The Cornell Football Association (CFA) has long been strongly connected to the university's football program, acting as a booster to help raise funds for program expenses. However the money raised by the group will no longer go to the team, according to an email from Athletic Director Andy Noel that was sent on July 2 which announced the end of the affiliation.
The termination stems from the CFA’s refusal to sign an agreement with the university, one that Noel called “onerous but minimally necessary to establish institutional control as prescribed by the NCAA,” though in an interview Noel was vague about the parameters of those institutional controls. The organization functioned as a fundraising and publicity branch, keeping alumni in the loop, selling apparel and other merchandise marked with the official Cornell Football logo, and soliciting donations in a tiered membership program. Now, the group is no longer allowed to use or print the Cornell name and logo.
In less than five years, the group accumulated over 700 active members, many of whom have donated or pledged sums over the past few years. It developed a five-year plan with Cornell in late 2017 to raise $3 million for the football program, and continually hosts fundraising events for the team.
The charge to sign an agreement between Cornell and the organization began after the CFA became an independent nonprofit in 2015. Leadership in the CFA was “adamant about wanting, needing to know what their annual contribution covered,” Noel said, and so decided to shift the structure from a university organization, which is overseen by university personnel, to a completely independent group.
Although the CFA Board of Directors said the move was done “with the full support of the University,” Noel disagreed, saying that the change was done with his permission, but not his support. Others at the university were not involved in the shift, Noel said.
After the group became an independent non-profit, it worked within NCAA rules and met with university compliance personnel, the CFA said. But Cornell still wanted a formal agreement, citing that the NCAA holds Cornell President Martha Pollack responsible for attesting to “institutional control” over any group that supports athletics, like the CFA.
The two sides discussed the memorandum of understanding (MOU) multiple times, but the leadership of the CFA refused to sign.
“Ultimately, we chose not to give up complete control of all our activities, affairs and finances,” the BoD wrote in a letter on July 10.
According to their site, the CFA continually discussed the prospect of the MOU, and had a February meeting to discuss the MOU. Eventually, though, the discussions were unsuccessful, and Cornell served the fundraising group with a cease-and-desist order on June 19. Since the CFA hadn’t signed on, it can’t use Cornell’s name or logo and its funds can’t go to the football program. Leadership of the CFA did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“While we are not happy with the university’s position, and their unwillingness to accept any financial support, we have decided to maintain our independent status,” the BoD wrote. “Naturally, we will comply with their request and hope that the University will find a way to work collaboratively with us in the future.”
The group will continue its presence online, promoting the “camaraderie” of Cornell Football, but will not and can not give money to the program. The CFA highlighted that “results matter,” noting that since 1999, Cornell’s winning percentage was 35.6 percent, but only 28 percent in the last 10 seasons. In 2018, the team finished seventh in the Ivy League and the football program raised $1,070,915 last year.
“We will not donate any money to our football program until the university goals align with our own and a proper plan is laid out to reach this objective,” the BoD wrote.
“There isn't going to be a time in the future where we align, because we've done everything we can to align,” Noel said.
In the future, Noel countered, he hopes that a new CFA can be formed that focuses on the social aspects of the game, and fundraising for the team itself goes through the university’s donation program.
“I would like the CFA to be an organization that focuses on fellowship, networking, sharing time with old friends [and] making new acquaintances,” Noel said.