S W A R T H M O R E, Pa., Dec. 6, 2000 -- Swarthmore College’s football team haswon just five games in five years. At one point, it had thenation’s longest losing streak, and regularly lost by more thanfive touchdowns.
But win or lose — and clearly it’s been more of the latter — Swarthmore students and alumni were stunned and disappointed bySaturday’s decision by the college board to drop football.
“I don’t like losing. But you learn from sports. You learndetermination. You learn commitment. And yes, you learn how tolose,” said junior Jon Bartner, a linebacker on the 55-membersquad and one of about 100 students at a protest Tuesday.
One of the Oldest Football Teams
Swarthmore, which competed in the NCAA’s small-college DivisionIII, had the nation’s 15th-oldest college football program, goingback to 1879.
The college, founded in 1864 by pacifist Quakers, is far betterknown for its academics. The $34,000-a-year school in suburbanPhiladelphia is ranked second in the nation among liberal artscolleges by U.S. News and World Report.
Only the golf team won a championship in 2000. In 1999, thefootball team ended what at the time was the nation’s longestlosing streak at 28 games.
Swarthmore counts among its alumni author James Michener, formerDemocratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and three Nobellaureates.
Another alumnus is Neil Austrian, former president of theNational Football League. Austrian is threatening to quit thecollege’s board after 22 years, including eight as chairman, unlessfootball is reinstated.
“Football is one of the few sports that can galvanize the wholecommunity,” he said. “That’s worth something.”
The decision came after the end of the football season, duringwhich the team went 4-5, a big improvement from its winless seasonthree years ago. Swarthmore said it may agree to one more season in2001 just to allow current players to finish out their careers.
Swarthmore is the latest of a string of schools that havedropped football in the past decade, including Boston University,though the NCAA said a record number of schools have recognizedfootball programs.
Swarthmore’s decision wasn’t due to lack of funding, or theburdens of complying with federal gender-equity law, or apathy. Infact, attendance had improved from an average of about 750 fans atgames in 1999 to about 1,000 this season.
Instead, the 1,400-student school said it is cutting footballbecause it does not want to recruit so many athletes.
“People get an edge in the admissions process if they areincredible musicians or artists or maybe for community service,”college spokesman Tom Krattenmaker said. “It’s basic math. If youeliminate football, you suddenly have a lot more spaces foreverything else.”
Wrestling Also Eliminated
For the past three years, Swarthmore recruited about 20 footballplayers annually — about one in 10 male freshmen and nearly halfthe 45 students recruited annually for all sports.
“The price of making football work was just too great,”Krattenmaker said.
The school also will eliminate wrestling after this winter andstop supporting women’s badminton, though officials admit fewplayers were ever recruited for badminton anyway.
Swarthmore’s biggest philanthropist enthusiastically supportedthe decision.
“I’m perfectly willing to trade off the football program forthe other major sports that can compete with self respect,” saidgraduate and board chairman emeritus Eugene Lang, founder of the IHave a Dream Foundation.
But supporters seemed to be in the minority this week. More than400 students shouted down administrators during a meeting in thefieldhouse Sunday. All but one of the students who voiced supportfor the decision in a story in the school newspaper refused to givetheir names.
“There’s no reason a small, academically competitive schoolcan’t be good at football too, unless that’s what theadministration wants,” said running back Kenny Clark, a sophomorewho said he is considering transferring.