This week, the Ivy League became the first NCAA Division I conference to announce that it will not have further sports competition this year. Presidents from the league’s schools stressed in a joint statement that, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, “we simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk.”
For Columbia, the Ivy League’s lone New York City school, stoppage of fall football for safety and risk concerns started 115 years ago.
The Lions had been a budding football power starting in the late 19th century. But after football action in the United States had caused at least 37 deaths from 1904 to 1905, Columbia abolished the varsity sport. Herbert Gardiner Lord, the chairman of the committee that announced the decision, said the sport proved “dangerous to human life.”
Lions coach Bill Morley unsuccessfully pushed for the program to continue. “When you consider that during the football season probably 100,000 players are engaged in the game, the death rate is wonderfully small,” said Morley.
The Columbia football program was restored starting in 1915. In New York on the morning of that season’s opener, The Sun proclaimed, “The campus is football mad. The prodigal son of Biblical times had no greater welcome than awaits Columbia’s prodigal — football.”
The Lions played all five of their 1915 games at home, at 4,000-seat South Field (above) on Columbia’s Manhattan campus. They won all five, including a 57-0 defeat of St. Lawrence in the opener.
Four days after the season concluded, The New York Tribune reported, “it is evident now that Columbia’s football is not of a milk and water, mollycoddle sort… plans are already under way to enlarge the seating capacity of the South Field stands to accommodate close to 10,000 next year.”
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