Return to the Gridiron

The 2010 football team's coaching staff. (Photo by Heidi Hoffman)

100th Season Begins with High Hopes

After a 19-year absence, Pacific football returns this fall with a new stadium, new field and over 100 players eager to start the University's 100th season.

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A review of the program in 1989 ruled in the program’s favor, but the 1991 season created a perfect storm that Pacific football could not overcome. Coach Bill Singler elected to rebuild by recruiting and playing a large number of freshmen. However, with fewer experienced players, the team struggled on the field. “He was bringing in freshmen, ones who were good students, but in doing so he sacrificed some competitiveness that  year,” Schumann said. “We played with a number of injuries because we were playing with kids that weren’t quite as physically mature.”

While enduring a 0-9 record, the Boxers saw other problems come to the forefront. McCready Field, Pacific’s home facility, had its two wooden grandstands condemned by the fire marshal. What had been a quaint venue for football was now a liability. Then came the catastrophic injury to senior fullback Eric Ross, who was severely injured during a home game. Ross later died as a result of the injury.

When Puget Sound came from behind to beat the Boxers 35-31 on Nov. 16, 1991, some felt the fate of Pacific football had already been written. A formal vote of the student body favored keeping the program, while votes of the faculty and University Council called for elimination. The Board of Trustees made it official on Feb. 27, 1992, voting to terminate the program after 99 years.

By the fall of 1992, which would have been the 100th year of the program, few signs that a football program had ever existed were left. The McCready bleachers were quickly torn down. The scoreboard was retrofitted for soccer and the field was re-named Tom Reynolds Field in 1993. Equipment was sold off and jerseys disappeared.

Schumann believes that if the school had been a NCAA Division III member back then, eliminating much of the burden on financial aid, the outcome may have been different.
“Maybe there would have been more discussion in keeping the program if we knew that football would come back to the Northwest Conference.”

Football indeed came back to the NWC In 1996 when the league began its transition from NAIA membership to NCAA Division III. With the move to Division III, the financial aid problem that had hastened Pacific’s football demise was no longer a consideration.

REBIRTH
When Schumann became athletic director in 2005, much in Pacific athletics had changed. As a Division III school, the University and its NWC counterparts could not award financial aid based on athletic ability, eliminating the burden of talent awards or scholarships. The department’s finances had solidified. The program had grown to 19 sports with the addition of men’s and women’s track and field, women’s wrestling and men’s and women’s swimming. The addition of women’s lacrosse in 2006 brought the number to 20.

Also, Pacific’s undergraduate student body had grown to over 1,200 students, with over a quarter of those competing in intercollegiate athletics. Despite the growth, then-new President Phil Creighton had even more ambitious goals for the University. Football suddenly became more than a sport, but a potential avenue to bring in tuition dollars.

Schumann first presented a business plan for the return of football in 2005, and the process of fundraising began. To him, the return was not just about revenue, but the athletic program’s growth and stature. “Football raises the profile of your program,” Schumann said. “It helps all of our other sports programs not just in terms of visibility, but also in the recruitment of other student-athletes.”

Blake Timm ‘98 has served as Pacific University’s sports information director since 1999. He has received numerous awards for his writing and publication design and recently finished a six-year term on the board of directors for the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).