by Brian Hoffman
After a 35 year absence Roanoke College added men’s and women’s swimming in 2017. Since then the Maroons have added wrestling, men’s volleyball and, most recently, cycling. The RC athletic department now boasts 21 different intercollegiate sports.
Isn’t it about time for football?
The time has come for RC to add a football team. They have rivalries ready to go within the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. ODAC schools with football teams include Randolph-Macon, Bridgewater, Hampden-Sydney, Shenandoah, Washington & Lee, Ferrum, Averett and Guilford. The only schools in the conference without football are Roanoke, Lynchburg, Eastern Mennonite, Virginia Wesleyan, Randolph College and the two mostly women’s schools, Hollins and Mary Baldwin. The Maroons would fit in nicely as the ninth ODAC school with a football program.
I think it would go over big. There are a lot of kids in the Roanoke Valley who aren’t Division I recruits who would love to play college football, and this would give them the option of playing at a school closer to home. You could make a pretty good Division III football team just from the kids in the greater Roanoke Valley, and I’m sure Roanoke College would draw attention from all over like they do in other sports.
Everything is set up to succeed. Salem Stadium would be one of the nicest, if not THE nicest, stadiums in the ODAC right off the bat. The Elizabeth campus, formerly the Lutheran Children’s Home, has buildings that could be used for football dormitories right across the street from Salem Stadium. And, if they want to keep the existing fraternities and such as is, there’s plenty of available space to build another dorm or two.
The college has three nice athletic fields right there on the Elizabeth Campus that could be used for football practice fields. They were used for college sports before Kerr Stadium was built, but since then I drive by there often and most of the time they’re empty. And, if they are being used, they’re usually soccer or lacrosse groups not even associated with the college. How many Division III schools would have three beautiful practice fields within walking distance of dormitories?
The idea would be to play games on Saturday afternoons or evenings, and if you can avoid the days Virginia Tech is playing at home that would be ideal. That would give area football fans another option within easy driving distance with lots of parking, and at a much more reasonable price. And, I would expect it wouldn’t take long for the Maroons to be competitive with the pool of players available and RC’s reputation for doing things first class.
The question most folks are going to ask is how much will it cost? Football isn’t cheap, with equipment and travel and coaching and support personnel. But remember, you’d be adding 60 plus tuitions at whatever it costs to attend Roanoke College these days. When I graduated in 1974 it cost $3,000 for out-of-state students like myself, but I assume it’s more now.
I did a story years ago about the possibility of bringing football back. I imagine many of our readers don’t even realize the Maroons fielded varsity football for over 60 years before it was discontinued during World War II. In fact, the last Roanoke College football game was played against Catawba College on November 13, 1942. That’s exactly 80 years ago this month.
When I did that story I interviewed several people at the college, including the late Elwood Fox who coached several sports at Roanoke College for many years. Fox played on the last football team at RC as a student and he had some great stories. I assume there’s no one still alive from that 1942 team, as they’d have to be around 100 years old. I can’t say that for sure but “Foxy” left us years ago in his 80s.
Another person I interviewed was the late Clarence Caldwell, who was treasurer of the college for many years. I was expecting Clarence to say it wouldn’t be a good idea because of the cost, but he was all for it.
Clarence was an RC graduate as well who was a student when they had football. He said the football games in the fall were the things that brought the student body together. They’d have a bonfire and pep rally the night before the games and the students would all be at the games on Saturday and it was a real “bonding” experience for the incoming students. He noted that’s it’s never been like that since.
And, getting back to the cost, he had no problem with that either. I remember Caldwell telling me that many studies had been done and they concluded that football was big on bringing male students to the school. And, once they graduated, male students tend to give to their alma mater while female students were more likely to give to their husband’s college. Caldwell cited that as a reason for elevating the basketball program in the ‘60s, when Roanoke started giving full basketball athletic scholarships, moved from campus to the Salem Civic Center for games and hired Charlie Moir to coach the team and build a program.
I know I’d be excited about Roanoke College having a football team, and recruiting some of the talent I’ve watched on the high school level stay right here to play. After watching the Stagg Bowl for many years we know Division III football is exciting and competitive, and to have a team right here in town to root for would draw some big crowds with ready-made rivalries like W&L, Ferrum, Randolph-Macon and Bridgewater.
I think it would be a great idea, and the time is ripe. Just ask anyone who watched Coach Fox play 80 years ago.