One would think for an opinion piece as provocative as “Bowdoin football: your time is running out,” that the author would have supported his argument with facts rather than anecdotal evidence and innuendo.
Mr. Covell correctly points out that football participation rates are down across the country but fails to point out that 1.1 million young men and women participated in high school football in 2016, a participation rate nearly twice that of next most popular sport (track and field). Even a cursory review of Bowdoin’s roster would show that the Polar Bear football team reflects the geographic diversity of the College, with over 21 states represented and therefore is not overly reliant on one region. He does not provide any evidence of his knowledge of the College’s recruitment strategy, or of private schools from which Bowdoin depended on recruits that have shuttered their football programs, or of the Ivy League student athletes who could have been NESCAC ones. The last charge is particularly spurious in its counterfactuality.
Mr. Covell again correctly points that many colleges are adding football, but does not explore this phenomena, or ask the obvious question: why would Bowdoin abolish its football program when so many other schools are adding one? He again shows a surprising ignorance of Bowdoin and its student-athletes, as the selectivity of the school forces the program to recruit within a very specific cohort, meaning new programs will have a de minimis effect on its recruiting. Bowdoin has to out-recruit Williams, Amherst, Middlebury and Pomona, not nascent programs at less selective schools in the Northeast. It seems utterly inane to comment on comparisons to Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, but when Saban took a .500 Michigan State squad, four years later the Spartans were still a .500 team. Saban also had a losing record as the coach of the Miami Dolphins, as did Belichick with the Cleveland Browns. No coach “guarantees” wins.
In his critique of a restriction on recruiting, which is prima facie unworkable, Covell cites a 20-year-old quote from former President Bob Edwards and concocts a scenario at Williams, also from 20 years ago, which does a disservice to our NESCAC brethren and the memory of its president, Harry Payne. The incident Covell describes occurred in 1996, not 1998 as Covell cited, making it three years between the incident and Payne’s resignation. This scenario is akin to claiming former President Barry Mills was forced to resign as a result of the blowback from the men’s hockey team forfeiting its NESCAC championship. Nor does he complete the logic of his own rhetorical question: if a NESCAC president could be fired over athletic issues, what would happen to President Clayton Rose if he abolished football?
In his proposal of cross-continental realignment with Division III Minnesota schools, Covell misses the obvious cost implications, as well as the importance cultural and historic ties with other New England schools. In his false sense of urgency, he forgets that Colby went 33-15 over a six-year period at the turn of this century, with a NESCAC title and two second-place finishes, or that perennial powerhouse Williams recently went 6-26 over a four-year period, including a winless season in 2016 or that Tufts had but one win over four seasons from 2010-2013. Perhaps the best Bowdoin can hope for in the NESCAC is to be the .500 team they were from 2005-2011, but I do not believe that, and I know they cannot prove it flying halfway across the country to play Carleton.
Covell saves his most specious commentary for his conclusion, somehow getting into the mind of President Rose and ridiculing him for his supposed banality and naiveté regarding the importance of competition and sportsmanship. If President Rose has stated these things, Covell provides no evidence, as it would likely detract from his snarky cynicism. This is followed by a complete non-sequitur, somehow equating the abolishing of the football program with President Rose’s family members participating in the sport.
Covell should have resisted the urge to include a football metaphor, for after 126 years of play and the thousands of graduates who have excelled from the Supreme Court to Hollywood, from the boardroom to the operating room, and in service of this country from Guadalcanal to Afghanistan, somehow “time is running out.” In Covell’s metaphor, he would have his “losing” team not try a trick play or throw a Hail Mary, but do something never seen before by a desperate, “losing” team. He would take a knee.
No one likes to lose, and Bowdoin’s recent record is unacceptable, the least of all to the players who see their toil and dedication not yield results. In his zeal to provoke, perhaps Covell has forgotten what it is like to be a member of a team, or what it is like to struggle and fail, but to keep persevering, knowing your teammates are making the same commitment.
I will believe that those willing to make that sacrifice will be rewarded not just by comradery and character, but by results on the scoreboard.
Daniel Hart is a member of the Class of 1995 and was a member of the football team.