AZUSA, Calif. (AP) — Azusa Pacific is ending its football program this month after 55 years of Division II and NAIA competition.

Athletic director Gary Pine said the decision was prompted by other four-year schools in California dropping the sport over the last 30 years, giving Azusa Pacific fewer in-state opponents to play, which led to higher travel costs. In 2019, the Cougars had to fly to all six of their road games, making them the only Division II or III school in the country forced to do that.

Azusa Pacific is the only Division II or NAIA school in California that still had football. In 1975, there were 37 schools in the state that played football; now it's 17. Only Chapman University in Orange in 1994 has added the sport.

The university's President's Cabinet made the decision in conjunction with the board of trustees. Ending football will allow the school to further invest in its 18 remaining sports.

“This is an extremely difficult decision,” Pine said.

Azusa Pacific produced such standouts as Christian Okoye, Doug Barnett and Terrell Watson, all of whom went on to play in the NFL.

The private Christian school located outside Los Angeles won the NAIA championship in 1988, beginning a stretch of making the playoffs six times in eight years. The Cougars qualified for the Division II playoffs in 2016 and '18.

Current players will be able to retain their athletic scholarships or the university will help them transfer.

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