Vassar Yesterday

Fight for the Gridiron

By Debbie Swartz

"Vassar football, undefeated since 1861,"reads the popular T-shirt. The joke, of course, is that Vassar has never had a footballteam. That’s not to say the sport has never been considered.

In 1946, Vassar admitted its first male students. By the fall, 90 former soldiers were enrolled on the GI Bill. Quite a few women’s colleges admitted veterans in order to accommodate the throngs of soldiers returning home from World War II. The “Vassar Vets,” as they’ve come to be called, sought to form a team after being challenged by an all-vet team at Skidmore College. Dozens of former GIs jumped at the chance.

The year 1946 was a banner year for American college football. It was the first postwar college football season, and one of the “games of the century” was played. It was a showdown between Notre Dame and Army that ended in a 0–0 tie. Sports writers across the country ranked the two teams, and Notre Dame came out on top.

According to an article in the October 19, 1946, issue of Vassar Chronicle—which details the story from start to finish—the vets had eagerly planned for the season, gathering information about uniforms, insurance, and training schedules.

“Hopes were high,” wrote columnist Jack Schwarzschild.

But as the din for Vassar football grew, it was quickly quieted by Vassar’s president Sarah Gibson Blanding, who issued a statement printed in the New York Times two days earlier: “Naturally the men students at Vassar were eager to accept the Skidmore challenge. Many of the men have played football before and, although there had been no talk of a team here before Skidmore made its challenge, the veterans, when they heard of it, hoped to get a team together.

“However, the college feels it must say no to any football at Vassar.”

Blanding’s rationale included Vassar’s lack of football facilities, equipment, and coaches. She asked the veterans to restrict their athletic activities to the intramural sports offered on campus, noting that college policy did not encourage intercollegiate sports.

But the fight for football was not over. According to the Vassar Chronicle, more than 300 students signed petitions in support of the sport, and notes of encouragement were found in the veterans’ mailboxes.

The article quoted Orland Fiandaca, a Vassar vet and former University of Arizona football player, who confidently stated, “Without doubt, the ‘Skidorites’ would be easily taken over.”

Alas, Blanding’s decision was firm.

There have since been sporadic calls for Vassar to reconsider this position. In the February 14, 1992, edition of the Miscellany News, sports editor Dennis O’Brien ’92 wrote “Football, Vassar Athletics, Recruiting, and Money—A Modest Proposal: The Case for Football at Vassar,” in which he recommended increasing the athletic department’s budget in the hopes of attracting more skilled athletes in all sports. Having a football team, he wrote, would offer myriad benefits to the school, including an increase in alumnae/i involvement and a game to anchor Families Weekend.

In the September 16, 1994, edition of the Miscellany News, assistant sports editor Shannon McKay ’98 published an op-ed, “Yearning for Vassar Football,” lauding the sport’s positive attributes. She cites the Ivy League colleges that do have football programs and also noted her belief that the sport would engage alumni.

Not all of McKay’s fellow students were in favor of the sport. In the following issue of the Miscellany News, David Dening ’98 wrote that he was “mildly startled” to see the previous week’s column, considering football’s expense and its tendency to overshadow other sports—not to mention the fraternity-house-like shenanigans and other unsavory issues associated with the gridiron.

While football has never taken root at Vassar, the college has changed its policies dramatically when it comes to intercollegiate sports. It has boasted nationally ranked rugby, tennis, basketball, volleyball, and squash teams, and the Brewers often compete in Liberty League and NCAA tournament games.

Vassar remains undefeated in football.

—Debbie Swartz