Declaration of independence
Macalester's liking life as football team without a conference
ST. PAUL -- Coaches at schools around the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference don't have scholarship money to toss around, but they've got plenty of lures to dangle at high school kids they're recruiting.
You won't spend your whole day in meetings, practices and the weight room.
You're here to get an education first and play football second.
You'll end up with a good job when you graduate, and you can do it in four years.
You'll make some good friends.
Freshmen-to-be are understandably concerned with the issue of playing time -- many of them would like to go out for the team, but not if they're going to be charter members of the 40-yard line club. As in standing on the sidelines.
So at the University of St. Thomas -- and presumably other MIAC institutions -- coaches used to try to assuage those concerns by mentioning the five games a junior varsity squad gets to play before whipping out the varsity schedule.
"We play Macalester. Everyone gets in against Macalester."
Not anymore. The Scots, you see, have dropped out of the MIAC and become an independent. Instead of getting the stuffing beat out of them by MIAC powers like St. John's, St. Thomas and Bethel, they're going to be playing Beloit College to open the season Sept. 7.
And they're loving it.
"Best camp we've had since I've been here," says coach Dennis Czech, an amazingly affable man who's possibly the planet's most enthusiastic person given Macalester's not-so-stellar record during his tenure. That includes a total of six wins in five seasons.
Macalester's last winning season came in '86. Naturally, the next thing would be to ask if that's 1886, since the Scots did begin playing football that year.
No, it was actually 1986, but it seems like it's been that long. And before that, between 1974-80, they set a national record with a 50-game losing skid.
This is a school known for its learning, not for its linebackers. Football doesn't really mean anything, a strange contrast from so many of the nation's schools -- even in the NCAA's non-scholarship Division III.
Because it's such a hard place to gain admission (Macalester turns away about half its applicants each year), many potential football players find themselves going elsewhere to study.
Which leaves the Scots' football program without many bodies.
Which makes it very hard to compete.
After the roster dropped as low as the mid-20s last season, there are 37 guys out for football at Macalester this year. At St. John's, the MIAC's big bully, they get like 37 guys out to play free safety.
Last fall, Macalester administrators were concerned the football program was becoming dangerously uncompetitive. The sport was nearly dropped for good before the school president was convinced to keep the program and leave the MIAC.
"It was looking kind of bleak," says senior linebacker Nick Kraemer. "We've been through some trying times. But now everybody is excited. We're playing teams that have something in common with us."
Kraemer and his teammates, though, don't have a lot in common with the rest of the student body there. Football doesn't quite fit with this notoriously liberal campus in the heart of St. Paul.
But the team doesn't care. They're at Macalester because they're smart, and because they love football.
"People like what they like," says senior defensive end Andrew Porter, a double major in computer science and math. "People have some of the same feelings from high school. If they didn't like football players then, they still feel the same way. That's up to them."
Now that they've been spared (sounds like a familiar storyline in Minnesota sports, doesn't it?), the Scots are determined to return their program to respectability. Maybe someday they'll be good enough to get back in the MIAC.
But Rome wasn't built in a day.
Irv Cross, a former NFL star and broadcaster, is Macalester's athletic director. He also fills in during some of the morning practices as an assistant coach.
"I really enjoy this -- it's great change of pace," Cross says. "We're really looking forward to this season. It's an important time to keep this program going."
Dave Campbell is the Minnesota-based sports columnist for The Associated Press. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.