Football’s foibles spurred final flop

On a sunny Thanksgiving Day in 1966, the GW football team played the last game of its career. Villanova University came out strong, holding the Colonials to only 88 offensive yards. The game, which the Wildcats won, typified the GW football program.

Since football first came to GW in 1890, the Colonials amassed a losing record of 208-241-34. It struggled and limped along for 58 years. In the Southern Conference, which it joined in 1941, its record was no better. There the team ended with another losing record – 53-73-4.

The Colonials never seemed to break out of mediocrity. The highest they ever finished in the Southern Conference was second place, in 1960. But the program had some notable highlights, especially in its final seasons.

The movement to discontinue the football program came the same year star Mike Halloran became GW’s fourth player to receive the Outstanding College Player of the Washington Area award. The next year, Colonials head coach Jim Camp was named the Southern Conference’s 1966 Coach of the Year, and star running back Steve Molnar set a school record for most yards rushed by a sophomore. He was selected for the All-Southern Conference’s first team.

But the Colonials could never sustain a winning record. They were a team with no home stadium, forced to play wherever the University could find them a field.

The discontinuance sentiment began to take shape in 1965. The year’s 5-5 record, and the program’s loss of nearly $250,000, led the Faculty Senate to raise questions about the wisdom of continuing football at GW. It voted in favor of ending the program.

A GW Hatchet editorial supported the Faculty Senate’s decision. Citing the team’s losing record, small student attendance at games and negligible administrative support, the editorial echoed the sentiments of many on campus who wanted to redirect the program’s money into building a sports center for the University. GW had no adequate athletic facility at the time.

The Student Council, however, came out strongly in favor of the sport. GW President Lloyd Elliott remained quiet, and in the end, the University’s Board of Trustees voted to keep the sport.

The next season, 1966, did not bode well for the pro-football faction. Ending with the loss to Villanova, the team’s record was 4-6. Talk of reviewing the program began again.

Camp resigned Dec. 19. In his official announcement he said, “because of the uncertainty, which surrounds the future of football at GW, I feel that in the interest of my family, the coaching staff, as well as myself, I should seek an opportunity elsewhere,” according to From Strength to Strength, the University’s archival publication.

His record since arriving in 1960 had been 18-35. As an omen, Athletic Director Bob Faris reported that no successors would be considered until after the program’s evaluation.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees E.K. Morris said that if football fit into the greater picture of the University, it would remain. If it did not, then it would be cut.

On Jan. 3, The Hatchet again cast its lot with the anti-football group, publishing an editorial titled “Football is Dead.”

The reasons mentioned were the typical ones – poor attendance, a projected loss of $300,000 for the next season and increased support for the basketball program. It backed the plan Elliott was pushing – cut football and build a sports center.

Elliott began in earnest to garner support for his football-for-basketball trade. He cited the ability of small city schools to establish national reputations for themselves via strong basketball programs, as well as GW’s increasing selectivity.

Of the 24 scholarships awarded to football players in 1962, six players graduated four years later, Elliott told The Hatchet.

At the same time, GW alumnus and sports authority Arnold Red Auerbach nationally derided the University’s sports facilities as “worse than Podunk.” In an article that appeared in The Washington Post, he said that “unless the school did something real good and real fast” its national reputation would fall even further.

A week earlier, the Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council and Student Council came out in favor of discontinuing football.

“The IFC deplores the abolishment of intercollegiate football,” began the official IFC statement. “But in light of the proposed sports facility and increased support for the basketball program, the IFC must regretfully endorse the administration’s decision.”

The Faculty Senate again announced its stance in favor of terminating the program. Even football co-captain Tom Metz acknowledged that he was impressed by the logic of using the program’s funds for a new sports center. At the same time, news broke that a doll of Camp had been burned at a party in Maryland that was attended by nearly 50 GW football players. Many on the team derided Camp’s favoritism and lack of attention to players’ health. Detractors claimed that he did not play certain men and forced others to play despite serious and possibly serious injuries.

The majority of what little support remained for the program came from alumni and GW’s Alumni Lettermen’s Club. But it was not enough to save football at GW. On Jan. 19, the Board of Trustees voted to end football at GW. At the same meeting, $250,000 was set aside to begin financing a new sports facility. The Smith Center came along as a result, as well as increased emphasis on the basketball program.

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