George Mason's Football Follies The NoVa university is a basketball powerhouse, but shuns the gridiron.

Patriot Gamer: Pascale started GMU’s football club with NCAA dreams.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery

George Mason also has a football team.

Actually, Mason has had a football team for nearly two decades, though the Washington Redskins’ recent courting of the school as a potential training camp host got more fan attention than Mason’s team ever did.

“Not many people know about us,” says Jack Langley, the starting quarterback this season.

Joe Pascale is the father of Mason football. Until 2008, he was the only football coach Mason ever had. The program’s anonymity stings.

“All the work, all the years, for what?” Pascale says. Pascale, 67, founded the football club in 1993, when friends on the school’s Board of Visitors asked him to come over from Georgetown University, where he was an assistant coach. He says administrators pledged to help elevate the program to NCAA status. (NCAA programs grant scholarships, club sports usually don’t.) It never happened.

Pascale had already restored football as an NCAA sport at Catholic University in the mid-1970s. He left in 1984 as the winningest head coach in Catholic history.

Pascale says Mason’s rebuilding job should have been easier than Catholic’s, given the enthusiasm local businesses and students showed when he arrived. But his honeymoon at Mason ended after just a year, with the 1994 hiring of athletic director Tom O’Connor.

O’Connor is most definitely a basketball guy. His GMU bio shows that before taking over Mason athletics, O’Connor had been head basketball coach at Dartmouth and Loyola. He’s served on the NCAA’s Basketball Championship Committee, the body that oversees men’s March Madness, and was named its chairman in 2008.

O’Connor is a folk hero to most Masonites. In 2006, on his watch, Mason basketball had a “Hoosiers”-esque run to the Final Four. The Patriots head into this week’s Colonial Athletic Association tournament with the nation’s longest active winning streak.

So there’s no yardage in quibbling with O’Connor’s bona fides as a hoops administrator.

But O’Connor hasn’t ever tried out his administrative mojo on Mason’s gridiron. Pascale says that shortly after becoming AD, O’Connor told him to give up the NCAA dream.

“We had a meeting and he said that the only two varsity sports are men’s basketball and women’s basketball,” Pascale says.

Pascale stuck around for more than a decade after that meeting, and admits he never hid his disdain for the brass. He wasn’t canned until June 2008. “That was after I’d done all the recruiting for the [next] season, after I’d done all the scheduling, and too late for me to find any other coaching job,” says Pascale, who now works for Fairfax County schools. “Nice guys.”

John Moorhead, a punter, was the only Pascale-era holdover on this year’s squad.

“When I first talked to Coach Pascale at freshman orientation,” Moorhead says, “he told me within two years we’d go from a club team to an NCAA Division I-AA program.”

Pascale did all a coach could do to make that happen. His teams won several league titles, even though Mason’s schedule was silly strong for a club squad, teeming with teams that were either already NCAA sanctioned or on the verge, including Tuskegee Institute, South Alabama, and Georgia State.

“We beat the hell out of South Alabama,” Pascale says. “And we beat Georgia State bad, too, scored up in the 60s. And now they’re both pretty big time, and Mason’s nothing.”

O’Connor denies pro-basketball equals anti-football, and points out that his résumé shows he’s played and coached high school football, and oversaw a football program at Santa Clara University when he was AD there. Every decision he’s made has been in the best interest of Mason’s bottom line.

“It’s not where we’re in a mode where we said we don’t want football,” he says. “It’s a cost issue.”

O’Connor says economic feasibility studies he’d commissioned showed it would take $90 million—$4 million for operating the football team and $86 million for a stadium—to start an NCAA program.

“There are schools around here that compete with a first-class program—Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech—plus the Redskins,” says O’Connor, “so we’d have to do it the right way.”

John McGeehan, a Fairfax business leader, got involved with Mason football early in Pascale’s tenure. He says the roadblocks administrators threw in the coach’s way inspired him to help raise money for stadium improvements and a endowed football scholarships, a rarity in club football.

McGeehan says he “doesn’t believe any” of the budgetary excuses, and claims sports officials crunch numbers as creatively the Nobel Laureates in GMU’s economics department.

“O’Connor came in with a football budget that counted 85 players, all on full, out-of-state scholarships,” McGeehan says. “In D1-AA football, you can have up to 60 scholarships, not 85, and the players are definitely not going to be all out of state. Then he budgeted a 40,000-seat stadium, when the average attendance for football in the CAA [Mason’s NCAA conference] was 11,000. He ran up the numbers to say football’s too expensive. Meanwhile, Mason makes a licensing deal with [a soft drink company], and every dime from that goes in the basketball budget. That sure makes basketball look good!

“The bottom line,” McGeehan continues, “is you can make it look like a program makes money or loses money. It’s all up to who keeps the books. Basketball people kept the books.”

Mason spokesperson Adam Brick confirms that the school would use stadium and scholarship figures cited by McGeehan, but says they’re based on CAA rivals: “If we aspire to NCAA 1-A, yeah, we would use those numbers.”

In the first game after firing Pascale, against Lincoln University in September 2008, Mason was held to minus-7 yards rushing during a 34-7 loss. The Philly school was playing its first football game in 48 years. Where 90 players routinely came out for Pascale’s team, Mason’s student newspaper reported only 22 players dressed for 2010.

“They told me they wanted to go in a new direction,” Pascale says. “What direction is that?”

Moorhead said when he first joined the Mason team, he enjoyed getting the free sweatsuits emblazoned with “George Mason Football.”

“But I’d put them on and walk around, people would say, ‘Mason has a football team?’” he says, chuckling. “That sucked.”

Moorhead, who’ll leave Mason in May having never played an NCAA football game, no longer wears the sweatsuits.

Our Readers Say

$86 million for a stadium? That's the biggest load of garbage you'll see in the DC area all month folks and it's only the 3rd. That's pretty impressive for a non-politician. Either he's dirt poor at hiring a firm for his economic evaluations, he's just plain stupid, or he's a terrible liar. It's amazing that everyone else in the area can build them for 1/10th or less of the cost but George Mason is this geographical oddity where prices in a down market suddenly skyrocket the closer you get to a football. If there are any fans of the football program left, they need to call this clown on the carpet.
Aaron, If they are talking about a 40k seat stadium that may be right. The number is similar to soccer stadiums with the luxury boxes and all not the current stadium GMU had built for the soccer and track teams. What was the cost of the ODU stadium? I think that should be the model for GMU not something for hosting a NCAA bowl game. If GMU wanted a foot ball team they could have done it. I think that there is the problem of title 9 and what teams would they need to add or eliminate to accomodate.
Foreman Field at S. B. Ballard Stadium is a 19,782-seat multi-purpose stadium on the campus of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. It opened in 1936 with a football game between the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary's Norfolk Division (which is now Old Dominion University).

Foreman Field hosted the annual Oyster Bowl game from 1946 to 1995, featuring major college football teams. Syracuse defeated Navy there in 1959 on its way to winning the national championship. Future NFL stars Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, and Don Meredith played in Oyster Bowl games. It was also the home of the semi-pro Norfolk Neptunes in the 1960's and '70s, and the Washington Redskins played several pre-season games there in the 1960's. A drawing of Foreman Field is featured in the John Grisham novel Bleachers.

The stadiumn was in use by the field hockey and women's lacrosse teams' as their home venue.

The stadium underwent a $24.8 million renovation in preparation for the start of the 2009 I-AA season. In July 2009, the stadium was renamed Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium, in honor of a local contractor, who donated more than $2.5 million for the stadium.

So if you consider that a stadium which was in use and half the size of the one proposed cost $24.8 million to renovate my guess is that $84 million for a new 40K seat stadium is not "the biggest load of garbage." Why GMU would need a 40K stadium when MD has trouble filling their home stadium and Navy has a 30K stadium is the real question.
Mason could do this. They could corner the southwest corner of the beltway. Get Leonsis behind it, his company runs the patriot center. Football would also help with school spirit, admissions, etc.
If Mason wanted to they could. Simple as that. I don't buy the reasons given for a second.

The interesting thing is that you always get the impression that President Merten DOES support this. I'd love to see a follow up on the competing factions/politics on this.
Reggie, the reason it's garbage is because they don't need 40,000 seats to play FCS football. They are already members of the Colonial Athletic Association, the top conference for FCS football (formerly 1-AA), and no school at that level draws 40,000 nor would GMU. Even if they were to leave that conference and play FBS football (formerly 1-A) they only have to average 15,000 once every two years, so even at that level they could certainly build a stadium at half that size (which would be cost less than half that price because as you build up, so do dollars per sq ft). You have to start off realistically, not immediately assume George Mason is the next Alabama.
Susan Collins, Senior Associate Athletic Director has stated in numerous on the record meetings about football that if Mason were to get football that all they would need would be promoting the field hockey team to NCAA status and they would be in compliance with Title IX.

Richmond just completed a new stadium that cost less than $30 million. As ODU’s cost to renovate was $25k it seems that as a start up program the estimated cost should have been half of what it was. I have a hard time believe that Mr. Hazel couldn’t put together a stadium named in his honor for less than that.

Not to mention there are 1-A programs that don’t have 40k stadiums (Boise State, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, WVU, SMU, Houston). Before the first vote in 1999, the school commissioned an architect to design a stadium that would hold 5-10K but could be expanded if it was necessary. I think that is absolutely the way to go. I am sure the drawings are somewhere in the Mason records. A stadium for 15-20 million with the capability to expand can still be a sight to behold and a great recruiting tool.

I am an alum of the University. I am glad our basketball team is/has been doing so well. I make sure I go see at least one or two games a year. If we had a football team I would get season tickets. Football games just have a better atmosphere, usually games are on Saturday during the day, its only once a week and it gives the kids a chance to be outside and breathe in fresh air. I think that the administration has always neglected to count the enthusiasm that football would generate. It would not take the pie away from other sports or basketball but it would help grow the pie. You would think that President Merten as a pro-business guy would understand that. That’s why I think its AD O’Connor that is anti-football.

Side Note: Santa Clara dropped football in 1993, Guess who happened to be the AD during that process?
Mason Football is a legitimate conversation to have.Georgetown and Catholic's football programs were mentioned, no one wants to point out that they are irrelevant; why spend so much money when its far a guarantee you'll get anything about of it. Also, speaking of money, the figure may be high but you will still wind up spending close to $50M to bring football.
I played on one of the later GMU football teams at Mason under Pascale (2003-2004). The man was not only a great football couch, but an amazing ambassador for the Patriots. His loss at a roll in Mason athletics is not only unfortunate, but reading that he now carries a level of animosity towards the situation is concerning to say the least. I graduated prior to his departure, but the apparent treatment of him at the end of his career will most defiantly effect my Alumni support decisions in the future. It’s my idea that the student body and community in the area is primed for this type of investment, which would quickly lead to great returns for GMU athletics… and let’s not forget, that stadium could very easily be leased out for other events. Blacksburg isn’t a big draw for concerts (etc), but Nothern V.A. however… just look how many events regularly use the Patriot Center. I’d like to see the return on investment for that initial cost.
@ Bill - excellent points, but one correction - WVU's football stadium seats about 60k.

I am a resident of Fairfax (although not a GMU grad) and would be thrilled if Mason started 1-AA football. There are enough football fans in general who don't get to go to games on a regular basis who would get behind the GMU program. This is a huge population center, and I am certain GMU football would be able to draw significant fan support.
Lets look at this outside the perspective of a Fairfax citizen or GMU student. I'm talking about the perspective of a student-athlete currently enrolled at Mason. Mason athletics has a tier system for sports funding. The first tier are all the fully funded sports: Men's and Women's Basketball. The second tier are partially funded. This can range from providing the full amount of NCAA sanction scholarships but not providing an equal budget for travel and equipment as a basketball would receive, or something of the sort. This would be men's and women's soccer, rowing, baseball, softball etc. The third tier are sports that are NCAA sanctioned but not operating even close to a full budget. These teams are receiving far below the amount of scholarships allowed in the sports. So a sport that has 4.5 scholarships sanctioned by the NCAA only has, let's say, 3. These teams would be a men's golf, men's volleybal, track, etc.

Title IV states its goal as "Providing athletic participation opportunities that are substantially proportionate to the student enrollment." Mason currently has 52% female population and a 48% male population. Because Mason is NCAA sanctioned this means that the athletic programs of the school are 52% female 48% male. So, if Mason were to adopt a Football team and keep all other male sports, Mason would have to either add 85 females into their athletic program (this is an approximation of the amount of football athletes that would flood in), or they would be forced to cut men's programs to get the numbers correct.

I'm in full support of ideas that would increase school spirit and traditions at Mason, but I'm not in favor of cutting established men's programs to make way for a Football program that would most likely struggle. There are plenty of football programs in this nation that Mason alums and current students can invest there interest in.

Bottom line, O'Connor is correct in saying that Men's and Women's Basketball are the only NCAA sports at mason because they are the sports that bring in revenue. But to upset the unique opportunities mason provide in the athletic world for athletes doesn't make sense. I say continue to throw support behind basketball because they will make you your money Tom but please continue to keep in perspective the teams that would have to be chopped down to build that football program.
As a former member of the football team, I would also like to add that Coach Pascale also had begun to get endowed scholarships for football and had also started an endowment for the program itself. This apparently upset O'Connor because Pascale was raising more money that the full time staff. It also started to take away the cost issue that O'Connor always used.

YES, O'Connor was the AD at Santa Clara when they dropped football. They have a web site that talks about how O'Connor was instrumental in the dropping of football.


Basketball does not make money at Mason. I would also like to point out that Track won an NCAA Championship as well as Women's Soccer. Basketball takes almost all of the athletic budget which is mostly generated by student activity fees.

Don't believe anything Pascal says, He's the biggest lier.
Former GMU Football Player,

Apparently you didn't play for Coach Pascale, or you would not have made that statement. When I played, Coach Pascale gave many of us a second chance to play college football and for some, player who no one else wanted a chance to play. The program is in great shape since he left??? The only people with questionable character at George Mason are the administrators and the athletic director!!
Perhaps the person who wrote the comment (without having the courage to use his name)that "Coach Pascal is the biggest lier" didn't know the coach that well or he would have spelled the coach's name correctly. It's not Pascal, it's Pascale. And a college student should have learned to spell "liar" correctly one would think! Could he be a "lier" himself?
George Mason's final four run created a head storm of activity in the applications department. It's five years later and the impact on the university, in an economic sense is amazing. A Sports Illustrated article stated that George Mason got over 50 million dollars of free advertising. The stadium continues to break season ticket sales year after year now. I believe the basketball program has sparked a pulse in the alumni and if we can grow the basketball program then that's what we should do.

As for our football program, the only one people want is an ACC schedule with a first class stadium like UVA's. Anything else... just won't do and the fans just might not come out to support anything less. If we had the support for a top grade program, we'd have a top grade program. We just don't. Maybe it's this persons fault or that persons fault, but i believe it's the supporting areas fault. There are millions of people who live in this area and we have no college football to watch live. No, anything other than ACC or Big East is just not good enough.
I am a GMU alumni and love to see Mason play in NCAA. There is actually nothing more than attending mason football games that would me happy.
Is there anything that we all can do about that? Maybe petition for it?
I know many other GMU alumnus and former football players that like to see Mason play in NCAA and like to help.

Also, to Former Player of GMU Football: How about if you start with introducing yourself! If you are so certain about your statement there is no reason to hide. After all it is a free country!
I played for Coach P from 2000-02. We sent three players from the 2002 team to a pro-football scouting combine in Atlanta, GA (Morris Brown Stadium) to work out for nearly half of the NFL scouts, all the CFL team scouts and numerous Arena football scouts. I can't tell you how awesome it felt to have my name called to that crowd with "representing George Mason University" after it. I had follow work outs with the CFL Toronto Argonauts, Arena 1 San Jose Saber Cats, Arena 2 Richmond Speed and the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars. And Coach P is right, we killed South Alabama!!! Go Pats!!!
I hear the SEC is looking for a presence in the DC market. Is that something you might be interested in?
Would love to see SEC football in NoVA.
I played 96 97, we kicked ass, all luv for coach p, thanks for the chance
I had the privledge of being Coached by Dr. Pacale from 93'-97'. Durring most of that time Coach Pacale spent more of his own money on the GMU Football Team then the GMU Athletic Department did. We were treated like the red-headed step child by Tom O'Connor and the rest of the GMU Athletic Department for those entire 5 years I was there. Tom O'Connor spoke to the entire GMU Football Team at the RAC Center in Oct of 97' and told us GMU would have a NCAA Team, and he was in the process of making that happen. THose were all lies, Tom O'Connor has never liked or wanted a football team, case and point he killed the Football program at Santa Clara Univ when he was the Athletic Director there. If he was serious about adding a team he would use accurate start up costs like those of programs such as Georetown, Catholic, JMU and not VA Tech, Univ. of MD, and USC when discussing the start up costs of a program. He acts as though if Mason has a Football Team it has to be as big as UCLA or Flordia State the first year. Start small and grow as the interest grows, that would be the common sense approach right? It's just frustrating to read the lies and misleading by Tom O'Connor because people do believe what he says.

Coach Pascale if you read this just want to say thank you for all you did with the GMU Football TEAM. Some of the greatest friendships and experiences I've ever had in my life.

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