Harvard's intramural tackle football league has been trimmed from six teams to four this year. But the director of intramural athletics and several students who participate in the program say that the program is not in danger of folding.
Why has tackle football, traditionally one of the most popular intramurals, experienced such a decline?
Director of Intramural Athletics John Wentzell believes there are several reasons.
First, tackle football is a dangerous game. "Unlike other sports where you roll out of bed, tackle football takes preparation," Wentzell said.
During the first scrimmage this year, a player suffered a broken collar bone. "It's not a sport to be taken lightly," Wentzell added.
The increasing popularity of other sports--rugby and men's soccer, for instance--also has contributed to tackle football's decline. "The rise of soccer has paralled the decline in tackle football," Wentzell noted.
The change to co-education at Harvard, Wentzell believes, also affected tackle football. "When women were admitted, less men were available to play," he said.
"Some even suggest that the academics are more challenging now than they were several years ago," Wentzell said.
Other intramural sports such as men's soccer and ultimate frisbee can field a team from each house. But tackle football teams are now composed of players from several houses.
Most intramural teams, according to Wentzell, have 25 to 30 players. Last year, house football squads usually fielded 15 players, Wentzell said.
The decline of Harvard's intramural tackle football league is not an isolated phenomenon. Intramural tackle football at Yale has faced similar problems, Wentzell said.
At the end of last year's season, Harvard's intramural athletic department held an open forum to discuss the beleaguered tackle football program. Two basic problems were highlighted: time and preparation for the teams were not adequate, and there were not enough players to conduct official games.
The forum concluded that if tackle football were going to continue changes were needed. "If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right," Wentzell said.
As a result of the forum's findings, tackle football teams are now composed of players from various houses. Cabot, Currier and North now field a 'Quad' team, for instance.
The other grouping are Eliot, Kirkland, Lowell and Dudley; Adams, Quincy and Winthrop; and Dunster, Leverett and Mather. Each team has 20 to 25 players.
The plan also includes a clinic and controlled scrimmage with officals. This year, there was one controlled scrimmage. Next year, there will be two, according to Wentzell.
Wentzell, who is in his third year as director of intramurals, remains both cautious and optimistic about the changes.
"The combinations seem like a good move," he said. "This was my best pre-season. It's great for us to offer the opportunity, but it has to be tempered with commitment."
Students who play tackle football recognize some of the problems.
"It's gotten small," said senior Paul Helmering of Leverett House. "This new set-up is more organized."
"I like it...they say it's on its last legs, but I don't see problems," said junior Jonathan Berman of Winthrop House.
Senior Ian Parker of Leverett House has mixed reactions to tackle football's new program.
"The quality of the football has improved, but the strong teams, such as Kirkland, Leverett and Quincy, are hurt by combining with lesser teams."