College Reviews Football Program
The administration has formed a committee in reaction to the Lords’ two-year losing streak.
Published: Thursday, October 20, 2011
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 00:11
The 1972 Lords football season was the stuff of football myth: a 7-0-1 record, a shutout over Case Western Reserve University on homecoming weekend. That season, tight end Mike Duffy caught 35 passes for six touchdowns, and in one moment of fourth-quarter magic, after fighting back from 14-0, Giovanni DiLalla booted a 35-yard field goal for the win. But all seasons, even glorious ones, end. Today, Duffy is a lawyer in Chicago, DiLalla sells copiers in Cleveland and the undefeated team they left behind is struggling.
In the past 25 years, the Lords have posted more last-place seasons than winning ones. As of this week, it has been two years since the Lords' last win.
The recent losing streak prompted President S. Georgia Nugent to form a committee of coaches and administrators to investigate ways to bolster the program. Their recommendations are expected later this month, Nugent said.
This is not the first time the administration has intervened with the football program. "In 2002, the year before I came, the football team had dwindled to nothing, where it was actually considered a dangerous condition because there weren't enough guys to support the team," Nugent said. The College formed a commission. "My understanding of the charge then was really, do we get rid of football or not?" she said.
That committee decided against cutting the program, opting instead to put more resources into it. In 2003, Kenyon hired Ted Stanley, who is now in his ninth year as head coach. Stanley rebuilt the program, and in 2005, the Lords went 6-1 in the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC), their best outing since 1991.
"We saw real progress," Nugent said, "but what has happened in the last couple of years is that progress has stalled or declined, and I think it's largely around the recruiting environment."
"If you're not effective at recruiting, if you're not getting the athletes you need, you're going to struggle," Stanley said.
For Kenyon, part of that struggle is recruiting student-athletes who are successful both on the field and in the classroom. "It's a question of can you get the best players that meet the academic criteria," Stanley said. "And then with Kenyon … can they afford to come here?"
"Admissions is working very closely with the football program — and have done so ever since Coach Stanley arrived at Kenyon," Dean of Admissions Jennifer Delahunty said in an email. She added, however, "Recruiting football players is difficult simply because of the number of players we need and the competition for those players."
There are currently 58 players on the football team's roster, but Stanley would like to see that number grow. "If everybody did one thing, [played one position,] that'd be 120 players," he said. "But you're gonna need 50 to 80 to 100 players just to fill the team on top of what is dangerous and what is not dangerous."
Toward this goal, Stanley and the team's seven other coaches, which includes a recruitment specialist, visit high schools across the country looking for the rare student who fills out SAT bubbles as well as he threads through defenders.
Running back Brett Williams '13 remembers Stanley's visit to his high school in northern Ohio. "Coach Stanley came to my school my junior year," Williams said. "He pretty much told the coach, ‘Hey, I'm stopping by. If you have any kids that are smart and decent football [players,] send them in and I'll talk to them.'" At the end of his visit, Stanley invited Williams to a summer visit day. After several more trips to campus to meet the team and watch them play, Stanley encouraged Williams to apply early decision. "I had an opportunity to go play at other schools that have done better, but for me, it was more the academics," Williams said. "Kenyon's English program was something that was a big draw."
Offensive lineman Patrick Maher '13, who went to a boarding school in Massachusetts, was also drawn to Kenyon's academics, and the team's poor record offered another appeal. "I knew that they hadn't been successful," he said, "but it presented an opportunity to play early, not to have to sit around and wait to get your time."
But academics and the promise of playing time is not enough to lure many of Stanley's recruits, however. Last year, only 10 new players joined the team, well below Stanley's goal of 25 to 30.
"There are a number of students — applicants, let's say — who are football players who are not going to make the academic cut at Kenyon," Nugent said. "But they'll be perfectly admittable students at some of our other [conference] schools, maybe a Wooster or a Denison. We just have a different academic profile."
Kenyon also struggles to attract football players who do make the academic cut. "Last year, we lost football players to the top colleges in the country — the Ivies, the military academies, the NESCAC [New England Small College Athletic Conference] schools," Delahunty said.
Nugent speculated that the NESCAC, a cluster of Division III schools, is the biggest poacher of potential Kenyon football players. She blamed the intricate slotting system NESCAC schools employ. The system, which ranks student-athletes into A, B and C bands based on their academic records, allows those schools to admit athletes with slightly lower academic profiles than their average students. "That's our real competition in terms of recruitment," Nugent said. "They're doing things that we don't do. Now there may be reasons of principle that we don't want to do those things, but that's, I think, what the tough conversation's going to be."
"Division III recruiting in the last 20 years has exploded," Stanley said. "It's much more competitive and, certainly, if you look at the sport of football, it's grown. It's America's pastime, and I think Kenyon needs to get onboard with that a little bit."