Southwestern is a unique school. We have the pirate bikes, we are one of the smallest universities of our caliber in the nation and, up until now, we were the school without a football team.1 But now that that’s changing, I expect an understandable question many will ask is whether the personality of Southwestern will change. And we won’t avoid a change, but in the long run I feel Southwestern will change for the better.
One of the greatest criticisms many have for our student body is that, while as a whole we are involved and dedicated to our individual passions, we lack a passion for our school. Hints of more passion have been visible over the years,2 but overall Southwestern students are as likely to rally behind a broken soft serve machine as they are our #7 nationally ranked volleyball team. Maybe football will change this. I’m not saying that it will, or that I necessarily want it to, but from what I’ve observed in Texas and at colleges around the country football is an important sport for campus spirit. In many cases, regardless of how the team performs, it rallies support for other sports and increases the sense of school spirit around campus. If this happens at Southwestern, I think it can only be a good thing.
Football would become a new event for campus on the weekends, an added incentive for students that we want to attract, and an additional revenue stream for our school during a challenging economic time. The new team would bring in new tuition revenue, added support from football loving alumni, and perhaps even an increased application rate during the admissions process. The new students brought in, if they are football players, will likely arrive with the benefits that come with team membership, especially a higher retention and graduation rate.3 These benefits have the potential to fix many of the perceived problems plaguing Southwestern today, offering an additional revenue stream that can support our academic programs and other areas on campus. Whether they help solve these problems or create greater ones is dependent on how the new team is created.
If the team arrives on campus and brings with it a focus on football, our already strong athletics program will be in danger. While there are benefits associated with bringing in football, the mindset cannot be shifted away from The Pirates to Pirate Football. If that happens, our already strong athletic teams run the risk of falling by the wayside and, with the lapsed attention, losing the benefits that come with team membership. There’s also the financial concern of supporting a new team, but I find that least worrisome at all: the fact that the Board of Trustees, a board that has remained financially conservative during this economic crisis and limited the percentage we can draw from the endowment, would not have allowed this plan to go forward if it wasn’t in the best interests of the school.
The last major concern, and I feel for many might be the most troubling, has to do with how football might change our campus culture. Southwestern, if it prided itself on one thing above all, is its uniqueness. For many, as evidenced by years of APO shirts, this uniqueness comes in no small part from our lack of a football team. By introducing the dynamics of a football team, our campus social structure risks being upended and leaving us with a dynamic that could change the makeup of the student body that we all love. To avoid this, the players brought in have to brought in using the same mindset we have for our applicants already. What we look for in our athletics programs are student athletes. As cliché as it is, the student comes first in that statement just as it should for the players. We can make this happen with the right selection of a head coach, one who understands our philosophy, and an admissions department that does not bend to the demands of outside parties trying to push the All State running back with a less than stellar academic record over a student gifted in other areas that would fit the Southwestern mold. Bringing in students who do not fit would not only be unfair to the campus, but unfair to the students who are looking for a different experience than what they will find here. These are the players who expect to be the kings of campus and the center of campus life, both of which are roles that the players won’t be able to occupy here because the roles don’t exist.
If the pitfalls can be avoided, however, Southwestern stands to profit from the addition of football. As a track athlete, I’m excited about the possibility of finally having a track on campus and, as a student, the possibility of football intrigues me. It will have to be done right, something that will require dedication, obeservance, and careful personnel choices. Properly executed, I think football will set the stage for Southwestern to move forward through the 21st century and mark a defining moment in the history of our school.