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Football

On November 13, 2018, Earlham Interim President Avis Stewart announced that the College will suspend its football program for the 2019 season and has authorized a review of the football program.

We will essentially pause the football program for at least one year, giving the Football Review Committee (FRC) adequate time to address the feasibility of building a successful program. No decisions have been made about the long-term status of the football program. The committee will offer an assessment to the president, trustees, cabinet and athletic administration regarding the future of the football program.

The charge to the Football Review Committee is as follows: The FRC charge is to provide an overview of what is required to support a viable intercollegiate football program at Earlham College. This overview will include information regarding: the quality of the recruited football student-athlete experience; the health and safety risks for student-athletes who participate in the game of football; an approximation of the optimal number of recruited football student-athletes it requires to provide a competitive experience for those students at the NCAA Division III intercollegiate athletics level and the College’s ability to recruit and retain football student-athletes; the number of peer and aspiration colleges that continue to sponsor intercollegiate football; the number of peer and aspiration Quaker and historically Quaker colleges that continue to sponsor football; the programmatic and staffing costs it requires to adequately sponsor football as a competitive intercollegiate sport; and the impact football has on the diversity of the College's student body, its enrollment, and its net tuition revenue.

Earlham will assist with transfer requests from student-athletes who choose to continue their education elsewhere. Student-athletes who were primarily recruited to play football and remain at Earlham College but choose not to participate in NCAA intercollegiate athletics will have the opportunity to participate in experiential learning opportunities in the local community. (Note: If students choose to play another NCAA sport at Earlham, they cannot receive this additional benefit.) As an NCAA Division III school, we do not offer athletic scholarships. The financial aid packages for students participating in football will not be affected by this decision.

Earlham’s trustees, senior leadership and athletics administration have been very concerned about the football program for several years, with a particular focus on the health and safety of student-athletes. The College developed a Strategic Plan for football in 2015 that set specific benchmarks for the program. When the program failed to make progress toward those goals, the president and senior director of athletics consulted with Cabinet, faculty members of the Athletics Advisory Committee and the Board of Trustees, and then made the decision to suspend the program.

The plan was intended to help the football program gradually grow its roster toward optimal size. (Based on average roster sizes in the HCAC and NCAC conferences, the optimal roster size was identified as 90 players. Because of the historical struggles of the football program, coaches were given a more modest goal of 72 players, or 80 percent of the optimal roster size.) The plan called for roster growth from 45 players in 2016 to 50 in 2017 and 60 in 2018. The College assigned an additional athletics staff member to coordinate recruiting in 2016, and we were prepared to add another coach once the program reached a roster size of 50. Coaches were encouraged to recruit more regional and local players as well. Football coaches overran their recruitment budgets in 2016 and 2017, but the program did not attain its growth goals, and the roster has remained at 45 or fewer over the past four years.

Football student-athletes, like all recruited student-athletes were offered additional academic support through a seven-week course called Training for Academic Success. The associate director of athletics also met regularly with football players with G.P.A.s less than 3.0 to assist them with managing their academic schedules. Many football student-athletes have also benefitted from academic support services and special programming for first-generation college students. Generous alumni donors have also made gifts to improve the facilities available for football. Over the last decade, we added synthetic turf and lights to the stadium. We also added a new weight room and renovated the visitor locker room.

All 20 athletics programs are continually evaluated. We have set benchmarks (for enrollment and retention) for each program. All of them, except for football, have made steady progress towards those goals (though it is fair to say our men’s and women’s lacrosse programs, which are brand new, are still developing). Football also poses particular health and safety risks to players on a team with small rosters. In recent years, the program has struggled to attract student-athletes who were specifically recruited to play football, and rosters have remained unacceptably small.

Finances are certainly a concern, especially since football has overrun its budget the past three years. The College's broader budgetary challenges have led us to closely examine all our programs, and in the case of football, we need to determine what resources are necessary to give the program the opportunity to succeed. We decided that it would be best to pause the program while we determine if we can raise restricted funds to support the program including staffing, programmatic and maintenance needs, until the program becomes self-sustaining and can contribute positively to the College’s revenue goals. (Note: As widely reported elsewhere, the College has had significant budget deficits for the past several years. Earlham is currently engaged in a campus-wide effort to create a more sustainable operating budget.)

The Office of Institutional Advancement has already begun planning a four-month fundraising effort to secure the necessary funds to support the football program. The $900,000 goal (in gifts and pledges) will be used for staffing, programmatic, and maintenance needs. Individuals interested in supporting the football program should contact the institutional advancement office at development@earlham.edu for additional details.

Darrell Beane Stadium will continue to be used for men’s and women’s track and field, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and field hockey. It was always our plan to use this facility for multiple purposes, and the donors who made gifts to support improvements to the stadium were supportive of this plan.

We will remain in good standing with the HCAC. However, the impact on HCAC football schedules will create a gap in their football schedules for at least the 2019 season. We have no plans to change athletic conferences. Our move to the HCAC has allowed us to compete against schools that are closer in size (and size of athletics budget) to us. Since joining the HCAC in 2010, Earlham has won championships or qualified for post-season play in baseball, women’s basketball, men’s tennis, women’s tennis, men's soccer, women’s soccer and volleyball.

This decision was made by Avis Stewart, interim president, in consultation with Julie Kline, senior director of athletics, the Cabinet, faculty athletics liaisons and the Board of Trustees. The board includes several members who are former football student-athletes, and others who have a background in athletics. The College expects continued engagement with students, faculty, staff and alumni before deciding on a future direction of the program.

The FRC has created a survey tool to gather feedback from students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. They will review all the responses they receive, and take them into account as they advise College leadership.