Columbia Football is Happy

Only with much luck will you end up this happy

NSOP told you that you should go cheer for your fellow students at athletic competitions. Bwog Sports Editor Ross Chapman takes a look at football to talk about Columbia history and the phenomenon of rooting for losers.

Oh, no. Don’t do this to yourself.

College football is a marvelous world. As one of the two pinnacles of school spirit, this gridiron competition attracts 49 million spectators every year. You have every right to want to get in on the fun. Maybe you’re an international student who wants to immerse in American culture. Maybe you’re a first-year who’s sick of being an outsider at dinner conversations. Or maybe you just need somewhere to get day drunk on a Saturday. But before you take the bus up to Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium at George F. Baker Athletics Complex, stop and think for a moment.

Is this really what you want to do with your time?

An abysmal history

Columbia is not a good football team. It has not had a winning season since 1996. It has not had consecutive winning seasons since 1962. To give an idea of how long ago that was, Bill Campbell from the football team from 1961, since his Columbia days, had enough time to become chairman of the board for for Columbia University and Intuit, Inc. The last good era of Columbia football was so long ago that the current players work out in a building donated by Campbell. The last time Columbia went to a Bowl Game, it was 1934, and a front row ticket cost $4.40, which now won’t even pay for the subway to and from Columbia’s stadium.

The Lions are historically bad. They posted a 44-game losing streak in the 1980’s, the longest of its sort at the time. Columbia just recently snapped a 24-game skid which was marked by blowout after blowout. It featured such embarrassing feats as losing three years in a row to Harvard by a combined score of 148-0. The Lions have won fewer Ivy League titles (1) than any other team in the conference.

But Columbia’s history isn’t only bleak because of its performance. In 2013, a sophomore lineman was charged with a hate crime, and subsequent investigation by WKCR showed that the tweets of several football players echoed those bigoted sentiments. Between that, the lack of results, and the sheer amount of money that the University pumped into the team, Bwog had a period of about two years where it did not cover football at all. The high-profile students involved in that controversy have since graduated, and the coach known for creating toxic environments has since been replaced by a respected coach with a penchant for turning teams around. At best, the Lions are a team in the midst of turning a corner. At worst, Columbia is a perennially awful squad trying to push its past sins under the rug.

A chance of success

Columbia, for all of its losses last year (it finished the season 2-8), didn’t look as terrifyingly bad as it has in the past. They were a good defensive team, holding opponents to 19.8 points per game, which was good for 3rd in the defensively-minded Ivy League. They ranked 8th among all FCS (formerly Division I-AA) teams last season in rushing defense and total defense, and their passing defense was the best in the Ivies. Offensively, though, the Lions snored on the field. They scored a meager 14.3 points per game, managing only 15 touchdowns. They turned the ball over 23 times and were the worst passers in the Ivy League. Despite this, Columbia lost only two of their games by more than 8 points. The Lions’ resistance to the blowout shows how they have improved miles over their early 2010’s counterparts.

College football teams live and die on their seniors. Columbia’s biggest losses to graduation come at the defensive line. Five starting linemen graduated last year, leaving a squad that accounted for 23 sacks and a .265 3rd down conversion percentage a shell of its former self. The other major loss was of Cameron Molina, the star running back who also managed to catch for 220 yards. Alan Watson, his replacement, ran only 40 carries last season, and it will be up to him and running-minded quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg to lead a rushing offense.

Those efforts will be aided by several platoons stacked with returning players. Most notably, the offensive line returns 8 of their top 10 players, which should open up holes for some big running plays this season. The Lions also return their three strongest linebackers, who will be called upon to lead a depleted defense. Both of the Lions’ main quarterbacks return from last year, but neither of them has stood out as a star. They’ll find help in two returning wide receivers, Scooter Hollis and Cameron Dunn, whose synergy with the QB’s will provide most of the Lions’ passing action this season.

Rooting for losers

New York is an especially odd place to watch sports. In most cities, you root for the local team. If you live in Seattle, you support the Seahawks, whether they’re good or bad. New York, however, has two professional teams for baseball, hockey, football, basketball, and soccer. Because of this, many New York fans have to answer a tough question. Why root for a bad team when there’s a better one just down the block? ESPN’s Steven Glasser put it best when he said, “despite the disappointment, frustration, and constant ridicule from other fan bases, I know it will all be worth it when they finally win one.”

This is the condition of a Columbia fan, a true New York loyalist. Watch the reaction when Columbia men’s basketball won the Tournament last season. A program defined by futility for over forty years finally achieved success and put a trophy in its empty case. This feeling of deferred satisfaction, of pouring energy into every losing game and seeing your team finally emerge victorious, brings joyous tears more effectively than any other phenomenon of fandom.

Would I recommend rooting for the Columbia Lions football team? No, I wouldn’t. Cheering for them will bring a lot of disappointment, and will make you feel more than once like you wasted a Saturday on a team that does nothing to earn your respect. But these are still your classmates and your friends. You’ve already entered the Columbia fandom by virtue of attending this university. For all their struggles, the Lions are bound to win at least two or three games this season. If you’re willing to put yourself through the risk of a bad game for the reward of finally achieving triumph, and if you believe that the Lions have gotten past the bigoted events of 2013, then take that bus up to Baker.

Image via Columbia University Athletics