My linebacker soulmate, #51, (also known as Pete Machacek) wrote a Facebook post this past Saturday suggesting that Carleton leave the MIAC in football and join a conference whose members have similar athletic goals to Carleton. I’m sure he wrote the post in response to Carleton’s loss in football to Macalester this past Saturday. Macalester beat Carleton, 30-23. I was at that game with my Dad and nephew. We watched the game with three other Carleton football alumni. The game was close. I think Carleton should have won. The teams are evenly matched. If Carleton played Macalester ten times they would probably each win five.
An extended conversation about Carleton football broke out on Pete’s Facebook page. It’s worth reading. Check it out at: https://www.facebook.com/pmachacek1
I’ve been a Carleton football fanatic (yes, Carleton football fanatics do exist) ever since Bob Sullivan (Sully) asked me on my recruiting visit to attend Carleton in February 1982. I played there for four years; captained the team with two others my senior year; had personal success (all-conference my senior year) and success as a team my senior year (we went 4-5 in the conference and beat St. Olaf, starting a streak of beating them ten of the next eleven seasons). Our 1985 team started a streak where Carleton was five hundred or above in eight of nine years. I go to football games every year, I scream my lungs out at every game and care a lot about who wins.
Carleton moved from the Midwest Conference to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) in the 1983-1984 school year. When Sully recruited me he sold me on the excitement and challenge of playing in that conference. I bought into his argument. When I played at Carleton I was completely sold on playing in the MIAC. The biggest challenge in my mind at the time was depth. We had approximately 70 players on our roster. Many of the teams we played had over a hundred players. Today some of the top teams in the MIAC have over two hundred players.
The question of whether Carleton belongs in the MIAC has always been part of the culture of Carleton athletics. During my senior year at Carleton I wrote an article for the Carleton Observer entitled something like, “The move to the MIAC: a three-year review.” I argued then that Carleton can compete successfully in football; just as I believe that it is possible now for Carleton to compete successfully in football in the MIAC.
Carleton has had success in football in the MIAC. We won the conference in 1992; we were one last-minute drive from winning the conference in 2009. We’ve had long stretches of success.
But the last few years have not been kind to Carleton football—in fact they have been brutal. Since the 2009 season Carleton has won nine MIAC games—that’s nine wins in seven seasons. The only teams Carleton has beaten since 2009 in the MIAC are Hamline, Augsburg, and St. Olaf. The last two years Carleton has suffered embarrassing losses to St. Thomas and St. Johns. Carleton lost 80-3 in 2015 and 83-7 in 2014 to St. Thomas. Carleton lost 56-0 in 2015 and 52-3 in 2014 to St. Johns.
The ascendance of St. Thomas in athletics has led some people to argue that Carleton should find a conference with schools who share similar values towards athletics. The success of St. Thomas in athletics has been well-documented. One recent article is here: http://www.startribune.com/st-thomas-is-dominating-the-miac-as-never-before/380666931/
Patrick Reusse wrote an article on the ascendance of St. Thomas after they played in the championship game in football last season. http://www.startribune.com/tommies-rest-of-miac-have-same-challenge-they-have-to-get-better/363026221/
Macalester left the MIAC in football in 2001. I don’t know why they did, but they were not having much success in football. Since Carleton is similar to Macalester in many ways, the question comes up, Should Carleton leave the MIAC too?
Carleton has had success in other sports in the MIAC. The basketball team frequently makes the playoffs; the tennis team competes for championships, the track team frequently has individual champions. Baseball hasn’t been great, but they were competitive last year.
I don’t want to see Carleton leave the MIAC, but I don’t want to see us win nine conference games in football in seven years. It’s not fair to the athletes who compete to ask them to play when they have literally no chance to win a championship. I don’t expect Carleton to win the MIAC every year in football; however if Carleton is going to compete, Carleton has to compete with an expectation of winning.
A lot of goals exist for the existence of an athletic program. In terms of athletic records for football I believe the goal should be to win the conference once or twice a decade, consistently finish in the upper-division, and dominate St. Olaf.
My ultimate point is the status quo at Carleton football is not acceptable. I don’t mean this as a dig at the coaching staff, the administration, or certainly the current players. I think Carleton’s recent lack of success is systemic. But something has to change. I don’t claim to have the answers, but I was taught at Carleton that asking the right questions will lead to the right answers. I have many questions, but I want to pose two. First, “If Carleton can be successful in academics, then why can’t we be successful in football.” And another question: “What does Carleton need to do to be successful in the MIAC?”
Somebody needs to have the answers.
Somebody needs to have the answers.