Jan 13, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll reacts during the second half of the NFC divisional playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA Tournament Teams Without Football Programs


March. 2, 2013; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Michael Hart speaks to the crowd after a game against the Portland Pilots at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Gonzaga won 81-52. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Much of what makes the NCAA tournament great, particularly its raucous opening weekend, are the teams who exist beyond the spotlight getting a shot at recognizable powerhouses. Football fans checking into basketball exclusively in March may not recognize some of the names, as there are several NCAA tournament teams without football programs.

Most of these football-less athletic departments did host the sport at one time, however.

BELMONT BRUINS

Belmont was not even an NCAA member until 16 years ago, yet head coach Rick Byrd built a perennial NCAA tournament team in short order. Because Belmont is a small university new to Div. I, it stands to reason it would lack a football program.

Belmont is in a state made for the Tennessee Volunteers football program. The Memphis Tigers and MTSU Blue Raiders perform on much smaller FBS stages, while a plethora of schools participate in the FCS.

CREIGHTON BLUE JAYS

At the epicenter of the Missouri Valley’s rise in college basketball prestige are the Creighton Blue Jays. The Missouri Valley was a forerunner for mid-major basketball attention in the 1990s and into the 2000s; Missouri Valley Football is a different entity. There are programs that crossover, but take North Dakota State — the two-time defending FCS champion Bison plays its basketball in the Summit League.

NDSU, South Dakota State and Youngstown State are schools that play in the MVFC to replace the MVC’s non-football programs like Creighton, Evansville, Wichita State and Bradley, as well as Drake, which plays in the non-scholarship Pioneer League.

When They Had Football…

Creighton football has been dormant for seven decades, and officially shut down for 67 years. The Blue Jays had some success in the leather helmet era, but their ranks were thinned during World War II. The program’s last game was played in November 1942.

FLORIDA GULF COAST EAGLES

Florida Gulf Coast has existed less than two decades. The success of its basketball program this season is the first real taste of athletic success the university has had, but its interest in football actually predates this tournament run.

FGCU conducted a football feasibility study, the results of which were published in 2011. Other universities around Florida are introducing football, including Stetson. However, Stetson is joining the private school Pioneer League; that FGCU’s study recommends FCS membership in a scholarship league.

GONZAGA BULLDOGS

The poster child of mid-major basketball success scored a one seed in this year’s tournament, a show of faith roughly comparable to Boise State receiving an invitation to the forthcoming college football playoff.

Gonzaga is a name now synonymous with college basketball, but football has not been a part of the university in generations.

When They Had Football…

The words “Gonzaga football” together now might draw thoughts of Stanford Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan, who attended Gonzaga University High School in Washington, D.C. But in the 1940s, Gonzaga University produced Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Tony Canadeo, a Green Bay Packers great.

Canadeo was a member of the penultimate Gonzaga football team.

IONA GAELS

Back in the Big Dance for a second straight season are the New Rochelle, N.Y.-based Gaels, champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

When They Had Football…

Iona was a member of the MAAC in football, but the conference’s dissolution left the Gaels without a home and forced the program to shut down in 2008. The MAAC’s football model was difficult to sustain, with non-scholarship teams dotted around the country.

Hofstra, another suburban New York university, ceased football operations the next year. Queens-based St. John’s also closed down football around the same time. The Johnnies were also former MAAC football members.

LA SALLE EXPLORERS

La Salle plays Boise State in the First Four for the right to enter the Field of 64. The Explorers are fortunate this one isn’t set for the gridiron — the last La Salle team, in 2007, finished 0-10.

When They Had Football…

La Salle closed down along with the MAAC. Explorer football had an unremarkable run, save a landmark lawsuit settled in 2005. The family of Preston Plevretes received a $7.5 million settlement in a benchmark case for head injuries sustained on the playing field.

LIU-BROOKLYN BLACKBIRDS

Formerly Long Island University, Blackbird basketball found a place in college basketball history during its early days. However, a point shaving scandal in the 1950s marred the program.

Decades removed, LIU-Brooklyn has made a handful of NCAA tournament appearance. LIU is one of the NCAA tournament teams without football programs to a certain extent — the university’s campus in Brookville hosts the Div. III LIU-Post Pioneers. LIU-Post was formerly C.W. Post.

PACIFIC TIGERS

The Big West basketball champion Tigers are playing in their fourth NCAA tournament in the past nine years.

When They Had Football…

Pacific’s football program was a victim of the conference realignment period of the early 1990s. Several California universities shut down football within the same time-frame of three years; Pacific joined Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, Santa Clara and UC-Santa Barbara.

Pacific had the most illustrious football history of the group. The Tigers played in two Sun Bowls, against Texas Tech and Southern Miss.

Legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg coached Tiger football. The university’s stadium bore his name. Another prominent coach played in orange-and-black: former USC and current Seattle Seahawks head man, Pete Carroll.

SAINT LOUIS BILLIKENS

Billiken basketball took the nation by storm this regular season, garnering an Atlantic 10 Conference championship and honoring the memory of the late Rick Majerus.

When They Had Football…

Like most of the universities in this group, Saint Louis has not hosted football in many years. However, the long-since quiet football program does have a boast that helped completely revolutionize the game — SLU threw the first forward pass in college football history.

SAINT MARY’S GAELS

Saint Mary’s justified its inclusion in the Field of 68 with a First Four defeat of MTSU. The Gaels are becoming Big Dance regulars out of the non-football West Coast Conference.

When They Had Football…

Years ago, several schools that are now members of the WCC played some quality football. Loyola Marymount (then simply Loyola) was a national championship contender in 1950. In 1951, San Francisco took a stand against racism that would ultimately cost the university its football program. The title-contending Dons past on an Orange Bowl invitation, because the team’s black players were not welcomed.

Saint Mary’s played both LMU and USF in those days, but did not have the same notoriety. Gael football did outlast those programs though, playing as a Div. I-AA independent until 2003.

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH RAMS

Mar 17, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Virginia Commonwealth Rams head coach Shaka Smart gestures during the first half against the Saint Louis Billikens in the championship game of the Atlantic 10 at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

VCU’s run to the Final Four in 2011 grew the university’s athletic brand. The Rams are now top 25 and NCAA tournament regulars under Shaka Smart. Could their hardwood success yield football? Teams like the Charlotte 49ers have launched programs in recent years, why not the Rams?

The Washington Redskins brought training camp to Richmond last summer, sparking conversation about VCU football. But the university’s athletic director says to have patience.

WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS

Wichita State hosts some of the best college baseball played in the country, and the basketball Shockers are frequent NCAA tournament participants. With the university’s recent athletic success, attempts to revive football are understandable.

When it existed until its closure in 1986, Wichita State football struggled through on-field adversary — the Shockers’ 8-3 team in 1982, led by Wichita State Hall of Famer Prince McJunkins — was just the program’s third winning team in 20 years.

But on-field tribulations paled in comparison to what Wichita State faced off the field.

When They Had Football…

Tragedy struck at Wichita State in October 1970, when one of two planes carrying members of the football team crashed in Colorado. Thirty-one people were killed.


So now you know a little about each of the NCAA tournament teams without football. If you have any more background on the history of these programs, please share in the comments section.

Tags: Basketball Football Gonzaga Bulldogs Pacific Tigers Saint Louis Billikens

  • Bryant Douglass

    Good and interesting article!