August 30, 2011

SPRINT FOOTBALL | Red Excels Despite Lack of Fan Support

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Amidst this modern era of NCAA infractions committed by the best and biggest collegiate teams across the country, it is refreshing to hear about student-athletes who are playing their sports legitimately and for the love of the game. Cornell’s sprint football team is a perfect example of what is right with collegiate sports.

Led by co-head coaches Terry Cullen and Bart Guccia, the team has been very competitive for the last six years, winning the Collegiate Sprint Football League in 2006 and finishing second in 2008 and 2010. Despite the Red’s success, the program receives little fan support from the student body.

“Our crowds are composed of our close friends and our parents, if they can make the trip,” said linebacker and tri-captain Tim Dooley. “We don’t really have that bigger crowd to provide motivation — it’s really about the team and trying to win it for each other.”

Despite the lack of fan attendance, the team does not harbor any bitterness. The players recognize that sprint football offers them the opportunity to do something they love.

“After high school, I thought my athletic career was going to be essentially over,” said wide receiver and tri-captain Tim Bruhn. “Looking at Cornell, one of the big things that drew me was … having an opportunity to participate in a football program.”

“The chance to play football at a competitive level was definitely one of the major reasons I chose to apply to and come to Cornell,” added Dooley.

The recruitment process for sprint football is very different compared to the heavyweight football programs across America.

“[The coaches] are not allowed to go off campus and recruit,” Guccia said. “So we recruit by email or [are contacted by] players through their coaches because they know about the program.”

This method of recruitment encourages interested recruits and their coaches to reach out to the Cornell program, which helps identify potential players who are both talented and willing to make the commitment to being part of the team. The sprint football squad also benefits from having a smaller roster, which allows the coaches to pay closer attention to the academic interests and talent of the recruits. Potential players are required to submit both their high school grades and SAT scores as well as football experience when attempting to make the team.

“We look at grades to make sure [potential recruits] have a chance to come to Cornell,” Guccia stated. “We’re looking for that type of student who can get in and also play [football]. All our kids have to get in on their own — we can’t give them any help during admissions.”

This emphasis on academics remains after the recruiting process is over. For the past 15 years, the sprint football team has boasted the highest GPA of any varsity team.

“There are a lot of members of the team who are really successful academically and the coaches really do focus on academics first and really do go out of their way to make sure you are a student before an athlete,” Bruhn said.

While maintaining its high academic standards, the team continues to field a competitive team in a very strong conference.

“It’s not the Ivy League,” Guccia explained. “It is basically just seven schools that have the sprint program and are all very competitive, especially the service academies, [Army and Navy]. We’ve committed to trying to be as competitive as we can and hopefully win a title.”

“Something I didn’t know coming [into sprint football] was just how well coached and how intense the team was,” Bruhn added. “The level of competition is really high and it’s a really good experience all around — it’s something that’s good to be a part of.”

The manner in which the league champion is named also adds to the competitiveness of every game. There is no playoff system, so the team with the best record during the regular season wins the title.

“A lot of times we’ve been hurt in really close games by little mistakes that have had a big impact on the game,” Dooley said.

In addition to the pressure of winning every game, the players must also worry about two weigh-ins each week. They must weigh in at less than 172 pounds on both Monday and Wednesday in order to play on Friday. At the end of the day, the players do not focus on the lack of fan support or the added stress of making weight. Ultimately the on-field performance is driven by a desire to win and a love of the game.

Original Author: Albert Liao