The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Four years after `rebirth,' football still looking for answers

By William Kennedy

Macalester football brought a winless season to a close this year, surprising few when the team lost its final two games by a combined score of 7-110. Anyone familiar with the college knows that struggles on and off the field have hounded Mac football for years and most are aware that those troubles came to a head in 2001 when the program’s future existence was brought into question. After tense debate, the executive decision came down from then-President Michael McPherson that Mac would keep football–while removing it from the MIAC–and, moreover, that the college would recommit itself to improving the team.

But four years after this proclaimed “rebirth” of football, Mac enters the off-season after suffering another undermanned campaign, unusual only due to the fact that, unlike most years, the 2005 Scots did not win a single game. A season like this calls for a review of Macalester’s pledge to revive football.

Dean of Students and College Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre said that some action has been taken to improve football and that indeed more is on the way.

“I actually think that the college under the new president has an even deeper commitment [to athletics and football],” Hamre said.

Hamre, who oversees athletic spending, cites the decision to switch Mac football from a MIAC to an independent team as initial progress. The main rationale for this choice was to give the Scots a better chance to play and hopefully win against schools at their level. Theoretically, wins would lead to an improved reputation, an improved reputation would lead to more recruits, and more recruits would lead to a stronger program.

A year after leaving the conference, Mac racked up a five and five record. But, these victories came mostly at the expense of theological seminaries who, to speak kindly, emphasized doctrine over defense.

When the Scots returned to a regular schedule against comparable opponents, the team quickly returned to its losing ways. Since 2003, Mac managed only two wins in 27 games and is currently riding a 14-game losing streak.

Former NFL star Irv Cross, who previously followed the team as athletic director and supervised it more closely this season as a defensive co-coordinator, agreed that the school is committed to football, but gave a negative assessment of the team’s situation to date.

“We haven’t made a whole lot of progress since [President] McPherson made that statement,” he said.

The move out of the MIAC may help the team in the long run, but it certainly has not resolved any of the team’s current problems.

Recruiting efforts have brought in a steady stream of about 10 players a year–bringing the total number of players up to around 40 as opposed to the 23 active players the team had during the crisis year of 2001. But that number does not give Mac nearly enough depth to compete against MIAC schools or even weaker liberal arts colleges outside the conference. The addition of coaching positions, including Cross’ role, and two other former NFL players on staff have likewise failed to change the team’s fortunes.

Undeterred by this lack of success, Hamre says the school is moving forward with new efforts to improve the program and that the process will not take place overnight.

“If we’re going to have football, we should have it be the best we can be,” she said, “I would like us to try every possible strategy to be successful.”

The latest steps toward improving football are taking place right now, as the team searches for a new head coach after Dennis Czech ended his nine-year tenure by resigning at the end of this season. Hamre hopes that new blood in the program may reinvigorate it. But most importantly, she points to a revised recruiting program as the potential salvation for the program.

Many athletes, including defensive lineman Jake Riley ’06, see recruiting as the single greatest challenge for Mac football and the most crucial deficiency in Macalester’s commitment to the sport.

“I’ve seen too many [football players] with great test scores not get in,” said Riley. “I think the biggest problem is with admissions.”

Riley contends that academically-qualified athletes, often seen as one-dimensional by a Macalester admissions department seeking multi-talented applicants, end up at schools like Northwestern or Carleton College that place more importance on athletics.

The admissions question has been controversial, and Macalester’s administration and athletic department have both come out firmly on not sacrificing academics to improve athletics. But if the college hopes to improve football, some say they may have to give athletics more of a priority when considering applications.

Up until now, Riley said, “[The people in charge] have just been giving us lip-service.” He added, however, that he has faith in the current leadership’s ability to revamp the team.

The job of developing a better recruiting policy has been transferred to athletic director Travis Feezell, who took over the position from Cross earlier this year. Feezell sees that some changes in recruiting techniques may hold a key to solving football’s woes and expressed confidence in the college’s willingness to support the football program.

“I took this job because I believe there is an institutional will to meet challenges, ” he said.

The new strategy will likely involve a targeted athletic recruitment on a national level, something Feezell believes has not effectively been tried at Mac. To do this, both Hamre and Feezell acknowledge that discussions between the athletic department and the admissions office will have to take place.

The nature of those discussions, however, is yet to be determined, as the new recruiting strategy has not advanced past its earliest stages. Clearly more players would bring positive changes to Mac football, but whether or not a new recruiting strategy will fulfill that need remains to be determined. After all, similar talk and planning four years ago did not lead to any major improvements.

It may be that wins, and wins alone, will attract the amount of student interest Mac requires to improve its football program. If that is the case, then the college finds itself in a nasty catch-22: few wins equal few players, few players equal few wins.

Whatever the future of football holds, losing will likely be inevitable in the short term as estimates from the athletic department and the administration suggest that any tangible evidence of success for Mac football will take at least four or five years to materialize.

And for Mac football, success may always be a relative term. Hamre says she is not looking just for wins when she thinks of improving the team or even expecting them if the team gets better.

“If we can be competitive and have a full roster,” she said, “to me that’s the bottom line.”

Both the athletic department and the administration say that they believe Mac football can make the transition into a competitive team, but what if it doesn’t?

Is there a scenario where Mac ends up without a football team?

“No,” says Feezell, but here he and Hamre find themselves in an unusual point of disagreement. While committed to repairing the program, Hamre says the college may not wait forever. “If we can’t compete,” she said recalling the 2001 debate about whether or not Mac should keep football, “sooner or later we’ll come back to that conversation.

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