The last time the sprint football team won an official game, junior wide receiver and defensive back Chris McCord was just eight years old, and it was 1999. Fourteen years and 87 consecutive losses later, McCord stood at the activities fair in Dillon Gymnasium as junior captain of the squad, trying to convince freshmen that they could make history.
Sprint football is a varsity sport at Princeton, but it is not sanctioned by the NCAA. With only eight teams in the country belonging to the College Sprint Football League, the Tigers’ season barely stretches more than a month. And, with no official recruiting spots from the University, it is up to coaches and players to fill the roster each year and field a team. Head coach Stephen Everett explained that while other Ivy League schools like Penn and Cornell get official recruiting spots for sprint football, the size of Princeton’s athletic program combined with Ivy League rules makes it difficult to justify giving some of the limited recruiting spots to the team.
“Between the fact that there are other sports that get those spots and also Title IX, there has to be equity between our male and female sports department figures,” Everett said. “With football already getting a significant number of those spots, you can’t add another male sport, especially another football sport, that would eat up a significant number of those spots.”
Instead, returning players simply look to events that garner a large freshman attendance, like the activities fair, to lure potential players onto the roster. How they approach the subject of their record is a little more complicated.
“It’s turned some kids away in the past, but, I mean, a lot of the kids on the team, they play because they love the game,” McCord said of the team’s dry spell. “They’re just glad they have the opportunity to play.”
Everett, on the other hand, sees the years of losses and the small roster size as a kind of motivation for potential players to join, describing the hunt for a victory as “kind of a draw.”
“Because of our small numbers, athletes realize that, ‘Hey, I’m going to have an opportunity to play right away. I’m not going to be sitting on the bench; I’m going to get a chance to play right away. If I’m playing, then I have an opportunity to be on that team that makes history.’ That’s actually a good recruiting tool,” Everett said.
But the small roster that Everett sees as one of the keys to recruiting may be also keep Princeton from winning a game in the near future. Most recently, the Tigers were forced to forfeit their Sept. 20 game against Navy due to a lack of available active players on the roster, one that at the time of publication included only five freshmen — some who had never played football before, Everett said.
“We had some guys this year who we had to teach how to get into a three-point stance. We had to teach them the positions, so you lose a lot of time with that,” Everett said. “Even teaching them the rules — guys may play ‘Madden,’ or even watch football, but they might not actually know the rules. We need to do a lot of educating in just the basics of football. We call it ‘Football 100.’ ”
Everett and his staff hope that the team has moved away from ‘Football 100’ basics by next weekend, when they travel to Waterbury, Conn. to take on the team that they almost beat last season. The Tigers suffered a heartbreaking 32-28 loss in overtime to Post on Oct. 5, 2012, a game that could have been their first victory in almost a decade-and-a-half and was their best chance to make a mark in the win column in years.