College of Idaho looks at bringing back football
Published: April 29,2012
The College of Idaho discontinued its football program in the late 1970s, about five years before Marty Holly was hired as athletic director. Even by the time he went to work for the state’s oldest private liberal arts college, the wound had not completely healed
“It was quite a traumatic event for the school, dropping football,” Holly said during an interview on campus.
At the time, it was necessary, he added, but that could be about to change.
College of Idaho officials have watched as Boise State University, roughly 30 miles east of the Caldwell campus, has turned into perennial Top 10 team.
They would like to see their school tap into some of the enthusiasm surrounding the Broncos by reviving their football program. The idea is College of Idaho could attract students who wouldn’t make the cut at Boise State or the University of Idaho in Moscow, but could thrive at a small college.
These student athletes are now going to places like Carroll College in Montana and Willamette University in Oregon, Holly said.
“They are all coming into our backyard and taking out smart kids that in my opinion should be staying home so their families can see them play,” he said.
The proposal to resurrect the college’s long-dead football program is being touted as a way to boost enrollment, fundraising and the school’s profile. As of June 30, the college’s endowment boasted a $96.8 million balance, officials said.
“Do we want it bigger? Yes,” Holly said. “Do we want more students? Yes. Do we want to tell our story so more people understand the quality that we are. Yes.”
The latest attempt to resuscitate Coyote football has advanced further than past efforts — but is being met with strong skepticism from some students who think the violence of the game doesn’t mix well with a liberal arts college that prides itself on academics.
The college has produced six Rhodes Scholars and is ranked among the nation’s 200 best liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report. It has about 1,000 students who pay an average of $22,000 a year in tuition.
“We have a really tight knit group here, and the bigger the school gets, I think the less that’s going to happen,” said 19-year-old freshman David Weatherby. He also questioned the need for football as a revenue generator for the college.
“It’s mind boggling to me that we’re really that poor,” he said.
Trustees are expected to vote on whether to reinstate football in early May. School officials aren’t releasing many details, such as how much startup funding they’ll need and where that money will come from, before the vote.
But Holly is optimistic. He and school President Marv Henberg plan to meet with Frontier Conference officials in June. The conference, which is in the NAIA Division, hasn’t extended a formal invite to the Idaho college but has offered a lot of encouragement, Holly said.
Student body president Amanda Frickle, 22, is among the dubious.
“People just didn’t want football players. I think that was the general concern, and then it evolved more into a criticism of the financial numbers … and just whether or not those were viable estimations,” she said.
Students now seem equally divided over the plan to bring football to the college, which requires most students to live on campus.
“I think it will help our school because if we don’t get the football team, they’re going to have to cut expenses somewhere else,” said senior Amanda Stearns, 22.
But freshman Maddie Hanhardt, 19, wonders why the school doesn’t take a closer look at existing programs.
“What we need to do is renovate existing programs and revamp what we already have,” she said.
Frickle is among campus representatives who will report to trustees before the vote, which will be conducted in a closed-door session.
“I think they should hold it off for a year,” Frickle said. “This may very well be a good thing. We don’t know because we don’t have enough information.”
School officials contend the time is now.
“There is a void that has never been here like it is now. There are so many talented, smart, young student athletes, that really have no place to go if they don’t want to go away,” Holly said.
The program, if reinstated, likely wouldn’t compete until 2014.
The goal is to bring in 90 players, though Holly estimates that number would quickly grow to 120. The football program will be under a microscope, he said, and the athletes will be expected to blend in academically and socially, while being held to same standards at the rest of the student body.
Holly said the college “will do everything possible so that our culture doesn’t change.”
The college would need a new locker room facility, with coaching offices and a weight room. School officials hope to partner with Caldwell to upgrade the city-owned Simplot Stadium, which was built in 1966 and seats less than 6,000.
The college’s original program started in 1917 and produced at least three NFL players, including Thomas Winbigler, who went to the Los Angeles Rams in 1950, and Joe Kahahawai, who was picked up by the Baltimore Colts in 1956, the same year R. C. Owens was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers.
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge also played for the Coyotes, which were 225-221 during the program’s history.
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