Doug Wolter: West football is much too much to toss aside
If the powers at Minnesota West Community and Technical College are serious about eliminating football, a brilliant first step would be to suspend the program first, and then do the obligatory review later.
I would assert that a suspension-first philosophy puts the cart before the horse, effectively condemning the program before going to trial. It’s a “shoot first and ask questions later” tactic that places the football program in a situation nearly impossible to overcome. How are the Bluejays — who offer no scholarships — supposed to recruit talented athletes under such a cloud? And how long would it take the program to recover under such a scenario?
These are obviously troubling times for the football program. The possibility exists that football may be cut from Minnesota West extracurricular offerings, and frankly, if the ax fell now, the inevitable chorus of boos would be muted.
This is because on Oct. 26, following a state quarterfinal loss in Brainerd between Minnesota West and Central Lakes, a number of the Bluejays lost their cool. Let us just say there were “incidents” in the parking lot between some players and fans. There were accusations that players were being mocked by other players, that the Central Lakes players refused to shake hands. And one thing led to another.
We’re not going to get into a “we said, they said” argument here. Suffice to say that at least a few Minnesota West players behaved badly, there’s no excuse for it, and those who are guilty are deserving of punishment.
In response to the incidents, all of the West and Central Lakes programs were placed on probation by the Minnesota College Athletic Conference (MCAC). Appeals are scheduled to be heard on Dec. 3.
The bigger question is what might happen to the Minnesota West football program in general. Following the probationary action, college president Richard Shrubb proposed that the football program be suspended only, since it was the football program — and not the other athletic programs — that caused the black eye. In the meantime, a committee would be established to review the program. Such a review might be concluded next fall, or maybe longer.
In short, the Minnesota West football program is under fire. Important people are weighing it in the balance, and its very existence is at stake. Shrubb has asked for and received feedback from supporters and critics of the program.
It has been broached that there are several reasons to eliminate the program. For one, there is the Oct. 26 incident. Those who would like to see the program cut could parrot the words of former Obama administration insider Rahm Emanuel: “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” What better time to strike than now?
There are other considerations to make. The football program costs a lot of money, and the college would save much by getting rid of it. No argument there. There is no more expensive program in high school or college sports than football.
It has even been discussed, with a certain amount of distaste, that the Bluejays recruit too many players from too far away. Year in, year out, there are (supposedly) far too many players on the roster hailing from Florida and Texas and Michigan and not enough from Worthington, Jackson and Luverne, etc., etc.
Detractors say, too, that the Bluejays don’t attract enough fans — that there are too many bleachers going unfilled at home games for the program to merit much support.
Talk has surfaced that a soccer program could be started at Minnesota West. Well, yes, it could. It’s less expensive than football, though it’s hard to envision it enticing even half of the kind of spirited following football offers.
Taken piece by piece, the arguments against Bluejay football make sense. Yes, the Oct. 26 incident was embarrassing. And yes, think of the money the college could save by abandoning it now (all those decades of memories cherished, friendships forged, trophies won, lives transformed — they don’t really count for that much, do they?).
And why do we want so many players from Florida and Texas, anyway? They have no history with Worthington, so why should they care if, in a moment of passion, they despoil the college’s and the city’s reputation? Of course, most of them are fine, upstanding individuals, and only with their help can Minnesota West enjoy the kind of success it enjoyed in 2013 — a 6-3 record, and a major upset over the top-ranked Rochester Yellowjackets.
But, hey, by recruiting only from the immediate area, maybe we can avoid Oct. 26 incidents in the future. We’ll sport perennial 1-7 records, perhaps, but at least the local boys will be well-behaved.
Please pardon me a moment while I make my own observation …
I returned to Worthington to head the Daily Globe sports department this spring after seven years in Mankato, and I covered every West football home game in 2013. It’s true that there were empty seats. This is typically true of college athletics at this level, but I talked to many fans who absolutely adore their Saturday afternoons watching quality football. They like winning. They like watching the exciting players coach Jeff Linder recruits. They are “into it,” and the fact that more local fans aren’t “into it” is no indictment of the program itself.
There are many of us who appreciate — even hunger for — the opportunity to witness a higher level of football than high school football offers. They get to see it with Minnesota West, and if you never watched a player like Reuben Linton II twist, turn and glide into the end zone on a punt return or 56-yard rush from scrimmage, you most definitely missed something.
Finally, a word about Coach Linder and his assistants. They are top-notch. I applaud Linder for his passion for winning, his professionalism, and — yes — his caring yet fatherly way with his players. Of course he was embarrassed, as we all were, with what happened on Oct. 26. But I’ve watched him in practice, and in games, and he has consistently imparted to his recruits their need to behave as responsible young men. I believe many of them look up to Linder as a role model. Some of them let him down this year. Some of our own kids let us down sometimes, don’t they?
I’ve also spoken many times to the Bluejay players before and after — sometimes even during — games, on the sidelines. They were invariably respectful, even thankful that I cared enough to cover them. They called me “sir.” They answered all my questions, then thanked me for my articles. I met a few of their parents. They, too, were very friendly at all times. And they appreciated the fact that our college, our coaches, our community wanted them and their sons in their midst.
My own personal observation: Bluejay football has too long a positive history and affects too many people to throw it away. Football is still America’s favorite sport, and having college football in Worthington gives Worthington a quality form of entertainment that other cities in our region do not possess. It’s worth keeping.