When I was a freshman, Cornell football was 0-8 heading into a matchup in New York City against conference rival Columbia. Columbia was 0-8, too, and the teams would battle it out to determine who would avoid what was likely to be a winless season. Cornell won by three points and would finish the season a triumphant 1-9, one win better than its downstate rivals.
The following season, the Red would again post a record of 1-9, the lone victory coming against a familiar opponent (you guessed it, Columbia). In that game at Schoellkopf, Cornell prevailed in what was an abysmal game by a score of 3-0. Though that season it was the Lions who bested the Red in the overall standings, as Columbia finished a win better when it was all said and done.
Just two years later, Columbia, a team whose football stadium is over 100 blocks away from its campus, finds itself not winless but loss-less, and sits atop the Ivy League midway through October.
It’s been 27 years since Cornell’s last Ivy League title in 1990. Since then, every team except Cornell and Columbia have earned the hardware — in fact, all six of them have won it more than once since then — and it looks as though we could see an end to that this year, with the Lions on a rampage that features some star power on defense.
Cornell on the other hand has enjoyed no such improvement. Although let us give credit where credit is due, as beating Harvard is something even my beloved Cornell hockey team struggles with these days. After my recent column detailing the autumn woes that come along with fall sports at Cornell, I was met with some criticism. Most of it, online and otherwise, amounted to the same two themes: One, you don’t need football to have fun, and two, there are other sports worth watching. Both of these claims are valid, but people making them seem to be missing my point.
Beating Harvard was incredible and by no means should we detract from that accomplishment. But it somehow adds to the frustration. How can a team go out and knock off a conference powerhouse one week, and the next fail to entertain in the slightest on its home field, in a boring loss to a less than impressive non-conference opponent?
There are those who say the issue lies with recruiting, and that Ithaca being an unattractive place to live is what drives these inequities between Cornell and other members of the Ancient Eight — Ithaca being an unattractive place to live is itself a statement I take issue with, though this column will forego that conversation for the sake of the argument at hand.
The evidence, however, renders this explanation entirely inadequate when you consider Cornell’s ability to field top-of-the-conference talent in other sports like hockey, lacrosse and others. It is weakened even further given that Dartmouth, a school in rural New Hampshire, is more often than not able to sport a competitive football team.
Some turn to blame the coaching, and head coach David Archer ’05 is no stranger to criticism. I think it is true that Archer could be doing a better job, and he agrees with that sentiment. But his job is not so easy to begin with. He has little to work with, and although the recruiting responsibility largely falls on him, this is his first year coaching a team made up entirely of his own recruits. Time will provide a better metric for his coaching skills.
In a technical sense, the offense has been the biggest issue for Archer to manage. The passing game has been anemic, to put it lightly. Inconsistency at the wide receiver position has been the most glaring problem, hindered further by a season ending injury to freshman wideout Eric Gallman. This inconsistency, in turn, has caused junior quarterback Dalton Banks to be stranded in the pocket more often, leaving an inexperienced offensive line in a position to defend him for longer amounts of time.
With less time to throw the ball and even less places to throw it, Banks, who had a respectable first season as the starter last year, has been left unable to further develop this season and build on his success.
These issues that are plaguing the Red on the field do not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, and although the defense has looked impressive at times, it may not be enough to save the season this year.
Of course, I can have plenty of fun without a good football team, and I do, by the way. But nobody is asking for a nationally ranked program. The Ivy League is made of only eight teams. The conference was created for the purpose of standardizing conditions for athletics, particularly football. It should not be so difficult to ask that one of those eight teams, in this case Cornell, field an exciting team every once in awhile.
In 1988, following one of Cornell’s three Ivy League titles, the students in attendance at a sold out Schoellkopf stormed the field and carried the goal posts all the way to Collegetown in celebration. It is hard to imagine such a thing happening today, but the story nonetheless elicits a longing for a return to at least some kind of legitimacy.