Rand: MIAC schools played the longest meter

  • Updated: September 19, 2012 - 6:13 AM

Thirty-five years ago, Carleton and St. Olaf played the first (and believed to be the only) NCAA-sanctioned game with a field measured in meters.

The Big Ten created Leaders and Legends divisions for football when it welcomed Nebraska into the league in 2011.

More than three decades before that, however -- 35 years ago Monday, to be exact -- Carleton had a much different football idea: Why not play a game with a field based on the metric system? The school found a willing partner in St. Olaf, its crosstown college rival in Northfield. With that, the first (and believed to be the only) NCAA-sanctioned game with a field measured in meters was created. They called it the Liter Bowl.

And from liters were born legends.

Former Carleton coach Bob Sullivan's book on the history of the school's football team, "Knights of the Gridiron," credits Jerry Mohrig, a chemistry professor at Carleton, for the idea. The dimensions of the field were altered so that it was 100 meters long (a little more than 109 yards) and 50 meters wide (just shy of 55 yards). The end zones were a yard deeper than usual, too, with the metric conversion.

The game was either previewed or covered live by national outlets such as the New York Times and "The Today Show," while the curiosity of it all drew 9,000 fans to Carleton's Laird Stadium. Nobody knew quite what to expect -- nor whether the altered distances would change the style of play.

"I suspect both teams will have to rely on their kicking and passing game," Carleton head coach Dale Quist said at the time in a pregame news release put out by the school. "The teams will have to get more distance on the first two downs. Passing may be the answer."

But on Sept. 17, 1977, Carleton had few answers. St. Olaf, regardless of distance, proved to be the superior team in a 43-0 rout. Alas, the new dimensions did not catch on. David Nelson, then-secretary of the NCAA rules committee, was quoted in the Minneapolis Tribune as to the reason why.

"If you really want to know the reason we don't change to metric," he said, "it's because none of us on the rules committee understands the metric system."

Still, that doesn't mean a guy can't dream. C.J. Dale, a junior wide receiver on this year's Carleton squad, said he'd be up for another meeting with St. Olaf on the big field. The two teams play Oct. 20 this year.

"I could definitely imagine that kind of thing at Carleton. We're into the quirky stuff," Dale said. "And I'd probably be all for it, too. A rematch would be nice."

MICHAEL RAND

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