The other side of small college football -- the side where St. Thomas doesn't get asked to leave its conference, St. John's makes an annual run for the NCAA Division III playoffs and area schools revel in trophy-game rivalries -- showed itself recently when Grinnell College in Iowa decided to end its 2019 season after three lopsided losses and a roster smacked down by injuries.
The final blow came when Grinnell lost 42-3 to Macalester, which had lost its first two football games, including a 41-0 loss to Carleton, which is 0-3 in the MIAC and lost those games by a combined total of 92 points.
The New York Times reported on the decision, which was made by Grinnell's players after the Macalester loss. Billy Witz of the Times wrote: "The players voted overwhelmingly to end the season as a protest of what they saw as a consistent lack of support from the administration, something the players say has contributed to the team starting each of the last four seasons with fewer than 40 players, less than half of most opponents on their schedule. After a series of injuries, the team was down to 28 healthy players last week."
David Taylor, a senior wide receiver on the disbanded team, told Witz: “We’ve all had that ‘hoo-rah’ mentality where this is our year, we’ll change it. But it’s come down to where we’re fighting a losing battle, and we know it. This is our tipping point, and we really just want to see change. We’re sacrificing our senior season for it.”
Grinnell is a rural college that is among the nation's academically elite. Its 2018 acceptance rate was 24% and the average ACT score of its applicants is 32. The school has about 1,700 students, and Minnesota ranks fourth in enrollment behind Illinois, California and Iowa. (One member of the disbanded football team is from Minnesota.)
Athletically, the school is best known for a men's basketball team that typically scores in triple-figures and runs a unique attack based on mass substitutions and shooting three-pointers.
But the football team has run up against different numbers. The Times reported that Grinnell was down to 28 healthy players when the season ended and that it was about to face Midwest Conference teams that had defeated it 91-0 (St. Norbert's) and 55-0 (Monmouth) when the Pioneers went 2-8 in 2018.
The college president, Raynard Kington, told the Times that no guarantees have been made about the school fielding a team in 2020 despite hopes that the Pioneers can assemble a roster of about 45 players. "We’re under no illusions that it’s going to be easy. And we also know that we’re going to constantly pay attention to what’s around us," he said.