Overmatched MSJ needs to step away
The woes of the Mount St. Joseph football team are many and the forfeiture of the game against Mount Anthony Saturday – the first time in the program's 79 years – is almost like piling on a ball carrier that is already down.
Clearly this is a season in hell for the MSJ football team, its coaches and fans.
MSJ stands at 0-5 and discounting the forfeit loss, the Mounties have been outscored 174-14 and that includes games where some of their opponents have been kind. Look down the schedule. It's not going to get any easier with Hartford, Spaulding and Rutland looming. It's got to be terrifically demoralizing.
Clearly, MSJ should not be playing in Division I.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. The Mountie squad is too small both in numbers and size to compete with teams like Essex, Brattleboro, Hartford and Rutland.
It's far too young, with nine freshmen and four sophomores listed on the printed roster of 24 players.
Football has evolved into a game where players need to put as much time in sub-varsity programs in order to develop their skills as in the weight room. Few freshmen will make an impact on a full-fledged varsity team, nor should they. The pace of the game is just too fast, the hits too hard and the aggression too great on the Division I level.
You hate to have a freshman or sophomore player sour on his football experience because he is simply not ready to play with the big boys, but forced to compete.
Still, MSJ made a choice this year to stick with Division I and whether it was ill-advised or not, the Mounties are stuck in that division for another year.
The Vermont Interscholastic Football League operates on a two-year cycle. Teams can change divisions, moving up or down, only every other year because each divisional schedule is made on a two-year basis.
Should the Mounties try to pull out of their Division I commitment, it would affect every team on their schedule by giving them an open date, which would be near impossible to fill. And where would MSJ go? The Division II and III alignments and schedules are also based on a two-year cycle and set.
You may ask why didn't the Vermont Principals Association, the body that governs interscholastic sports in Vermont, force MSJ to move down? According to Bob Johnson, the VPA's Director of Student Activities, the VPA can only suggest where a school should play.
Johnson said that he had discussed the prospect of MSJ moving out of Division I with representatives of the school in Montpelier and he thought that they had made considerable headway. But when Johnson heard from MSJ later on, they had changed their tune and decided to stay in Division I.
When you talk to MSJ coach Chip Forte about moving he remains adamant. He said that he put the question to his team and they wanted to stay in Division I. But is that something that should be brought up for vote? One serious injury, such as what happened to Spaulding player Derek Felix, and there would be big trouble for MSJ.
But all of that is immaterial. The decision was made, the die was cast.
So wither MSJ?
Well, it's not really productive to look back; you must look forward.
Yet the future doesn't appear to look very bright.
The population of the school is down; there are 53 boys and each year it seems to get smaller.
But there is opportunity and that is what must be emphasized.
The VPA has a member-to-member option where students from member high schools that don't offer a specific sport like football can play at another member school that offers it. There are rules – you can't go to Rutland or Essex – schools with huge football programs but a school like Winooski was the beneficiary of that program. The Spartans have suffered through seasons as miserable as MSJ's with low numbers and this year – fortified by new players from different schools – the Spartans are a competitive 3-1.
You can't tell me that there aren't kids in West Rutland or Proctor, or somewhere else, that might want to play football?
MSJ also has certain endowments where money is available for prospective students that might want to go to a small private school and perhaps play a little football.
But players don't appear magically. They need to be sold on the school and its programs. And that is up to players, alumni, friends and the administration. Coaches need to circulate and sell their programs. The administration needs to get behind and boost the sport. MSJ needs to be more proactive about what it has to offer.
There is no easy fix; it's going to take a Herculean effort and still it might not work out for MSJ football. But MSJ has got to try. The Mounties need to get through this season and next. Then hopefully do the right thing, swallow its pride, like Middlebury did this year, and move down, rebuild the numbers, restore its dignity and compete again on the gridiron.