|Cameron Yowell, freshman quarterback last season for Occidental, wore No. 18 for the Tigers in their shortened season.
Photo by Ronnie Glover, d3photography.com
Occidental College football will play its 2018 season, thanks to a remarkable recruiting effort led by first-year head coach Rob Cushman and a fundraising drive that raised more than $970,000 in gifts and pledges from football alumni in three months.
President Jonathan Veitch announced his decision at today's regularly scheduled meeting of the Occidental Board of Trustees, marking a hard-won comeback after the cancellation of six games of the 2017 schedule over safety concerns raised by an injury-diminished roster.
"This is a true team achievement that deserves to be celebrated, as well as a potential inflection point for football and Oxy athletics more broadly," Veitch said in a campus announcement following the board meeting. "It's my hope that we can take this model of alumni support and apply it to other Oxy sports. We need the help of all alumni to sustain the proud tradition of Oxy athletics."
Between returning players and first-year recruits, Cushman expects to have a roster of somewhere between 55 and 58 players. "Working under the most daunting of circumstances, Rob practiced what he preached — he never gave up," Veitch said. "Leadership is a key to success in any sport, and Rob has put on an impressive display of leadership this spring."
A volunteer team of football alumni led by Vance Mueller '86, who played five years of pro ball with the Los Angeles Raiders, worked closely with college fundraisers toward a four-year goal of $1.14 million to help support the program. As of Sunday, they had exceeded their first-year goal and raised 85 percent of the total. "Vance had great confidence that alumni would respond," Veitch said. "His faith and hard work have paid off."
The funds raised by football alumni include an additional 25 percent for the greatest needs of Oxy athletics, which will be devoted to women's athletics as part of a broader fundraising effort that will begin next fall.
While recruitment and fundraising results are justifiably cause for celebration, "At the same time, we can't lose sight of the significant challenges that still exist," Veitch cautioned. "The national conversation about the future of football shows no sign of abating."
The number of scholar-athletes who can meet Oxy's rigorous academic standards has always been limited, and the indications of decline in participation in youth programs suggest that pool could become even more limited over time, Veitch said. "I've made it clear that the college has not and will not sacrifice safety or academic or student conduct standards to field a sufficient roster size. For all of these reasons, we will continue to monitor and revisit the viability of the football program as circumstances require."
In January, an Athletics Task Force composed of faculty, students, alumni, staff, coaches and trustees recommended that Occidental redouble its efforts to field a safe and competitive football team. That recommendation was contingent on a recruiting effort that yielded a viable roster and a substantial increase in financial support for the program from alumni.
It was agreed that a progress report on recruiting and fundraising would be delivered by the president at the April 22 Board meeting.