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The Dangers of Homecoming and Cornell Football

With Homecoming this weekend, football is in the air. The University is taking steps to create some new Homecoming traditions, including a parade of student groups. Apparently, though, University Risk Management outlawed the use of any sort of vehicle -- including cars, trucks, bicycles, and, presumably, hand-pulled wagons. And what is a Homecoming parade without a float?

Meanwhile, the New York Times ran an article last week about Cornell football and the changes it undertook this year to improve their on-field performance. The team took to early-morning ROTC style practices led by a Marine:

“We needed to get tougher as a team,” Rizzo said. “We needed to do some things to make sure everyone who wore a Cornell uniform was fully bought into the program and had made the sacrifice. We just made it harder to be a Cornell football player.

“That part of it comes from my background and experience as a Marine: shared adversity. If you want to make a group tighter, more cohesive and tougher, put them through adversity together.”

So the players dressed at 5:15 a.m., and most of the workouts kicked off at 5:30. The drills, developed by Tom Howley, Cornell’s assistant athletic director for athletes performance, usually lasted less than an hour. The players split into eight groups, mostly by position. Each drill had to be completed perfectly by everyone in the group to move on to the next station. There was also a penalty exercise for failure.

The team is 2 and 2, with losses to Harvard and Colgate. I often wonder how much success on the gridiron depends on coaching and practices versus the quality of recruits. Given Cornell's large, state-school feel with a heterogeneous student body, one would think that Cornell would have a better shot of landing top recruits. Maybe we will win an outright title one-day.

The big concern with football -- other than whether or not we will ever win an outright Ivy title again -- is just how violent of a sport it is -- and how dangerous it can be for a player's long-term health. This week's New Yorker documents Tom McHale, a Cornell and NFL alum, who suffered from "ridiculously abnormal" brain trauma due to repeated football-induced concussions, and ultimately died of substance abuse at the age of 45.

Maybe the University's Risk Management department should be more concerned over what is happening on the field than trying to outlaw Homecoming floats.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on October 13, 2009 (#)

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