It used to be that Stanford Football was something that existed for only three hours on eleven Saturday afternoons each fall, then disappeared a few days before Thanksgiving. Just as our team was fading into irrelevance, we'd look towards the traditional football schools across the nation in places like Ann Arbor and Tuscaloosa and South Bend and wonder what it would be like to follow a team whose grip extended year round.
Well, now we know. Gone are the days when we'd find out our team's starting quarterback when he took the field in early September; this spring Brett Nottingham, Josh Nunes, Kevin Hogan, and Evan Crower will perform under a microscope as they battle for the right to walk in Andrew Luck's shadow. We don't find out about young players when they break out as sophomores and juniors; we begin reading about them when they're only sixteen, and we monitor their Twitter feeds and wait on pins and needles for them to pick up a red hat on National Signing Day. Heck, we write National Signing Day with capital letters as if it were a national holiday.
Recent success has so clouded the vision of the team's supporters that I was recently involved in a serious and heated discussion on a Stanford bulletin board in which supporters argued about whether or not the team could use a five-star quarterback who was reported to be considering Stanford.
The past three years have seen three Heisman near misses, two consecutive BCS bowl bids, thirty-three wins, and the best recruiting class in school history. Stanford football has turned the corner and joined college football's elite, but is it a party we want to join?
Stanford has always revelled in the antiseptically clean nature of its football program, especially during this recent run of success. The football team sits shoulder to shoulder with Alabama, LSU, USC, and all the rest, schools with questionable morals and deep histories of NCAA sanctions, yet the academic institution still sits comfortably atop its shining hill.
In recent weeks, however, the pressures of being a top-ten football program have begun to mount. First, there was the saga of Jontrey Tillman. Tillman, a talented running back and 4.0 student from Baldwin, Louisiana, committed to Stanford months ago and was so taken with the University that he never visited another school. On January 20, just twelve days before National Signing Day, the Admissions Office informed Tillman that he would not be admitted.
The negative backlash was swift, as some criticized Stanford for declining a student-athlete so late in the process. Even worse, some suggested the coaching staff might have begun to feel they could do better than the two-star Tillman and might possibly have fabricated the admission denial in order to use his scholarship on a more highly ranked player.
There certainly couldn't be any truth to that, but one thing is for sure. Negative rumors definitely weren't swirling around Walt Harris's program six years ago.
Worse than all that, of course, is the current predicament of Shayne Skov. The Stanford Daily reported Tuesday evening that Skov was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence on campus a couple hours past midnight on Saturday night.
If this were LSU, where several players were involved in a bar fight just days before the 2011 season kicked off, or Oregon, where player arrests for speeding, theft, and assault have been too common over the past two years, or Ohio State, where NCAA violations were swept under the rug, a drunk driving accusation would come as no surprise. But this is Stanford.
To be fair, we don't yet know the particulars of Skov's arrest (I'm guessing a 0.08 blood alcohol level will be viewed much differently than, say, a 0.16 or higher), and it isn't clear what, if any, action either the University of the football team will take. The bet here, though, is that Skov will be suspended for at least a game, probably two.
What we do know, though, is that we've gotten what we wished for. Stanford Football has become one of the most visible programs in America, but with that increased visibility has come scrutiny. It has become one of the best recruiting schools in the nation, but that success has brought skepticism. It has been one of the winningest teams in the country, but those victories bring increased pressure.
But the program has been built upon a strong foundation, strong enough to withstand these challenges and more. Stanford Football is indeed venturing into uncharted waters, but the program will be fine.
[Photo Credit: Ryan Reiswig]