It’s First And Goal For A New Midwest College Football League With A Difference
A new collegiate football league is launching next year, and it will include Quincy University in Illinois and Fontbonne University in St. Louis. The Midwest Sprint Football League will feature a slightly different version of the sport, including a limit on players’ maximum weight.
Fontbonne is leading the effort, which also includes Bellarmine University and Midway University in Kentucky, as well as Calumet College of St. Joseph and St. Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana.
Fontbonne President Nancy Blattner anticipates startup costs for the program will be around $130,000. She believes revenues from the sport will quickly offset that amount, which is being supported by donors.
Blattner is the new league’s Board of Governors' initial chair and recently discussed sprint football with St. Louis Public Radio’s Wayne Pratt.
Wayne Pratt: What is Sprint Football?
Nancy Blattner: Sprint football is lightweight football. All the players weigh in and have to be at 178 pounds or less. Other than that, sprint football conforms to all of the other collegiate football rules and regulations. It's a full-contact sport, and it’s 11 on 11. So it’s a very fast and agile type of football. Instead of seeing a 350-pound down lineman tackling a quarterback that might weigh half that weight, everybody is a very comparable size.
Pratt: Tell me about the origins of the Midwest Sprint Football League.
Blattner: When I was the president of Caldwell University in New Jersey for 11 years, we had the opportunity to join in 2017, the only collegiate sprint football league in existence at that time. When I moved to Fontbonne a year ago as the president, I was bemoaning the fact that we couldn’t play in that league because we’re just too geographically distant.
As a result, my husband said to me, “Well, just start your own league.” And I said, “Tim, why would you say that to me?” In fact, I dismissed the thought. And then later I started thinking about, well why wouldn’t we start our own league?
So I called my vice president for athletics, who’s my A.D. [athletics director], Maria Buckle, and she’s a Fontbonne alum. And I said “Maria, what would you think about this?” And she said, “I’m in, tell me all about it.”
And so our work really began in January of this year where we started to put the league together.
Pratt: Did that surprise you, that things moved so quickly?
Blattner: It did in a way because as I’ve said before, higher education at times is notorious for moving a bit slowly, and people usually laugh when I say that. But I think it really speaks to the collaboration and the vision of the presidents who came on board very quickly. I think that they saw many benefits that can happen as a result of bringing a sprint football team to the campus.
Pratt: Outline those benefits.
Blattner: In addition to bringing about 80 male students to the campus — so that’s the current roster cap — so we grow in the number of students we have on campus. But for many of us, Fontbonne too was a female college, a women’s college prior to becoming coed many years ago. But still, as in most of higher education at the undergraduate level, there are more women studying than men, so this brings a little bit of gender balance. It also can increase diversity.
In addition, it just really brings a sense of excitement around the sport of football. And most importantly for our student athletes, it provides them an opportunity to continue playing a sport at which they excel, but for which they may not be equipped to compete at a D1, D2 or [D]3 institution.
Pratt: There will be critics out there who say the money that will go into this would probably be better spent in other areas with even more of a solid focus on academics, or other aspects of the university life. How do you respond to those criticisms?
Blattner: I would respond in two ways. One, one of the leading donors for this initiative is also being very generous to donate to the startup of our nursing program on the campus. And I think that all of us can agree just coming out of this pandemic that there is a critical shortage of nurses, not just in St. Louis or in Missouri, but in the nation. And that this donor is not only helping us to start this very exciting sprint football program but also our nursing program. So I think that’s the first response.
And the second is that the program itself will bring in revenues far beyond the expenses, even in its first year of operation, so that those revenues will help us to fund and support ongoing programs as well as to start new programs. So I think that's one of the responses to that criticism that’s very fair.