Full speed ahead: Calumet College to start sprint football program in 2022
It was six years ago when Mike Avery first heard learned of a sprint football, a popular East Coast sport for smaller players.
"Cornell offered me the soccer job and they were showing me the facilities," Avery said. "There was the football stadium, then right next to it, there was another stadium. I asked them, what's that? They told me it was the sprint football stadium. I was like, what in the world is that? Out there, they've been playing it for 100 years."
As fate would have it, Avery is the Director of Athletics at Calumet College of St. Joseph, which recently approved the addition of the sport at school in Whiting. The Crimson Wave join Bellarmine University (Ky.), Fontbonne University (Mo.), Midway University (Ky.), Quincy University (Ill.) and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (Ind.) as charter members of the Midwest Sprint Football League (MSFL), which will begin play in the Fall of 2022.
"It's a unique fit," Avery said. "We live in a region, a part of the country, the Midwest, Northwest Indiana, Chicagoland, where football is really important. You look around, there are opportunities to go big time. You've got Notre Dame, the Big 10, Valpo's Division I, but outside of that, there's not a lot of opportunities at the college level. There's a lot of successful, really talented, they're just not big enough. The game is so dominated by size. This gives those kids a chance to play the sport they love while pursuing their degree."
The concept originated at the school's highest level as Dr. Amy McCormack, the Calumet College president, was contacted early in the year by Fontbonne President Nancy Blattner.
"She was involved with sprint football at a university on the east coast," Avery said. "They had great success in adding enrollment, adding another opportunity for students at the school. We've had conversations with our partner schools for a long time, but things moved very quickly from there."
Cal College is in the process of adding on-campus housing as part of its goal for the school to grow and the addition of the sports works hand in hand with that. The initial team is projected to have between 40 and 50 players.
"From the business end of it, we're demonstrating we have a plan in to fill that," Avery said. "It's right opportunity at the right time. We're the state's most diverse campus. We're at the footsteps of Gary, Hammond, East Chicago. We need to identify ways to grow that resonate with kids. Area athletes need this opportunity."
The Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL) has existed since 1934 and the addition of the separate Midwest Sprint Football League, with its own rules and championships, will represent the largest single-year expansion of the sport in nearly 90 years. The MSFL will operate independently of the school's NCAA or NAIA sports and affiliations, but it will be a scholarship-supported.
"The reality for most NCAA and NAIA football programs today is that relatively few of their players are a match for sprint football, given the emphasis of the NCAA and NAIA versions of the sport on strength, height and body weight," Josh Rabe, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics for Quincy University, said in a media release. "Many American men who are in their late teens and early twenties will qualify to play sprint football, especially if they are under six feet tall."
Avery has watched game video and is excited with the concept.
"The games are super exciting," he said. "They're tricky. There are stunts. You'll see a running back who looks home free and he'll get run down by the left tackle. It's hard-hitting, fast."
Calumet College spoke with numerous athletic directors and football coaches in the area and found them receptive to the idea.
"We were like, what do you think? would this work?" he said. "You could see them all identifying the kids on their rosters who are really good, athletic, dedicated. They're just not big enough."
The subject of adding football has been broached with the coaches of other sports at Cal College and Avery emphasized how it will be beneficial to them in the long run.
"When you add a sport, 50, 60, 70 students, it can change the whole face of the athletic department," he said. "They're a little nervous, but I told them, I coached (soccer) at Notre Dame, I coached at Louisville, I coached at Valparaiso. I understand they're fearing adding another sport, but it can also really help. We're a hidden little secret here. We have so many things going on. We just can't do other things we want to do unless we grow and identify sports that will help us grow."
The reality of the situation is that Cal College will be building the sport from scratch. It doesn't have a place to practice, a place to play, or even the necessary locker room space. Other than its gym, it has to rely on community facilities for its teams.
"There are a lot of questions that have to be answered," Avery said. "In the second phase of our dorm building, there is new space for athletics. We have a full year to help get everything in place. The more I dug into it, it's kind of scary. It's a lot of equipment, concussion protocols, risk management, but from a financial standpoint, I think it will be a great addition to the school. I like a challenge. Anybody who knows me knows I don't jump into anything small. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it pretty good."
The next step will be a coaching search that will begin next week with a position posting.
"We understand the people we may consider as a candidates are going to be involved in a high school, college season and they may not leave right away," Avery said. "It's our goal in the short term to identify them who would see this as the right place for them. There's a unique set of challenges and we have to find the person who will see those challenges as opportunities."