I was forced to finally greet the biting cold that accompanies northeastern fall on Saturday, when I watched the Columbia Lions fall to 0-10 at Baker Field. Clothed in a jacket that was too thin, I watched as the story unfolded in a way that was all too familiar. Against listless Lions, Brown’s offense devoured yards swiftly, throwing points on the scoreboard and eliciting collective groans from the few Columbia fans attending the game.
This is a pattern that has endured for years. It began this year with a thrashing by nearby Fordham, and the rest of this season has been no different. At Homecoming, throngs of rowdy students—myself included—watched as Penn triumphed. Brown’s sending off Saturday was the final blow in the dreary saga.
The Lions’ 10th and final loss of the season comes at an awkward time. Hours before the game against Brown, the New York Times ran a piece on the current situation of the Columbia football program. The article, written by former Columbia athlete Juliet Macur, begins with a bevy of dismal statistics. Perhaps the most startling fact is that over the past 50 years, the Lions have had only three winning seasons. Macur goes on to describe members of the football team as a combination of masochistic and optimistic, waking up early for grueling practice sessions for few immediate rewards. I agree with Macur on this point—Columbia football players exert tremendous effort for a program that experiences limited success. I also agree that a move like firing Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy should be discouraged. There exists a tendency in social organizations to target the higher-ups in management when things are not going as planned. More often than not, effective solutions are glossed over in favor of repetitive knee-jerk reactions (like firing the manager) that extend the problem.
But this is where my agreement ends. Organizational inner-workings aside, Macur changes the focus of the article when questioning the priority of turning around the football program. This sort of mentality is echoed in a Spectrum article from years past that commented on Homecoming. In the piece, Bart Lopez writes that “Homecoming weekend hurt more than it helped.”
An interesting similarity between Lopez’s and Macur’s articles is that both use self-interest to explain why anyone still even bothers experiencing the football program. Macur refers to the remarkable job prospects open to football players, and Lopez suggests the only reason people showed up to Homecoming is for the large amount of free merchandise available to attending students.
That mentality is what needs to change.
While I don’t outright disagree with the previous statements by Macur and Lopez, both authors are, in essence, claiming that individual gains and interests are what carry the football program and its attendees. This type of thinking is pervasive. So what if the Lions can’t win a game, so long as players get jobs and students receive free water bottles? The short answer: There’s no fun in that. Though there are obviously more reasons, having a large portion of the student body come together in one spot watching the same spectacle is enjoyable and captivating. It helps fill the void created by a school spirit that is mostly dormant. What’s more, as an enduring fan of various other athletic teams and a casual athlete, there is something undoubtedly uplifting about the unifying connection between a team and its audience. In that moment, personal interests refreshingly dissolve for a time, as everyone’s focus converges.
Toward the end of the article, Macur writes: “At Columbia there is always hope for the good old days, even if they have been few and far between.” Yes, that may be true, but the comment implies that a dramatic turnaround is unlikely to happen. The motivation is there. If we as a student body didn’t care about the football program, we wouldn’t continue to complain about dismal seasons from within the borders of campus, far away from an expensive athletic compound nearly devoid of supporters.
And honestly, I don’t know how to reinvigorate that dormant potential. But before any solutions can be found, the notion that individual gains like future job prospects and free T-shirts will remedy disappointment within and outside the football program must be dismissed.
Lucas Macha is a Columbia College first-year. Macha Man runs alternate Mondays.
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