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UWF Rival Florida Tech Drops Football

Florida Tech Athletics

The only other Division II football program in Florida, aside from UWF, is going the way of the leather helmet and single-wing.

Florida Tech is shutting it down because of the coronavirus after a seven-season run.

School President Dwayne McCay made the announcement Monday in Melbourne. In a public letter to the Florida Tech campus, he said “The unprecedented uncertainty created by COVID-19 makes these moves prudent, but no less painful.” He added that the school will remain open “and persevere.”

“I was completely shocked by the announcement; I got a call from [UWF Athletics Director] Dave Scott,” said West Florida head coach Pete Shinnick. “Really – just shocked and then saddened. I hate so see that for anybody.”

The Argonauts beat the Panthers 38-14 in Melbourne last season, en route to the Division-II national championship, improving to 3-1 lifetime against Tech. They were scheduled to meet in West Florida’s regular-season finale Nov. 14 at Blue Wahoos Stadium. The question now for the Argos is, whether a replacement game can be booked.

“Not yet; obviously, this is all very new. We’re still navigating what this looks like,” Shinnick said. “As a program [we] obviously try to find games so it’s been a little bit of a chore. We only had 10 games on the season last year, 10 games this year. So now when it’s within your own conference that just makes it harder.”

As the only two NCAA Division II football programs in Florida, UWF and Florida Tech played annually in the Coastal Classic rivalry game. But it’s not just UWF; Florida Tech’s decision likely will create a “domino effect” among the Gulf South Conference’s other football-playing schools.

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
UWF Head Football Coach Pete Shinnick poses with the Division-II National Championship trophy.

“Because everybody’s going to lose a game, and there were other schools like us sitting there with 10 games on their schedule,” said Shinnick. “Now they only have 9, and very rarely do you fill a date this late.”

Florida Tech is a private school, as opposed to West Florida, which is public. Shinnick – who coached at a private school, Azusa Pacific – says football programs at private institutions have their own unique challenges.

“There’s some similarities when you talk small college football, but then there’s differences in just how the universities are run and where the majority of the finances come, as you look at private institutions across the board,” Shinnick said.  

Florida Tech’s decision affects about 120 players and the eight-member coaching staff. The players will retain their scholarships if they stay, but those choosing to leave will be immediately eligible to play at their new schools.

Shinnick was asked if UWF plans to recruit some of them.

“Our roster is pretty full right now; we are looking to add a couple more so that will be a discussion,” said Shinnick. “They’ve got to be the right fit for us, and if we feel like it’s a good situation to be able to add somebody at this point.”

Closer to home, the Argonauts – also shut down because of COVID-19  -- are doing what they can to prepare to defend their D-2 national championship, in case there is a 2020 season.

“We really haven’t deviated much from what we would normally be doing at this time,” said Shinnick. “Obviously, the big thing that we missed was spring ball, but we were still able to get a long of good film study in. And now we’re onto the recruiting trail. We can’t go out and visit anybody, but there’s a lot of film for us to evaluate.”

UWF Coach Pete Shinnick was asked if the 2020 season is cancelled because of the pandemic, will the Argos still be the reigning national champions heading into the 2021 campaign.

“That’s a great question; [we’re] praying that we get to play and do it on the field. So we’ll see how that works out,” said the coach.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.