centerpiece

Coach Bill Wagner is practically as much of a Penn institution as the sprint football program itself - he has been at the helm of the Red and Blue squad for 46 seasons.

Photo: Ilana Wurman

What is one of, if not the fastest-growing intercollegiate varsity sport in the United States?

If you guessed sprint football, you’re correct! The Collegiate Sprint Football League has added its fourth team since 2008 and has grown from five to nine teams in that time period, almost doubling in size.

This season, the CSFL welcomes Chestnut Hill. The Philadelphia school has been an NCAA Division II school since 2007 and lists 18 sports teams following the addition of its sprint football team. Earlier this fall, Penn got a good look at Chestnut Hill when the two squads had a joint practice and scrimmage on Sept. 5.

“I think they looked pretty good for what they are,” junior defensive lineman Pat Boyle said. “Most of the team is freshmen, so that’s going to be difficult. ... I think it will take a few years. Once they’re able to recruit a few classes, they’ll be able to step up and definitely be a better team. I think they will be competitive in the league soon.”

As the fourth addition to the CSFL since the 2008 season when Mansfield joined as a probationary member, Chestnut Hill faces an uphill path to being a competitive team. The three other recent additions have taken varying amounts of time to record winning seasons.

Mansfield is still searching for its first positive campaign seven years after its birth, Post earned status as a winning program for its three most recent years after enduring two losing seasons and Franklin Pierce finished with a winning record in just its second season.

Senior defensive back Stu Helgeson believes Chestnut Hill’s success will be largely determined by its ability to recruit in both quantity and quality, which in turn will depend on the awareness of sprint football as a sport on campus and assistance from the admissions office in admitting players. Still, the growth in the CSFL is encouraging for the sport, he says.

“I definitely think that it shows the league can expand and it’s something a school can adopt,” Helgeson added. “It shows that people are still interested in sprint and that there’s still a market for it.”

Boyle thinks if the awareness for the sport were to increase, Chestnut Hill and other schools could fill rosters much more easily.

“If more people knew about it, more people would play it,” he said. “You get opportunities to go to great schools to play if you know about it, and I know a lot of people just have no idea what it is.”

Penn coach Bill Wagner doesn’t see much more, if any, expansion happening soon given that nine teams are in the conference already but says a team could replace Princeton if the program were to fold. The Tigers have not won a game since the turn of the century and have struggled at times to maintain enough players on the roster. In recent years, Princeton has even forfeited multiple games per season due to a depleted roster.

Wagner added that a new team would likely have to be similar in admissions and academic caliber to the Ivy representation.

“I think the league is not going to go much more than what we have,” he said. “If we did, we would have to go to two divisions, because we really don’t want to play more than eight games, because we don’t have enough players.”

Army and Navy have been at the top of the CSFL standings for years, and adding more games to the schedule would only increase their advantage. While most other teams carry 40-50 players, the service academies cut from 100 players each year to reach the mandated 65-player limit.

However, Wagner eyes a possible reform on the other end of the spectrum, adding a bye week in the middle of the season. Currently, Penn is scheduled to play in seven consecutive weeks, beginning this Saturday and concluding Oct. 30. Potentially, he says, the team could position a hypothetical bye week to allow players extra time to study for midterms.

Regardless, it doesn’t appear that sprint football is going away any time soon.

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