|Scenes such as this, with a small number of people on the sidelines, have been a staple for Maranatha Baptist football.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
Maranatha Baptist University has announced the end of the Sabercats football program, effective immediately. The 2016 season is the last in its 46-year history.
Game: Nov. 12 vs. Minnesota-Morris, L, 38-13
The decision to discontinue the program was made following the resignation of coach Nate Spate, which triggered a comprehensive evaluation of the program by the athletics department. Through the pre-established program evaluation process, the department met with key stakeholders, gathered documentation related to recruiting, safety, and sustainability of the program, and reviewed the handling of similar challenges faced at peer institutions.
"It's a very small school even by Division III terms. Keeping the program afloat was always a challenge," D3football.com senior editor Keith McMillan said earlier this week on the D3football.com Around the Nation Podcast. "And once you're not in a conference, that adds another challenge in that you don't have eight or nine games built into your schedule, so it consumes a lot of the coaches' time."
The department's report resulted in the unanimous recommendation of the athletics committee and was then accepted by Maranatha's executive council with the support of the Board of Trustees. According to MBU athletic director Rob Thompson, the decision was made primarily for the well-being and safety of the student-athletes, with additional consideration given to recruiting challenges, eroding constituent support of football in general, and declining player retention.
Maranatha started this past season with 54 players in training camp, one of the smallest rosters in Division III football. In 2014, the program cancelled a number of its scheduled games because it could not field a team. This past season, however, the team finished 3-7, its best mark since 2011.
"The fact is," said Matt Davis, executive vice president of MBU, "several of our former competitors -- regional colleges our size -- have eliminated their football programs which has left us traveling farther distances to play larger schools. Added to that dynamic is the fact that 80-plus percent of MBU students come from Christian schools and home schools in the midwest that do not play high school football. These external realities beyond our control have greatly hampered the Sabercats' ability to build a sustainable roster large enough to safely meet the unique demands of football."
The most recent area Division III schools to drop football were Blackburn and Principia, following the 2008 season. The school was also removed from the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference following the 2012-13 school year and has been competing as an independent since. This season, only Finlandia and Washington U. will compete as independents, and Wash U joins the CCIW in 2018.
"When I became the president in 2010, we recognized that the football program was struggling to remain viable," said Marty Marriott, Maranatha president. "Since that time, we have devoted substantial resources to shore up the program including the hiring of two outstanding head coaches to lead the program. Coach Andy Peterson, and most recently coach Nate Spate worked tirelessly with their players to build upon the solid foundation of retired coach Terry Price in developing the character of the young men who play football at MBU. I thank God for the permanent legacy of godliness these men have built into their players through the game of football."
"Certainly, no one enjoys witnessing the end of a program, especially those who have personally invested their time, talent and effort in the program," Thompson said. "While we understand the short-term impact is uncertain, we know that this decision was the right one to make.
"The history and culture of football is unique, and it will be missed. That being said, our future is focused on our strengths and our ability to sustain safe and viable intercollegiate athletic teams.
"This has been the most difficult decision that we have faced during my tenure as athletic director," Thompson said. "But we understand that God opens and closes doors of opportunity."