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Why Don't Loyola U. and Boston U. Sponsor Football (Again)?

When you see this picture of Loyola University headgear, do you think football, or lacrosse?

If you're a rabid college football fan, you're forgiven if you think of this as a possible concept football helmet for a member of the Patriot League, Loyola (MD).  (Even though it's actually a lacrosse helmet.)

As ever, I'm always looking for possible Patriot League football expansion scenarios.  And I started to take a look at the financial details of the schools of the Patriot League and some of the other schools in the Northeast that sponsor FCS football, one nagging question kept reappearing in my mind.

Why am I looking around for outside expansion candidates when two of the best possible additions in the league for football are already full-sports members?

One had a decidedly modest football history that didn't make that much of a dent on the college football consciousness.  The other had a rich football history buried by a president that was an ideological zealot.  Neither sponsor the sport today.

But both have the facilities, the money, and the conference to do it.  You can make a very good case that they should be the eighth and ninth football-playing members of the Patriot League.


Loyola (MD)'s student newspaper, The Greyhound, had an April Fool's article in 2014 in regards to football.

The article joked that the Greyhounds were going to form a football team to compete in the SEC.

One anonymous "fan" in the article admitted some apprehension.  "I don't want our undefeated record to be broken," they said.

In fact, Loyola (MD)'s football team did quite a few losses in their history

Yes, Loyola (MD) Did Actually Have A Football Team
The Greyhounds in 1922 formed a football team, possibly after noting nearby Georgetown's success in that time as a nationally-ranked Top 25 team.

Loyola, at first, showed they were serious about developing a strong team by hiring Knute Rockne protege Stan Coffall as their head coach in time for the 1925 season.

A former alum told his father's story about the Loyola football team in an alumni magazine.

The savior of Loyola football, Coffall had earlier coached St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia to a city championship and was enticed to Baltimore along with a number of his championship players. Under Coffall, the team grew in the number, size, and talent of its players. Positive results were immediate as Loyola scored easy victories against the Army Tank School at Fort Meade and Juniata. 
More legitimate opponents like Navy, Villanova, Catholic U., Loyola of New Orleans, and Western Maryland (now McDaniel College) proved more difficult. Over the three Coffall years, 1925-27, the team had 10 wins and 16 losses. The highlight was a retributive 33-0 mauling of Johns Hopkins in the fall of 1926. The Hopkins yearbook characterized the loss as “the lone contest on the 1926 schedule that the Hopkins 11 can be ashamed of…Loyola played a clean, hard game and deserved their well-earned victory.”
As "golden eras" of football go, though, the Greyhound era ended nearly as quickly as it started.

Loyola of Baltimore mostly struggled through most of its football schedules, losing big to Navy, Johns Hopkins and Villanova in the early 1930s under former Boston College star Tony Comerford, who also doubled as athletic director.

Even as fellow Jesuit schools like Georgeoten, Fordham and Holy Cross were on the rise in the football world, some religious institutions stopped sponsoring the sport, of which the Greyhounds would be one.

 Then-Loyola president Rev. Henri J. Weisel made the decision in May of 1934 as to the "abandonment of intercollegiate football at Loyola College," which was under consideration by the governing board of the college after the more powerful Loyola (IL) college disbanded football two years earlier.

"In a formal statement, the Rev. Father Wiesel said football would be substituted with an extensive program of intra-mural athletics, which would be compulsory," The Milwaukee Journal reported at the time.

This caused many to change their plans, like Dr. Eddie Anderson at Holy Cross, who had Loyola on his 1934 schedule.  (They to rapidly ask St. Joe's (PA) to fill in for the Greyhounds.)  Perhaps predictably, Comerford left Loyola later to become a coaching assistant at Canisius College, a school that, at that time, did sponsor football.

So the history of football at Loyola in Baltimore was short, and fleeting, and they never would play their "sister Jesuit college" on the gridiron.

Today, why should the Greyhounds seriously consider sponsoring football in the 21st century?

Ridley Athletics Complex, Lacrosse Crowd
First of all, Loyola already has a perfect venue for Patriot League college football: the Ridley Athletics Complex, which provides the Greyhounds with synthetic-turfed lacrosse and soccer fields for Patriot League competition in those sports.

A 6,000 seat grandstand was christened (and filled) when the Greyhounds hosted Duke on a rainy March day in 2010.

Comparable to Fordham's Jack Coffey Field in size, it doesn't take much imagination to see the lacrosse grandstand to be able to be converted to host six home football games in the lacrosse "offseason" - including one against the nearby "sister Jesuit University" that they were unable to schedule in the 1920s, Georgetown.

Some schools might quote the cost of building or refurbishing a stadium as a roadblock to establishing a football team.  Loyola has no such concern.

Second, football can be a driver of male enrollment, something that has been an issue at religious-based institutions of learning for quite some time now.

At 62%, almost 2/3rds of Loyola's undergraduate enrollment is female.  Founding a football team would alter that balance in a positive way for the Greyhounds.

It doesn't need to be 50/50, which is the current gender ratio at fellow Patriot League member Holy Cross, but even the addition of 100 football-playing males to the school would be a step in the right direction.

Finally, adding football scholarships and spending on a modest Patriot League football program could be considered a national progression for an up-and-coming athletics department.

Loyola's athletic department has $17.4 million in athletics department expenses, which of course does not include any football expenditures.  $5.4 million of that is student-related aid across all sports.

This spending level is on the low end of other Patriot League schools.  For example, Lehigh's athletic department expenses are $28.8 million, with $9.7 million of that in student-related aid.

Adding football would help grow Loyola's athletic department to be more in line with their peers in the Patriot League.  But it wouldn't be for waterfalls in the locker room: the lions' share of the new expenses would consist of student scholarship aid for both men and women.  (Loyola wouldn't be able to just add scholarships for football; they'd also have to add athletic opportunities for women's sports, too.)

The stadium is already there; the room for sensible athletic department growth is there to get to the levels of their peer institutions; and the benefit of a more diverse student body is there.  So why not?

*****

John Silber, 1971 (c/o The New York Times)
John Silber haunts me.

The former university president did a lot of great things for Boston University, to be sure.

But his poisonous philosophy in regards to his unceremonious dumping of his football program haunts me still to this day.

I don't know why, long before the Terriers would become the tenth all-sports member of the Patriot League, I sympathized so much with the Boston University football team.

The Terriers, after competing on the gridiron for 91 years, finally was disbanded in 1997 in very large part to President Silber.

When Silber first took over as president in 1971, the Terriers played at Nickerson Field, a stadium that also had been used quite recently as the practice home of the AFL's Boston Patriots.

But a year into his reign, he started only the first step of his twenty-seven year quest to slit the throat of BU football.
Silber made no secret that he disliked football. Among his earliest proposals, he floated an idea that aimed to fix what he saw as a growing problem in college athletics, a problem that, incidentally, never went away, that grew larger over time and now seems to have no end in sight.
College football coaches held too much power, Silber thought. 
So in 1972, he proposed that none of them be allowed to coach on game day.
“I have recommended that we adopt a rule in our conference prohibiting coaches from engaging in contact with their teams during the playing of the game,” Silber was quoted as saying. “It would be highly desirable, in my opinion, to restore the position of quarterback to its former dignity and turn the game over to the students.” 
To put his statement in perspective, this was the first year that the Terriers competed in the Yankee Conference, with such smaller state institutions such as UConn, UMass, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Silber's proposal was not designed to change the course of college football history, as all the aforementioned schools dwarfed in comparision to the athletic departments at Yale, Harvard and even (at that time) Holy Cross.

It was to establish Silber as a thorn in the side to football in general, and to Boston University football in particular.

Boston University ended their relationship with the Patriots, who went to the NFL and moved to Foxboro.  They kept Nickerson field, but they didn't bother to make any upgrades - the final upgrades to the stadium in the BU football era, lights and artificial turf, were made in 1969.  From Silber's start in 1970, Nickerson Field would see nothing.

And over twenty-seven years, Silber would attempt to undermine his own program with damaging logic that has infected and permeated debates on athletics.

"In 1973, I thought that football was finished at Boston University," he told the PBS Newshour before his death.  "I would ask every incoming class: How many of you have seen a football game? A certain number would hold up their hands. How many of you have gone to a concert? More hands would go up among freshmen at Boston University who had seen a concert, or seen a theater production, a professional theater production, than had ever seen a football game. Now, that wouldn't be true if you asked a freshman class at the University of Texas or at Ohio State or at Michigan. But that's true of Boston University."

Loaded questions like these were used over time to twist his agenda of slitting the throat of football, but his most damaging line of prosecution was this one: if you're not a "money-making" football program, it's not worthwhile to sponsor football at your school.

This line of philosophy has been used to so many bad ends, it's hard to catalog them all, whether it's used to justify the validity of waterfalls in the locker room ("as long as we have the resources and we can provide the best for our student-athletes, that's what we should do in all sports") or the cancellation of perfectly healthy football programs at the FCS and FBS levels (see Hofstra and UAB for two recent examples).

But my intent here isn't to go over the entire history of Silber's killing of Boston's football program (though you can read all about that here, if you're so inclined).

My point is to say that, after nearly twenty years without football, it's high time Boston University brought football back.

All this field needs is more football on it
Like Loyola, Boston University has a perfect field to host Patriot League football games - Nickerson field.  Once Silber killed football, it got completely renovated, and could easlily be repurposed to have Saturday football played on the field again in a heartbeat.  (In fact, a Boston University club team plays football on this field already.)

Like Loyola, Boston University has a skewed male/female ratio of 58% to 42%.  While adding 100 football-playing males and expanding women's scholarship opportunities may not affect Boston University's ratio as much as Loyola's (BU has an undergraduate population of 18,000), it would certainly help, and diversify the campus.

Unlike Loyola, the expenses of football scholarships might be very large in relation to their overall athletics spending.  Boston University already has expenses of $30 million in their athletics department, including a whopping $15 million in scholarship aid for students.  On the other hand, $9 million of that is already earmarked for women's athletics, so there almost certainly wouldn't be a need for the Terriers to add more women's scholarships.

But that's not why the Terriers should re-establish football.

The Boston University students, alumni, and community should want to restore a modest, academically-oriented, FCS-level program because of the signal it would send to the rest of the world.

Too many people think football is a sport only played by the Alabama's of the world - that college football consists of Alabama, Texas, Notre Dame, Florida State, USC and perhaps Oregon.  That it's become a Southern, red-state sport.

But the truth is that football is not owned by them.

Why shouldn't a modest, sustainable, cost-friendly form of football live on in the Northeast?  Why shouldn't schools in the Northeast offer scholarships to kids to play college football, to allow many of them to afford college, to allow a handful to compete for a job in football after graduation?

Why shouldn't football be an educational experience, one that's just as valuable, or sometimes even more so, than an economics class?

“John Silber brought BU back into national prominence as an academic institution,” Dan Hanafin, the starting quarterback of that 1997 team, said. “That could have been done, that was done, when football was still there. For me, the contrast to Silber was [head coach and future Holy Cross head coach] Dan Allen. I learned more from him than from any teacher at BU. I guess I can thank Silber for that.”

The Patriot League does football right.  It's not a guaranteed pathway to the pros.  It consists of seven like-minded, academically-oriented schools that have football as an important part of a rich buffet of college experiences.  Very few Lafayette or Lehigh students, I bet, would trade a Lehigh/Lafayette game for an undergraduate existence without it.

Boston University should embrace that same vision, as it does in all its other sports in the Patriot League.  Why not Holy Cross/BU on the gridiron?  It can happen.  It should happen.

Most importantly, should BU choose to reinstate football, it would repudiate the false choice that Silber felt needed to be made in regards to having football or being a serious institution of higher learning.  You can have both.  You always could have both.  And it can be done sensibly, balancing academics and athletics.

A new intercollegiate Boston University football team would be a powerful symbol of how football can be, and a final burial of the old idea that football has to be a "money-making" program.

I'd be insanely proud of such a team, should it come to be, to compete in the Patriot League.  (Well, maybe 51 weeks out of the year.)

So why not?

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