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Sprint Football: The Greatest Loophole In Sports

July 11, 2011 1 comment

WATERBURY, Conn. (July 10, 2011)—Roger Subramani stands in the tunnel at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, gazing out at a near-empty stadium and the greenest astro turf he has ever seen.

The events that have led him to this point are the stuff movies are made of, and this movie feels like a cross between “Any Given Sunday” and the “Little Giants”. Subramani stands 5-foot-4, a cheeseburger or two away from 110 pounds. He was too small to play on his high school football team. He never even tried out. Yet somehow here he is, now bouncing up and down with his teammates in the tunnel of the oldest and one of the most historic stadiums in the country. They are awaiting the signal from an oversized assistant coach to charge onto the field in preparation for a real, live college football game, the first one in Post University history.

Subramani is suited up in one of the fresh new hunter green uniforms his school had purchased just three months ago. Just for clarification, he’s about to charge onto Ben Franklin Field, as in that Ben Franklin guy who invented electricity and signed the Declaration of Independence. The field happens to be located inside the same famous stadium that hosts the Penn Relays, arguably the biggest annual track and field event in America. It was home to the nation’s first scoreboard, the first-ever radio broadcast of a football game, and for years, the Philadelphia Eagles, who incidentally, happen to be Subramani’s favorite NFL team.

Sprint football provides average-sized humans with a chance to seize gridiron glory. (Photo courtesy: http://www.posteagles.com)

So how can a kid five-foot nothing, a hundred and nothing, possibly be in this position without Charles Dutton standing nearby?

Well, Subramani and his Post teammates are about to take part in a tradition that goes back 77 years; a tradition that former president Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once took part in. It’s called sprint football, and it is perhaps the greatest loophole in American sports.

Sprint football is real football, only without the 300-pound linemen who put buffets out of business. There’s a strict weight limit of 172 pounds, but everything else is the same. The field is still 100 yards long; there are still four downs, and the coaches still scream maniacally from the sidelines.

There are still violent collisions, acrobatic wide receivers and punishing linemen. It’s college football…only without the hulking linebackers, the crowds, bands, cheerleaders, and television contracts.

The major difference is that, because of the weight limit, everyone on the field is virtually the same size. Defensive linemen can outrun wide receivers. Running backs may be bulkier than the offensive linemen blocking for them. And no one’s going to mess with a kicker who can bench-press more than a defensive end.

“It’s just an exciting brand of football,” said Post head coach Pete Ewald. “The weight limit makes it unlike anything else because every play is so competitive…everyone’s in the same boat. You can’t win individual battles based on just pure strength, so you really have to be intelligent as a football player in order to succeed. ”

The sport, which was known as lightweight football until 1998, has been around since 1934, when a group of Eastern universities banded together to form what would become known as the “Eastern 150-pound Football League.” The league included Columbia, Rutgers, Lafayette, Yale, and Villanova, all of which have since dropped sprint football, in most cases for financial reasons. It also contained members Cornell, Princeton, Army, and Navy, which still compete in today’s Collegiate Sprint Football League (CSFL), the only league of its kind in America.

Don't call it midget football. Cornell coach Terry Cullen says the majority of his players were all-state high school athletes. (Photo courtesy: http://www.cornellbigred.com)

The Eastern 150-pound League took a brief hiatus from play during World War II, canceling the 1943 through 1945 seasons, but the sport returned stronger than ever in 1947. Leagues began forming across the country, including in what is now known as the Big Ten, where Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, and Wisconsin all fielded teams. Legendary Washington Redskins coach and National Football League Hall of Famer George Allen got his start as an assistant at Michigan, which won league championships in 1947 and 1948 before the league folded the following year. Today, the CSFL consists of seven schools: Army, Navy, Cornell, Princeton, Pennsylvania, Mansfield University (Pa.), and Post, with the latter two teams both being added to the league in the past two years.

Perhaps the most romantic thing about sprint football is that just about any average Joe from Whocares High has a chance to find himself immersed in a scene like Subramani’s; ready to shine under the Friday night lights that illuminate an Ivy League football cathedral. Subramani comes from Kaynor Tech in Waterbury, Conn. He enrolled at Post University in Waterbury in 2009 to pursue a degree in computer science. Never in a million years had he pictured himself suiting up for the football team, primarily because Post University didn’t have a football team when he first came to campus. The school, which is a private institution of about 1,350 students, announced its plans to adopt the sprint version of the sport in November 2009, three months into Subramani’s freshman year. Post University joined the CSFL the following year.

Like many of his teammates, Subramani was thrilled when he got the news that Post was going to be fielding a team for undersized football players. “I had no idea there was even such a thing [as sprint football],” he said. “I was real excited, real pumped to get a chance to play. I’ve always wanted to play football but I was never big [enough]. When this team came around, I said this is my chance.”

“I was so excited when I heard about it,” said sophomore running back Derrick Chance, who would score the first touchdown in school history in Post’s 41-14 loss to Pennsylvania at Franklin Field. “Not too many people get a chance like this, to be playing college football. It’s just awesome,” he said.

Many of the players on Post’s 65-man roster didn’t even play football in high school, but some had given up on dreams of gridiron glory after short stints at other colleges. Junior running back Lee Knight spent a year at NCAA Division III Becker College in Massachusetts before quitting the team and transferring to Post, believing he had buckled on his chinstrap for the final time. He was overcome with joy when he heard the news late in his sophomore year that his new school was going to be offering sprint football.

“I was at the point where I thought my career was over,” said Knight, who was named a team captain at Post. “And then coming here and hearing that they were going to have a team, just being able to have the opportunity again … I guess I can say it’s emotional for me.”

“It’s like a second chance at life,” said wide receiver Daniel Awwad, who played briefly at Division II Southern Connecticut State University before dropping out of school and going to work in construction. “When I strapped on my pads for our first game at Penn…it was indescribable. Just to be out there again, smashing people with pads on…it was just, crazy, indescribable.”

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Categories: Other Sports