra has produced five NFL draft picks since 1991, including Colston and Colon. Former Pride quarterback Giovanni Carmazzi was a third-round choice of the San Francisco 49ers in 2000.
Arrington, who went undrafted coming out of Hofstra in 2008 but was able to join New England's practice squad this fall, found out about Hofstra's decision when a reporter approached him at his locker Thursday morning. As soon as he turned on his cell phone, it began buzzing with text messages from friends relaying the same news.
"The worst we heard was that Cohen was on the hot seat," said Arrington, who was elevated to the active roster Nov. 5 and has appeared in three games. "That was it. ... I can't believe it. We have to get football back."
Bowen was a two-year starter at Hofstra.
"I didn't see it coming at all," he said Thursday. "All the money our school has, a private school, it just doesn't make sense to me. I don't know what to say. It kind of hurt me a little bit. It's terrible. It makes me not even want to go back there. It's like I didn't play there."
Hofstra's last game was a 52-38 home win over UMass on Nov. 21. The program has an overall record of 403 wins, 268 losses and 11 ties.
While Hofstra and Northeastern are dropping the sport, 13 new programs have been announced, including six next season.
ESPN.com football writer Mark Schlabach, ESPNBoston.com, ESPNDallas.com and The Associated Press contributed to this report.