The Stanford football program is not Division I-A quality. It’s not fair to either coach Walt Harris or his players to ask them to go out every Saturday with no chance to win. Players are getting injured because they’re mismatched physically. The school administration must figure a way to get football players into school because the alternative, dropping down to Division I-AA or even II, presents too many problems.
Stanford has been through this before. In the late ’50s, in the school’s first drive to be the “Harvard of the West,” admission standards were raised significantly. One of theresults: The football team went 0-10. As the years went by, Stanford also discovered that the school was producing mostly middle managers, not captains of industry. Straight-A students are seldom innovators.
When John Ralston was hired as coach, he pushed for a more liberal admissions policy, including the right to bring in junior college transfers.
In time, that resulted in consecutive Rose Bowl triumphs.
And Hoover Tower did not fall.
It’s even more difficult for Stanford coaches now than in 1960 because the school is bringing in many more qualified students from other countries, raising already high admission standards. Mike Montgomery could not find enough academically and athletically qualified players to fill his scholarship allotment, which was a factor in his decision to go to the Warriors.
“That’s put tremendous pressure on the coaches,” said Bill Walsh, then the interim athletic director, when I talked to him in April. “We have some very good ones here, but even [baseball coach] Mark Marquess, who always has a good team, is having trouble winning games.”
The football team is in even more dire straits. The Cardinal are not only headed toward 0-12 but are losing games by wide margins. When the new stadium was built this season, some thought it was too small. But the 50,000-seat facility wasn’t even sold out for the opener against Navy. I went to the Stanford-Arizona game and guessed the “crowd” at about 20,000.
Stanford’s admission standards have always been high — perhaps the highest of any Division I-A school. When I’ve talked to football and basketball coaches, they’ve told me their recruiting list was much smaller than most schools. When Walsh coached at Stanford the second time, he said that even Notre Dame had only a handful of players he could have recruited. Montgomery told me that when he went to high school all-star games, he didn’t scout most of the players because they wouldn’t be academically qualified.
Nonetheless, coaches were able to find a recruiting niche, as an Ivy League-type school with a Division I-A athletic program, that enabled their teams to be competitive. Only seven seasons ago, Stanford made it to the Rose Bowl.
Achieving that kind of athletic success lent stature to the school. Great universities are not just a grouping of scholars.
Stanford’s overall athletic program is the largest and most successful in the country. But football gets the most attention. It is possible for the school to have a competitive football team again without compromising its academic integrity, by making a few changes, especially allowing community college transfers.
That’s up to the university’s administration. Right now, Stanford has a true Ivy League team, but the Pac-10 Conference is not the Ivy League. Unilateral disarmament doesn’t work.