Edgar Soto approached the podium at Wednesday’s Pima County Community College Governing Board and, in the span of minutes, announced a change that will fundamentally alter the school’s athletic department.

The athletic director’s recommendation — and chancellor Lee Lambert’s approval — will result in the elimination of the school’s football program. The Aztecs will play their final season in 2018.

“I can assure you, the decision we made is no less difficult than other decisions we’ve made across the college,” Soto said during his presentation.

The athletic director was asked to come up with four different annual budget proposals to help the cash-strapped school: two $1.9 million plans (one with football and one without), a $1.7 million plan and a $1.5 million plan. Lambert chose the costlier plan, but without football.

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The conversation to cut football came after the Maricopa County Community College District announced it would shutter the football programs at Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa and Glendale community colleges starting in 2019.

The Aztecs’ football costs would’ve almost certainly gone up starting in 2019, even had Soto decided to keep football. The MCCCD’s decision will eliminate many of Pima’s closest and best opponents; to play a competitive schedule starting in 2019, the Aztecs would have had to travel out of state. The travel would be both expensive and time-consuming.

“Had they not dropped their programs, I think this conversation would still be had because of our budget situation,” Soto said. “For me, in my opinion in looking at everything, it was financial. Football is the costliest sport and one that costs more than any other sport. For me, it was financial when looking at the budget.”

The news couldn’t come at a worse time for Pima, which has been surging under coach Jim Monaco. Six Aztecs signed national letters of intent with major college programs in December; another football player, Tony Fair, recently received an offer from Nebraska. 

Pima will also cut two of the four golf and tennis programs — one men’s team and one women’s team. The decision will come down to the interest level, league viability, liability risk and sustainable budget opportunities, Soto said.

The decision on which teams to cut will be decided before January’s national signing day.

“We’ve got a little bit of time because everything will continue this year,” Soto said. “So, we’re going to do a good job with that and make sure to think it through.”

Had Lambert decided to go with the second $1.9 million proposed budget, Pima would have cut every men’s sport except for football and men’s soccer. Doing so would still have resulted in more male athletes (107) than female (87).

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“There was no equivalent to men’s football on the women’s side, so there were more males participating in sports,” Soto said. “But with the elimination of football, it will be equal.”

Board member Luis Gonzales on Wednesday asked Soto what impact the loss of football and other sports would have on enrollment.

Soto said there is no way to know what impact it would have over the next few years.

After Soto’s presentation and board discussion, Lambert thanked football coach Jim Monaco, his staff, the athletes and everyone involved with the football program.

“I look forward to the upcoming season,” Lambert said. “I know you will do your best to keep your spirits high and deliver during a difficult period of time.”

Monaco left the board meeting following Soto’s presentation, but later tweeted his thoughts.

“As disappointed as I am with the outcome of our board meeting, we have an amazing season ahead (to do) something amazing. The fight isn’t over but enough on things we have no control over, this season is ours for the taking. Be prepared. Great to be an Aztec proud to be your coach,” Monaco wrote.

While the decision has been made, Soto said the board would be willing to reinstate football if circumstances change or a new opportunity becomes available.

“Of course, if somebody is going to come and give us a lot of money to continue a program, we’re going to look at that and explore it,” Soto said.

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