In an email addressed to sprint football affiliates Monday afternoon, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 announced that the University has decided to discontinue its 82-year-old sprint football program.
Eisgruber and Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux ’91 delivered the news in person to current members of the sprint football team this afternoon, Assistant Vice President of Communications Daniel Day said. Day said that the team was not given prior notice about the program’s termination and noted that members of the current team were not consulted during the deliberations process.
Sprint football team co-captains Chad Cowden'17 andKris Garris'17 stated that they were shocked and devastated by the news.
According to Garris, the team was unexpectedly told Monday afternoon that Eisgruber had called for a meeting. They were even more shocked when Eisgruber expressed that the program will terminate, Garris described.
"I have no idea why we’re suddenly not allowed to play the game we love so much anymore. I haven’t cried since I was 15 - but everyone was crying. It's like all our work and dedication has been ripped away. It now feels like there is a huge void in my Princeton experience," he said.It's heartbreaking that players' ability to make a decision about playing Sprint Football was eliminated by the University, said Cowden.
"Sprint Football was one of the main reasons I chose Princeton over other schools and now it has been ripped away from me. My sprint teammates were and will continue to be my family at Princeton," Cowden added.
According to Jerry Price, senior associate director of Athletics and Athletic Communications, sprint football team coach Sean Morey was given advance notice about the decision.
Day explained that the conclusion came after extensive deliberations led by a committee of University administrators, athletic staff, athletic medical directors and sprint football alumni.
“We’ve been engaged in a pretty transparent, six-months-long review of the program that was brought about by concerns about the competitiveness of the team and the safety of the sport at Princeton,” said Marcoux.
“We made the decision with great reluctance for several reasons, but most importantly because we know this program has a long tradition at Princeton and we know how important it has been for the student-athletes who have participated in it,” Eisgruber wrote in his email.
However, President of the Friends of Princeton Sprint Football Bennett Graham, who is also a member of the evaluation committee, explained that the committee was not charged with making a decision but rather with reviewing the state of the sport and presenting a holistic report about the future of the program.
Graham said that despite having participated in the committee on sprint football, he was not informed of the decision to terminate the team until shortly before the public announcement.
Ultimately, the decision to terminate sprint football was made by Eisgruber, Graham said, which Eisgruber confirmed in an email statement to the 'Prince.'
"This decision was one of the most difficult that I have had to make during my time as president. I have great respect for the players and the coaching staff of our sprint football team, and for the character they have shown in the face of adversity," Eisgruber wrote, "many of them provided compelling testimonials about how much the sprint football program had meant to their lives."
However, Eisgruber noted that he could not "permit the continuation of a program with such a high injury rate and with a substantial risk of very serious injuries."
“As a member of the alumni group, we’ve had conversations in the past few years about receiving more support from administration [and] we’ve been disappointed at the progress that’s been made as far as turning the tide of the program,” Graham said.
He further described the decision as a saddening and disappointing moment for sprint football alumni.
After extensive review, the University discontinued the program due to concerns about the “safety of the sport as currently constituted at Princeton, the inability of Princeton teams to compete successfully and changes that have taken place in the league in which it plays,” according to Day.
When asked about the team’s specific record of injuries, Price said that he has had no knowledge about the health trends that this team has experienced. Furthermore, he said that could not comment on whether the sprint football team experienced more injuries as compared to other such teams.
However, Eisgruber said that sprint football has substantially higher injury rates than any other varsity sport offered at Princeton.
"The risk of injury to players is unacceptably high, and the University could not responsibly permit the program to continue in its current form," he said.
Earlier this year, the Ivy League instituted a collective ban on tackling in sprint football, a leading cause of concussions.
According to Day, since the team won its last league title in 1989, it has had 18 win-less seasons. The team has had 106 consecutive losses in the league since 1999, and over the last five seasons had forfeited four times.
Marcoux further said that it is not normal for sports teams to have to forfeit games. However, the situation had to occur a few times in the past sprint football season since there was not a sufficient roster size, Marcoux explained.
In a University press release, it was explained that “only alternative to discontinuing the program was to recruit specifically for the sport.” University officials, however, concluded that it was not possible to increase the overall number of recruited athletes, according to the release.
Price declined to comment on whether financial reasons played a role in the decision to not expand its athletic recruitment.
According to Graham, the sprint football alumni organization provides most of the funding for the team. Self-funded sports team only require administrative help in facilitating training, Graham said.
Currently,wrestling and water polo are the only other self-funded sport programs at the University.
“As an alumnus of this program, the team meant a lot to us,” Graham said. “When we look back at the history of it, we remember when the program went through a period of success. The program took quite a hit in the last 20 years.”
Graham further noted that concrete conversations about commemorating the history of the team have not yet began.
"We've had a lot of camaraderie and sportsmanship that we will continue to honor. But it would've been much more exciting to watch that commemoration happening out on the field," Graham said.
Wrestling was the last sport to be administratively terminated in the 1980s. However, the sport was brought back after petitions from the community.