Princeton to discontinue sprint football program

April 11, 2016 6:15 p.m.

Princeton University has decided to discontinue its sprint football program, effective this spring. Princeton is one of only three Ivy League schools that offer the program, and sprint football is its only varsity team (out of 38) that plays in a league that is not associated either with the Ivy League or with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).  

"Sprint football has a long tradition at Princeton and alumni who have participated in the sport speak eloquently about the important contributions it made to their undergraduate experience," said Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber. "But in recent years serious questions have been raised about the safety of the sport as currently constituted at Princeton, the inability of Princeton teams to compete successfully, and changes that have taken place in the league in which it plays. 

"We regret having to take this action, but we do not believe we can sustain the program at a level that is safe for our students and meets the high standards we achieve in the rest of our varsity athletics program. We will do all we can to provide attractive alternative athletic opportunities for students who have been on the team, either on other varsity squads or as part of Princeton's very robust club program." 

Princeton's sprint football program began in 1934. The sport was initially known as 150-pound football, reflecting the weight limit for players (originally 150 pounds, but now 172 pounds). At Princeton the team includes no members who have been specifically recruited for the sport, and it frequently includes a substantial number of players who did not play football prior to coming to Princeton. 

Since its last league title in 1989, Princeton has had 18 winless seasons. Since its last league win in 1999 it has lost 106 consecutive league games, and over the last five seasons it has had to forfeit four times. 

A recent comprehensive review of the program by a committee and a group of advisors that included athletics staff, university administrators, athletic medical staff, coaches, and sprint football alumni concluded that maintaining the program in its current form creates an unacceptably high risk of injury and does not permit the team to aspire to the level of success that Princeton expects of all of its varsity programs. The assessment concluded that the only alternative to discontinuing the program was to recruit specifically for the sport either by adding to the total number of recruited athletes at Princeton or transferring recruited positions from other varsity teams. 

After extensive review, University officials concluded that it was not possible to increase the overall number of recruited athletes and that it could not transfer the number of positions needed to achieve appropriate levels of safety and competitiveness in the sprint program without jeopardizing the sports from which the positions would have to be taken. 

"Safety and competitiveness are important goals for us, and while not every Princeton team will win a title every year, we aim to provide every team with the players, the coaching, the facilities and the other resources they need to compete safely and to be competitive year in and year out," said Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux. "Our success is reflected in the fact that our teams have won more Ivy titles than any other school over the past several decades and many have competed successfully on the national level as well.

"We all regret the need to make this decision," Marcoux added. "I want to thank Coach Sean Morey for his exceptional leadership of the sprint football team in recent years, and express my admiration for the members of the team. We will do all we can to help them find other ways to continue to participate in Princeton athletics."   

Sprint football plays in a league that includes Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as Army, Navy, Chestnut Hill College, Franklin Pierce University, Mansfield University, and Post University. At some of those schools, sprint football is the only football program they offer.   

Marcoux and her colleagues will begin working on ways to commemorate the history of sprint football at Princeton and the student-athletes who have participated in this program over more than 80 years.