A Magical, Almost Perfect, Season
Once you embark on a path, although you may have some fun and heartbreak along the way, among the most compelling questions you can consider is: "How will that journey, as all must, end?" All our journeys, great and small, will end, though the how is often within our control.
I am reminded of a recent trip to Las Vegas. After some 20 minutes of observing a row of one-armed bandits, each with its colorful blinking lights enticingly winking at me, I made my choice. As I slowly approached it with my roll of quarters in hand, my pulse quickened with anticipation. One quarter, two quarters, three, then four. Wham! The bandit rewarded me with the pleasant sound of falling coins into its collection tray: $5.00. I immediately quit. I could not construct a reason to continue. My journey was successful and complete; I had made 400% on my money.
Throughout the early fall of 2014, I played golf most Sundays with a standing foursome. At some point within each round, the latest exploits of MIT's football team became the focus of our conversation, victory upon victory. We hence agreed to meet as a foursome at the October 25th game; undefeated Western New England University (WNE) would travel east to meet the undefeated MIT Engineers.
MIT's remarkable 2014 football journey is what I really want to call to mind here, but before I continue, I shall explore a few of my thoughts about (male) American football. By most measures, football is the favorite sport in the United States.
Football: Its Art, Discipline, Beauty, and Management
As a youngster, I witnessed the Baltimore Colts' distillation of the sideline timing pass (during which a receiver heads downfield; the quarterback throws the ball towards a point along a sideline; without looking at either the quarterback or the airborne ball, the wide receiver cuts towards that same sideline; the ball and the receiver arrive simultaneously at the same sideline location, completing a reception); the Green Bay Packers’ perfection of the sweep (considered by many to be the most famous running play in the history of football); and the rushing of Jim Brown, the greatest running back in the history of the National Football League (NFL). Today's sport of football at all levels is an evolution of the achievements of those icons.
Professional football displays a beauty of coordination, complexity, strategy, power, agility, and speed that is unmatched by any sport. Much of this awe-inspiring beauty cannot be seen by a novice without the benefit of slow motion video.
I want to focus on collegiate football, initially on the Division III level (where students are not awarded scholarships to play) and then on the Division I level (where students are awarded scholarships to play and media networks pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year to regulating associations, colleges, and universities to broadcast the games). (Division II is intermediate, permitting athletes to finance their collegiate studies with a combination of educational and athletic scholarships.) At each level of college football, the game can be a vehicle for binding together all sorts of communities, united by academic, alumni, municipal, statewide, and national affiliations.
At the Division III level, the game is generally less powerful, with less speed, and thus ideally fewer injuries, than in the other collegiate divisions and the professional leagues. Nonetheless, the Division III game remains an entertaining exhibition to watch and can be a deeply educational experience to play.
Football is the ultimate team sport and is defined by a complex set of rules governing primarily the physical opposing actions of two 11-man squads (and their reserves) on a field of play. An excellent team will quickly identify a weakness in an opponent and exploit it until it is repaired. To play football, dozens of young men – often of different ethnicities and backgrounds, radically different sizes and shapes, and diverse ranges of strengths and dexterities – must come together on a coordinated team, as they confront and overcome adversity together.
On an 11-man offensive squad, a single player's failure of his assignment can lead to a devastating loss of field position for his team; on an 11-man defensive squad, a single player's momentary miscue can lead to an opponent's score. To be a successful player, one must possess a short memory – to dwell on the humiliation of a missed tackle or a blocked pass that resulted in an opponent’s minor success just seconds earlier can lead to a subsequent lapse of responsibility, resulting in a disastrous mistake and a defeat of one's team. For sure, every man has his individual assignment, but football is about team.
What could be more educational?
As I shall discuss below, I believe the governing National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has been negligent in ensuring fair play in Division III football competition. (Although I have specific recommendations for better ensuring fairness, I shall not discuss those suggestions here.) On the other hand and to its credit, the NCAA has begun to ramp up safety measures, perhaps most notably through penalties, including ejection from a game, against players who strike opponents above their shoulders with elbows, fists, forearms, and especially helmet-to-helmet collisions. And, as stated in my closing remarks, I am in agreement with the NCAA’s philosophy that intercollegiate athletics between Division III institutions should “Give primary emphasis to regional in-season competition and conference championships.” [2014-15 NCAA Division III Manual, pp. 264, P.O. Box 6222, Indianapolis, IN, 46206-6222, August 2014.]
Turning to the Division I level, the same individual and team concepts and goals apply, but the players are generally stronger and faster than in the other college divisions. Division I colleges attract many of the top amateur athletes in the United States, and beyond. These amateur athletes are sometimes identified as early as the 8th or 9th grades, then later as high school juniors and seniors they are nationally ranked, typically from 1 to 300, followed by intense recruitment by colleges and universities. Nowadays, even the announcement of a top prospect’s choice of college is often televised. As collegians, these student-athletes are supervised year-round through weight and conditioning programs, and they often participate in "spring football” and summer camps.
A couple of generations ago, playing in one of about 8-to-10 post-regular-season bowl games was an acknowledgment of excellence within Division I football, usually indicated by a superior won-lost record or a major conference title. The Division I football bowl season was focused around New Year's Day. Today, the Division I football bowl season has become an extended postseason, with the 2014 bowl season beginning on December 20, 2014 and lasting until January 12, 2015.
There are currently about 120 Division I football programs, and the 2014 postseason number of bowls has been pumped up to about 39 plus three all-star games. These numbers ensure that more than 70 of the Division I colleges receive bowl bids. A further consequence is that in recent years, some bowl-bound colleges have only mediocre 6-6 (or currently even worse) regular season records, while other colleges decline outright all bowl bids. In any case, it is important to note that the postseason involves multiple games in the format of playoffs for only four teams, as the remaining Division I bowl-bound teams play only a single game.
So, why has the number of college football bowls expanded so strikingly? Money. Division I college football is much about money. (The top coaches are paid more than $5,000,000 per year.)
Television contracts and the use of "naming rights" have become the sources of the money for a growing number of otherwise meaningless bowl games. For example, among many, the Peach Bowl became the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the Orange Bowl became the Capital One Orange Bowl, the Cotton Bowl became the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl became the Vizio Fiesta Bowl, the Sugar Bowl became the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and the Rose Bowl became the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual.
Thus, many football fans are turning away from a nonsensical overload of bowl expansion, as both attendance and television viewing rates of bowl games decline.
But who will speak for the young men who are assuredly exposed to more injuries by the expansion of postseason football, which, except for the money, is largely aimless?
The One and Only
If you are a first-year undergraduate and want to study economics, linguistics, literature, political science, urban studies and planning, or writing at MIT, you must nevertheless take – or, perhaps I should say be grateful for the opportunity to take – freshman biology, calculus, chemistry, and physics alongside some of the world's future top engineers, mathematicians, and scientists. There are no “basket-weaving” subject offerings or scholarships for jocks at MIT.
Thus, the task of finding enough students to play competitive intercollegiate football at MIT is immense. Even so, one of the distinctions of the Institute's undergraduate population is that this body of students is also the same pool that has produced the largest number of Division III Academic All-Americans in the history of collegiate athletics. [In fact, my former research student (SB, SM, PhD) in 1979-80 became MIT's first Academic All-American.]
I suggest that anyone who has not visited the MIT Athletics homepage do so. Whatever positive feelings you may already have for our undergraduates, your respect for them will grow after visiting the MIT Athletics homepage. You may also better understand why during my years as a student and faculty member, I have attended hundreds of intercollegiate athletic events involving MIT undergraduates and I competed on dozens of intramural athletic teams (until I broke my leg playing softball for the New West Campus Houses in 1982).
I often write about our undergraduates who need to hear more often how much the faculty and administration enjoy observing their growth and want to support them in achieving their goals. Last month, I was chatting in the corridor – where many, if not most, important conversations occur at MIT – with a colleague who was so pleased with the dedication and intellectual development of the undergraduates in a demanding disciplinary subject in Mechanical Engineering. Last year, I wrote the following to a senior administrator, in response to a speech he gave: "In the daily hustle and bustle of MIT, our students' global perspectives, capabilities, and potential impacts can be easily submerged, and occasionally even lost. Thus, daring to positively change the world becomes an important message for them to hear . . . ." Our students are too sophisticated to be enamored with false compliments but, in what is too frequently MIT's no-praise culture, they need to hear the faculty's and administration's applause when they have earned it.
As the first housemaster of New House in the late 1970s, I witnessed several uniquely memorable events in MIT's history.
Throughout weekends during that period, oversized – and I do mean oversized – audio speakers in Burton-Connor and elsewhere along Dorm Row bathed Briggs Field in Chuck Mangione's "Feel So Good."
In 1978, the MIT Football Club was founded and joined the National Club Football Conference, with the team ultimately becoming a varsity program and a member of the NCAA Division III in 1987.
The MIT Marching Band was also formed in 1978. Although I never saw more than six or seven members at any single time, I found them to be musically skillful and cleverly resourceful as I observed them practicing on Briggs Field. The band had no uniforms, and several of its members bristled at The Tech's characterizations that they constituted a "spoof," employed "haphazard formations," and that their sundry shirts, shorts, and bell-bottom jeans were "random costumes." Nevertheless, applying both Gaussian and Lévy distributions, I tried to write a manuscript using statistical analysis to describe the band's marching formations, but my assumption of ergodicity was too constraining.
On Saturday, October 28, 1978, the MIT Football Club played, but lost, its only home game that year. (Actually, the team lost all its games that year.) The game also served as a campus-unifying Homecoming during which the MIT Marching Band performed. Another highlight of that festive day was the appearance of the reigning UMOC (Ugliest Man on Campus) who, as the Homecoming Queen, rode into Henry Steinbrenner Stadium on his "chariot" (a decaying flatbed covered with cardboard, depicting the urging "Go Tech"), waggling his "scepter" (a wooden walking cane), and bedecked in the queen’s pink cape and "crown" (part of a milk carton). I must confess: I adored him then and I have never forgotten him.
In 1978, MIT's student body was at its sui generis best!
October 25, 2014: The Magical Season Takes Hold
From the spectator stands on the north side of Henry Steinbrenner Stadium – there are no stands on the south side of the Stadium but there should be, as well as an updated press box, scoreboard with a modern video screen for playbacks, refreshments stand . . . – the towers of the Boston skyline rose above McCormick Hall and Baker House. The cloudless flat sky gave the appearance that anyone on the roof of McCormick could touch at arm's length the Hancock Tower and anyone on the roof of Baker could simply reach out and touch the Prudential Tower. The game's start time of 6 PM was ideal for the setting Sun to highlight the Boston skyline in tones of golden tangerine.
I was with my golfing buddies and the spouse of one of them. About a dozen current MIT students and recent graduates who were seated several rows in front of me at the beginning of the game gravitated toward me during the game. I would learn that at least one of them had studied from my dynamics textbook and that others had noticed my Brass Rat, which I had chosen to wear for the first time in some 20 years. As they left briefly for drinks and food, each time upon returning they would move a row closer to me until a steady conversation sprouted. They were relaxed, delightfully subtle, and respectfully reserved. We compared class rings – many people are unaware that each MIT class's ring is different – chatted about their MIT experiences and goals, and with a wry smile I asked humorously leading and pointed questions of another whose parents I've known for years.
The football combatants were the only two undefeated teams in the New England Football Conference (NEFC): Western New England (6-0) and MIT (5-0). Throughout the game, MIT's quarterback, possessing a Division I arm and instincts, and MIT’s halfback, capable of Division I bursts of speed, were at their best. In a highly entertaining, back-and-forth battle, MIT was leading at 35-28 as the fourth quarter wound down. Then, with 42 seconds remaining, Western New England scored a touchdown, bringing the score to 35-34, with a cocksure extra point in the offing to send the game into overtime.
Suddenly, two male students sitting a few rows in front of me said "Block that kick." Their encouragement to the MIT team immediately seemed like a good idea to me, so I stood up and joined them: "Block that kick!" Within another round of the shouting of the urging, a dozen people were whooping, then several dozen, and then what seemed like the entire MIT fan base – students, cheerleaders, faculty, alumni, parents, other relatives and visitors, two dogs with long flapping tongues deliriously running around in a circle in front of the stands; all of us, roaring – BLOCK THAT KICK! Then, the WNE center snapped the ball, and so it was: The extra-point kick was blocked. Many of us looked around at each other like six-year-old kids who had just witnessed a great feat of sorcery. Indeed, the undefeated MIT football season had entered the day as perfect; by evening, that perfect season had become magical.
I'm Concerned: Five Games?
Following the Western New England game, a unique and signature sweep of Endicott College, Maine Maritime Academy, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy took the MIT Engineers to a historic undefeated regular season at 9-0 and a first-ever championship of the New England Football Conference. MIT's prior best ever showing in the NEFC had been 4-3.
The national print and broadcast media erupted with stories of MIT's football success, as MIT rolled into its first-ever appearance in the playoffs for the NCAA Division III Football Championship. I, too, was caught up in the national clamor, but when I learned that the playoffs consisted of a five-game, five-week-long, single-elimination tournament, I became concerned.
During the final game of the regular season against the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, with little effort, I was introduced to families and friends of MIT football players who had traveled from around the U.S. Seated within a row of me, I met family members from Colorado, Minnesota, and Oregon. Our interactions and chatty conversations were pleasant, but I could not convince them of the lamentable aspects of the extended playoffs. Still, I remained uneasy about MIT's forthcoming playoffs that, if the team continued to win, could reach five games – more than 50% of the regular season would be added onto a completed regular season, comprising a postseason that would be five times as long as the postseasons of nearly every Division I football program.
Was MIT's philosophy of academics-and-athletics being stretched and flipped upside-down by participation in the playoffs? A brief viewing of the 2014 playoff schedule commingled with MIT's academic calendar, for games that would require multiple hours of bus riding and some overnight trips for the MIT football team, should illustrate a portion of my concern:
* Playoff Game No. 1: November 22
The scheduling of the NCAA Division III Football Championship playoffs not only forced the loss of Thanksgiving with families and hometown visits, but also indicated a potentially major interruption of academic time during final exams. MIT football players, if they continued to win, were facing dismaying personal and academic disruptions. Missed classes, late assignments, and make-up exams would place unprecedented burdens on students and professors who might feel obliged to create alternative assignments and examinations.
Would the athletic tail be required to wag the academic dog? Many people not aware of MIT's academic intensity might wonder what's the problem; many people on campus would shudder at the crushing burden on the team in MIT's academic pressure cooker. Could cheering members of our campus and fans elsewhere have foreseen such a burden?
Privately, I also could not shake the thought that the reward for each playoff victory would be an increasingly more talented and more physically imposing opponent, and an increased likelihood of injury. For the two weeks following the U.S. Coast Guard Academy victory, in muted expressions I repeatedly voiced my angst to my golfing buddies.
MIT's NCAA Division III Football Playoffs Begin
MIT's first game in the 2014 NCAA Division III Championship playoffs versus Husson University was a thriller in Bangor, Maine. In a fierce, seesaw donnybrook, dominated by defense, MIT's star linebacker ruled and roamed throughout the Engineers’ defensive squad, delivering disruption and torment to the Eagles all over the field.
Leading by a score of 17-14 late in the fourth quarter, MIT yielded a touchdown to an impressive 84-yard drive by Husson, giving the Eagles the lead at 20-17. Then, just like the magical ending in the Western New England game, MIT blocked the extra-point attempt, leaving the score at what would prove to be a crucial 20-17, in favor of Husson.
After an exchange of ball possession by each team and several judicious seconds-saving timeouts by MIT, the Engineers' final custody of the ball was at hand.
Trailing by a score of 20-17, with no timeouts, with just 48 seconds on the clock, and inside its own 30-yard line, MIT marched down the field using time-preserving sideline passes and quarterback spikes of the ball. Then, with 18 seconds remaining in regulation – it's a bit difficult to know the precise remaining time because the scoreboard clock had just broken, and the time was being kept on the field by a referee, most properly the side judge – (1) MIT completed a pass down to Husson's 21-yard line whereupon (2) the MIT field goal unit sprinted onto the field and (3) kicked a 38-yard field goal to tie the score, sending the battle into overtime.
That coordinated use of 18 seconds is the most outstanding example of coaching, preparation, and precise execution that I have ever witnessed in a collegiate football game, at any level.
In overtime, with the ball some 14 yards from the goal line, MIT's precision pass and spectacular touchdown reception – from the shotgun, the quarterback rotated leftward and faked a handoff to the scooting halfback as he carried out the fake into the left flat as both a potential blocker and receiver; while again facing the line of scrimmage, the quarterback slid two sidesteps to his left, dipped toward the ground and pirouettéd 270°, then ran nine steps toward the right-hand sideline, delivering the ball on the run toward the right-rear corner of the end zone but beyond the right-hand outer-bound sideline edge of the end zone; as the wide receiver, with his feet inbounds but much of his upper torso extending over the edge of the sideline of the end zone, pulled the ball in towards his body while securing the catch – were nearly anticlimactic in a 27-20 win, except that they elevated the Engineers' season record to an all-time notable 10-0 and marked the first NCAA playoff victory in MIT's football history.
MIT's NCAA Division III Football Playoffs End
Shortly after the completion of The Star-Spangled Banner, the Wesley College Wolverines were up by the score of 28-0. On one of the after-touchdown kickoffs, the MIT halfback, who had displayed quickness and grit throughout the season, especially during MIT's victory over Western New England, resolutely gathered himself and headed upfield. When he encountered the charging Wolverines' kickoff team, the MIT return specialist absorbed a numbing blow – the kind of hit that causes the fillings in one's teeth to ache – that seemed to destroy the starch in his spirit, though after slowly walking off the field, he stiffened and played on. He had exhibited a rare ingrained toughness.
At the line of scrimmage, other MIT running backs were treated equally harshly as the game proceeded, absorbing blow after numbing blow, quantitatively beyond any I had observed all season. The tenacity of Wesley's defensive linemen and blitzing linebackers did not permit MIT's quarterback a second or third option of receiver when he dropped back to pass, as he had so deftly and instinctively during the regular season. The quarterback was allowed a quick first option, if that, and then the choice of a sack or a scamper to a sideline.
I ached emotionally as I lamented the psychic and athletic humbling that our MIT players must have felt; but they valiantly played on. Though gaining only 11 yards in the third quarter, the MIT team began to generate a second wind of dignity and purpose. And, as the game unwound to a close with MIT driving down near the Wesley goal line, they sustained a quarterback sack. Even so, on fourth-and-long and still scoreless, they chose to go for a touchdown instead of a cinch, goose-egg canceling field goal. No score.
Especially in basketball and football, there is a subtle line of honor and grace between avoiding a loss and seeking a victory. Further, meaningless point-gathering is vulgar, likely to precipitate hard fouls and fistfights in professional sports. (Intently observe the players’ behavior during the final few seconds of an NBA or NFL game that is not close. Most fans simply see the players as, milling around, accepting the game’s result; but the players are, in fact, engaged in a ritualistic and mutual respect of a time-honored code, which among other things, detests the vulgarity of vain point-gathering.) MIT's display of class – in going for the touchdown though well within field goal range – was an affirmation of that code and so significant to me that the pain I had felt during the game was overcome by intense emotions of respect and pride. Game over: 59-0.
Defeat has its lessons. I was sad.
Within minutes of the end of the game, my admiration for the MIT football team yielded to a sense that the landscape of the playoff system called the NCAA Division III Football Championship was hugely uneven, and thus enormously unfair. I wanted to know more about the teams that were participating in those playoffs.
Who Are Those Footballers?
In preparation for the 2014 NFL draft, four Wesley College players were cited by ESPN analysts as NFL draft prospects. Though Wesley is one of the top Division III football programs, it did not have an undefeated 2014 regular season, and I do not believe it is one of the elite Division III football programs. On the other hand, the University of Mount Union, which had an undefeated 2014 regular season and which won games by delivering beatings of 75-0, 74-7, 67-0, 67-7, 63-0, . . . , is elite. In fact, except for the year 2004, Mount Union has been in every NCAA Division III Championship final playoff game since 2000.
In a football game with such hugely unequal scores as just cited, the winning team does not simply defeat the losing team; the loser often takes a psychological and physical beating and faces a recovery period of days or weeks or longer. Football is different from nearly all other team sports in that lopsided competition often involves both a psychological and a physical beating.
The best of the elite Division III football players are likely looking forward to prospective NFL occupations – not engineering, management, or science careers, perhaps as future corporate executives, entrepreneurs, or academicians.
For example, former Mount Union players who are currently on 53-man active NFL rosters (with their 2014 salaries and teams) include Kyle Miller ($480,000 with the Atlanta Falcons), Cecil Shorts ($739,383 with the Jacksonville Jaguars), and Pierre Garçon ($5,600,000 with the Washington Redskins), not to mention Mount Union alumni among the ~250 players on NFL practice squads. (If the reader responds better to photographs than text, take a look at four recent Mount Union players who signed free-agent NFL contracts.)
And, just in case you are wondering, Mount Union has played Wesley only four times (initially in 2009 and all in the Division III playoffs), winning all four games. In fact, on December 13, 2014 in a semifinal game of the Division III football playoffs, after three quarters, Mount Union led Wesley by the score of 70-0 and then chose to use large-scale substitutions of its reserves, ultimately winning by 70-21.
If MIT had defeated Wesley and continued to win, it would have likely met Mount Union in the draw of the 2014 football playoffs.
By What Rules?
During the 2014 football season, MIT's team nominally practiced during an Institute activities period from 5 to 7 PM each weekday. Having read the 2014-15 NCAA Division III Manual’s bylaws governing football activities, such as permissible hours of in-season practice, I believe MIT’s compliance with those bylaws has been exemplary and securely within MIT's philosophy of student-athlete; that is, student:first-athlete:second. Further, the other Division III colleges and universities that have been mentioned above do not appear to be in violation of the NCAA bylaws governing in-season practice. So, there appears to be no “bylaws" scandal on the matter of in-season practice.
The primary reason for this apparently broad compliance, however, is that the NCAA bylaws are disturbingly lax on the question of in-season practice hours, permitting practices six days per week with effectively no additional quantitative constraints. Thus, there is a leniency that produces both (i) broad compliance due to a lack of quantitative guidelines and (ii) an uneven playing field due to the fact that protracted football practices are academically undesirable for undergraduates who take seriously the responsibilities of being both a student and an athlete. So, in essence, there exists a six-day per week chaotic free-for-all. Thus, according to the NCAA bylaws, the cumulative weekly in-season football practice hours for Division III programs could resemble anything from the equivalent of a long day to a long week, where the quantitative measure of a long week was cited earlier in the NLRB Division I unionization case.
Although no athletic scholarships may be awarded to play football, permissible full “cost of attendance” under NCAA Division III bylaws includes a broad range of financial assistance including, for example, employment, gifts, grants, other scholarships, professional sports stipends, tuition waivers, and welfare.
Moreover and of crowning significance, the fundamental de jure and de facto questions concerning the eligibility of a specific college or university for competing under the Division III classification need to be clearly asked and clearly answered. The NCAA's current definitions and rules regarding these questions are so generic and devoid of specifics that they are virtually useless.
On December 19, 2014 – both the last day of MIT’s final exams and the day of the finals of the Division III football playoffs – the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater won the NCAA Division III Football Championship by defeating the University of Mount Union, 43-34. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater has an undergraduate enrollment of about 11,000 and is a member of the University of Wisconsin System. (Recall that the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a Division I football program and on December 6, 2014 played The Ohio State University for the Big Ten Football Championship.)
There are about 245 Division III varsity football programs in the United States. Notably, in the concluding games of the past decade for the NCAA Division III Football Championship, 9 out of 10 of those playoff finals were contested between the University of Mount Union and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. And, by the way, that “1” remaining playoff final was won by Mount Union.
And this is all being done out in the open!
Let Our Students Define Their Journey
MIT's 2014 football season was historic in so many ways: first undefeated regular season; first-time champion of the New England Football Conference, first-time invitation to the playoffs of NCAA Division III Football Championship, and first-time victory in those playoffs. Consequently, the team earned a lot of hardware and awards. A few of the notable awards include: Two academic All-Americans and a first-team All-American; NEFC offensive player of the year, NEFC senior scholar-athlete of the year, NEFC offensive lineman of the year, and NEFC defensive rookie of the year; nine additional students won All-NEFC position acknowledgment (including a dominant linebacker and an impressively reliable placekicker); four honorable mention All-Americans; and NEFC coach of the year, Region 1 coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association, as well as the New England Football Writers College Division Coach of the Year Award.
The team also earned immense respect and admiration from thousands of MIT students, faculty, administrators, staff, and alumni. The team was classy and talented, tough-minded and well coached.
I shall always be grateful for the 2014 MIT football team and its coaches who gave this campus (and beyond) a magical season. Through their skills, dedication, resilience, and wizardry, they inspired and entertained fans across the country, though some of the media coverage – MIT football: 10-0, at one point – was in the novelty category of man-bites-dog. I shall continue to support our athletic teams, as I hold on to the dream that our football team will someday earn another undefeated regular season, and far more, in health and happiness. The 2014 season will not be easy to repeat. That football team was rich in experienced senior all-star leadership, so any expectations of a repeat or improvement on the 2014 record should be undertaken prudently.
During the MIT-Wesley College game, I was upset by some of the physical (and psychological) blows delivered to MIT players. Yet, by the end of that game, I had gathered myself to an even deeper respect for the MIT players due to the pride and toughness I witnessed in them. But, I have not, cannot, forget the grievously uneven terrain on which they competed.
These are my students – literally and figuratively – even though I have never met most of them. But I have met a number of them (a wide receiver, a defensive back, three offensive linemen, a defensive lineman, and a linebacker) who in 2012 were among the 150 students in a dynamics subject using my textbook and who by their rousing rock-star-like ovation of me gave me chills and moist eyes. I know them all metaphorically through my myriad lectures, tutorials, lunches, athletic competitions, advisements, supervisions, and collaborations. And, I want to believe that the next time any of them absorbs a blow on a football field, that hit will be delivered fairly and by a just competitor, not someone seeking scalps on his journey to playing football on Sunday television.
If the MIT football program were in my control, I would remain in the New England Football Conference, but I would decline to participate in the playoffs of the NCAA Division III Football Championship; at least, until the NCAA had made significant efforts toward fairness and continuing progress toward safety. But such control is not mine; I neither want it nor have I earned it. In my opinion, this is a decision that belongs to the students on MIT's football team, and I hope they will thoughtfully consider it. As an engineer who has studied forces for decades, I believe it is generally more satisfying to pull back than to be shoved back.
I hope the members of the MIT football team will be wary of any avenues that others have assigned for them, and recognize when they have arrived at the destinations they have sought along the paths they have chosen for themselves. MIT students have historically set their own goals and paths, many of which have been created and defined by their laid-back intelligence and mellow wit.
Perhaps the members of the MIT football team should choose a different path from their 2014 journey: A path with the possibility of a New England Football Conference championship, Thanksgiving with families and friends, and sufficient unhurried academic time for the intellectual reflection and achievements they contemplated when they chose to come to MIT.
Oh yes, if the cost and benefit are known, there will always be a jackpot that may be worth pursuing; but sometimes, 400% ain't bad.