Success is Optional

by Raza Rasheed '12 | 10/5/09 10:00pm

Last Saturday, in the pouring rain, Dartmouth football dropped a heartbreaker to the University of Pennsylvania to extend its record losing streak to 15. The Big Green has now lost 90 of its last 113 games and seems certain to lose at least half of its contests for the 11th time in 12 years. To put it bluntly, that is a staggering amount of losing for a school with such an outstanding football tradition.

Conventional solutions have clearly failed to fix the program so perhaps it's time to embrace more entertaining, if unusual, remedies in tackling this stubborn problem. After all, college football is as much a cultural and communal phenomenon as anything else, so even if Dartmouth is not a consistent contender, it's best for the school that the team not be such an eyesore.

It's hard to believe now, but Dartmouth was once a perennial power in the Ivy League, capturing at least a share of 17 league championships between 1958 and 1997 and failing to win at least half their games only eight times in that era. It was time to make huge changes to the program about seven years ago, before an entire generation of fans from both campus and the local community came to expect the losing, and before the "fringe fans" who can make the difference between a half-empty and a sold-out stadium gave up on the team. This prolonged run of futility has fed into itself, as at least some promising recruits likely gravitated to our peer institutions with stronger programs.

Now, though, in order for Dartmouth to return to respectability on the gridiron, two things must happen. Not only must the team play a better, more competitive brand of football, but it must also play in a style exciting enough to energize the fan base and restore its home field advantage. Due to the emotional nature of college sports, the effect of an impassioned and hostile crowd can often be the difference between victory and defeat in close games. This is why the Big Green should adopt the triple-option offense as its primarily tool for a return to prominence (or at the very least, watchability).

The triple option is a quirky, run-centric offense used to great effect by the United States Naval Academy to bridge the talent disparity between the Midshipmen and their opponents, for example, The Ohio State University Buckeyes, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. On any given play, the quarterback and two halfbacks run to one side of the field and the quarterback either hands or pitches the ball to one of the backs, or else runs it himself. This offense forces opposing defensive linemen to move laterally on virtually every play, often tiring them as the game wears on and exposing them to mistakes due to their lack of familiarity with the system.

The triple option would provide many specific advantages to Dartmouth. As all but the most naive members of the Class of 2013 know, the weather can be extremely hostile in Hanover this time of year. Frequent gusts of wind and precipitation can make the ball slippery and difficult to pass accurately. By keeping the ball on the ground, Dartmouth would be better able to limit the turnovers that have plagued the team during the past few seasons. Furthermore, running so frequently would effectively shorten the game, limiting the amount of time that the beleaguered Big Green defense has to spend on the field. Running plays, unlike incomplete passes, keep the clock moving. Triple-option drives, when effectively executed, can eat up huge chunks of clock, reducing the number of possessions in the game and easing the burden on the defense.

As an added bonus, the offense is so funky and esoteric that it might well provide an identity for the team that the community would rally around. The entertainment value of watching Dartmouth football, even with early struggles, would almost certainly be greater as teams slip and slide around the field chasing after last-second pitches to backs and frequent daring quarterback draws.

Dartmouth is by no means a football school, but the voices crying in the wilderness through the pouring rain last Saturday deserve a better afternoon experience. The triple option isn't some sort of magic panacea that will instantly dissolve the losing culture that has infected the team, but it may well be more entertaining, and might allow the Big Green to score enough upsets to make itself respectable once again. At this point, that's more than enough.