Football Players Forgive, But Don’t Forget

Thanks in large part to former President Alfred Bloom’s resignation and President Rebecca Chopp’s aggressive efforts to cultivate connections with former players, formerly alienated football alums feel more positive about the College than they have during any time since 2000.

Few students who attend Swarthmore today have any connection to Swarthmore’s football program, which was abolished 11 years ago in a controversial Board of Managers decision. The decision soured many former players’ relationships with Swarthmore and prompted some to refuse to donate.

At the time two Board members stepped down in protest of the Board’s decision: Neil Austrian ’61, who was on the team, and Jim Noyes. Noyes stated repeatedly that “football was not the only issue” behind his resignation ― “ethics was… I couldn’t be a part of the ethics [of that decision].”

Austrian resigned because he perceived the decision as an attack on the entire Athletics program. “Al Bloom was determined to get rid of athletics. It was an ideological issue,” he said.

Though it’s impossible to determine the cost to the college in terms of lost donations, many football player alumni reported an unwillingness to donate after the football program was disbanded.

Lisa Lee ’81, director of Alumni Relations, was vague when asked whether cutting the program resulted in a drop in donations.

“There are those who will not donate and those who will increase their donations for any number of reasons,” she said. Some former players suggest it’s unclear whether funding did decrease as a result of the decision.

Most of the people interviewed for this article, opponents and supporters of the decision, still believe that it was an instance of remarkably poor public relations. Jordan Brackett ‘01, Student Council Co-president in 2000, speaks fondly of Bloom’s achievements as president, but critiques the community’s preparation for the ban.

Brackett remembers thinking that the administration should have been more transparent and should have tried to better explain the decision beforehand. He met with Bloom as frequently as twice a week during the period surrounding the decision. Instead, the community was caught “off guard; they had a visceral reaction,” Brackett said.

Lillian Kraemer, a member of the Board during the decision who worked closely with Brackett, says the administration “was not prepared for the depth of the negative reaction.”

A decade later, the anger is receding. Lee remembers that several years ago she was receiving an angry letter every so often from a disaffected former football player. Now, she says “the number of conversations isn’t as large as it was… you don’t hear it as much anymore.”

Even Mind the Light, an energetic organization that advocated for the return of football, has disbanded. Some of the group’s letters have the sort of rhetorical virtuosity that make one think the group was founding a great institution, not arguing for the retention of its football team.

As Hank Bode ’55 says, now the decision is “just a part of history.” Though he was “sad, […] angry in the emotional part of my brain” for the first few years, “my logical brain said this game’s an awful expensive toy to have around… financially, philosophically, abolishing football makes sense.”

These alumni greatly prefer Chopp to Bloom, who was instrumental in getting the program abolished. Chopp gets rave reviews from many of the former football players.

“I love Rebecca… she’s terrific,” said Austrian. Noyes called Chopp “outstanding,” and ranks her presidency a “10.”

In the space of just a few minutes, alum Jeff Selverian ’86 called her “fantastic,” “terrific,” “awesome,” “wonderful,” and “a breath of fresh air.”

Wes Argo ’57 agrees, with a slight alteration: “She’s a phenomenal breath of fresh air.”

Chopp attends their events, approaches them, listens to their concerns, and speaks publicly about the importance of athletics.

Austrian organized a big event in Manhattan in June 2010, inviting interested former players and their extended family and supporter networks to come discuss football and Swarthmore. Chopp came to the meeting and spoke to the crowd.

Chopp and Austrian, who has pledged to find full financial support if football should ever return, spent several hours over dinner one evening discussing football and Swarthmore’s past and future. “She understands why athletics can be good,” Austrian said.

It’s hard to conceive of a scenario in which football might come back, given that it would still be impossible to field a sufficiently large team and because many students would rather see college funds directed elsewhere. Though the Strategic Planning reports suggest athletics will continue to be robustly supported, they contain no language on football.

Regardless, the NYC event has rekindled hope for the sport’s return. Argo thinks “football is ripe to come back.” Other former football players, however, have accepted that football is unlikely to return.

Last year, for the first time since 2000, former players, supporters, and members of DU got together with the Athletic Department to host their traditional Pig Roast. Chopp, who attended, said the event was “so powerful for me.” She said, “[it] celebrated football’s history.”

The Athletics Department is set to induct the first ever class of hall of fame members this spring, including football players. Athletics Communication Director Mark Anskis says they’ve looked at former players to induct, and are combing the archives for game reports and statistics going all the way back to 1878.


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17 comments

  1. 0
    Raymond Beck says:

    Swarthmore has too many snobbish intellectuals. Football has attracted a disproportionate share of low income and minority players. Very odd that a school like Swarthmore, seemingly interested in charity and affirmative action, turned its back on football. Swarthmore will be a real educational institution when it brings back football. Until then, “snobbish” best describes its “superior” faculty and administration. The financial argument against football makes no sense. Swarthmore lost not only alumni donations, but would have had alumni pay for the football program. It was offered. Swarthmore rejected it. But then continues to mislead people pretending finances were the problem. Bad ethics leads to bad finances.

  2. 0
    L-sue says:

    I suggest that the comment from Dec 2014 by “Friends of Swarthmore” is hidden not really due to low comment rating, but because it strikes a bit too close to home. It is true, and in our current society we are not interested in either the truth, nor those individuals who are still able to think for themselves.

  3. 0
    Friends of Swarthmore says:

    As I read about the plight of the UAB football program and the angst of it’s current athletes, I cannot help but remember the sting of Al Boom’s decision to cut football at Swarthmore. For many of the players, the wound will never completely heal. Some of those young men left Swarthmore for other great colleges or universities. It was a shame not because of simply the loss of football, but because the health of the entire, small student body was not considered.

    Paul Cato, you’re missing the point and I can’t blame you. As a brother of one of the players brought in as a student-athlete in the late 1990’s, the decision to drop the program was a travesty. The football players were not just athletes, they were bright young men sold a bill of goods that were never delivered. For years the football program was the laughingstock of all things football. The proud owners of one of the worst football programs in college history, as labeled by ESPN’s Page 2, the group of young men brought in not only turned the program around but built something to be proud of. While Swarthmore would likely never have risen to the ranks of a D3 powerhouse, it’s stock was rising considerably. The decision – and the manner in which the decision was made – by Bloom to cut the legs out from these future lawyers, doctors, bankers, and educators was perhaps the worst display of Quaker ideals I’ve seen.

    The decision by Charlie to refrain from giving one “red nickel” is a sound one. They deserve the vitriol they receive. The treated those young men like outsiders when, in really, they represented everything Swarthmore stood for.

  4. 0

    It has nothing to do with education. I donate yearly to the law school I attended. I will not however donate to Swarthmore because the Swarthmore I attended does not exist anymore. What President Bloom did was completely unethicial and flies in the face of everything Swarthmore stands for.

    1. 0
      Paul Cato says:

      A school is much more than the actions/decisions of its president, board of managers, deans, etc. To reduce Swarthmore to one decision (though handled irresponsibly – I’ wouldn’t know I was busy watching Spongebob when all this was happening and had never heard of Swat) made by one individual is to miss what the school truly is. I truly hope the “Swarthmore you attended” was more than just a President who approved of football and a board of managers who tolerated it as well. I stand on a campus with some 1500(?) other students and a number of faculty/staff and tend to see *them* as a better representation of what Swarthmore is than those working in Parrish. Swarthmore as I know it (despite its various flaws) is defined by the passion of its community and its commitment to a great many things. Assuming that that passion existed in your day, I have a hard time believing that the loss of a football team resulted in a crippling blow to the community’s level of care and concern. And if you feel content to hold on to such a belief I can’t help but feel that there is a lot more to the Swat of the 21st century than you are willing to see. I have a feeling the Swarthmore you attended is right here, just waiting for you to check it out. The existence of this paper and its dialogues alone (and the fact that you posted on it?) seems to be some proof of it.

      – PC

    1. 0
      Scorn Larson says:

      Charles, I am impressed with your ability maintain a grudge about sports and not give in to the urge to support education.

      Sincerely,
      Scorn Larson

  5. 0
    Change I Can Believe In? says:

    Swarthmore clearly needs an inspirational and transformational leader like Obama. Now there’s a president I can believe in.

    All we need is hope in an age of Daily Gazette clamor.

  6. 0
    Gym Class Hero '11 says:

    I’m glad that the football alums are feeling less alienated, and though I personally only have enough hand-eye coordination to light a cigarette, I do think Swarthmore Athletics are important. But from the awful flags outside of Parrish, to Homecoming, to powerful pig roasts, to a sorority, to getting rid of GenderFuck?!?!?!?!? Stop chopping away at everything Swarthmore.

  7. 0
    what? says:

    ‘ Last year, for the first time since 2000, former players, supporters, and members of DU got together with the Athletic Department to host their traditional Pig Roast. Chopp, who attended, said the event was “so powerful for me.” She said, “[it] celebrated football’s history.” ‘

    did she seriously just refer to a pig roast as a powerful experience? i think we need to question her intelligence…

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