A high level of football competition returns to St. Louis in the fall of 2022, when Fontbonne University becomes one of six Midwest colleges and universities in a new, independent athletic conference, the Midwest Sprint Football League.
Sprint football emphasizes speed and agility, offering a faster-paced style of play. While most every aspect is the same as in other college football leagues, the main difference is the weight requirement of each player — 178 pounds or less. Before each game, players must meet the weight limit.
The league was initiated by Nancy Blattner, president of Fontbonne University, and Maria Buckel, Fontbonne vice president for athletics. Blattner, formerly the president of Caldwell University in New Jersey, a member of the Collegiate Sprint Football League, contacted a group of college and university presidents, ultimately leading to the formation of the new MSFL. She will serve as founding chair of the board of governors for the MSFL. Buckel, will serve as the founding MSFL commissioner.
Fontbonne, similar to Caldwell, originally was a women’s college. Enrollment by women is higher than men, so adding the football program adds a gender balance and “brings a renewed sense of vibrancy to the campus because people are excited about those Friday evening and Saturday afternoon football encounters. It brings alums back. And it recruits a group of students who in their high school experience are accustomed to going to football games and being part of a football culture,” Blattner said.
Buckel said the addition of the sport allows a roster of 80 students to compete in a sport they love while earning a college degree. Many of the athletes have been overlooked by other college football programs because of their stature, not their ability.
Five of the six teams in the new league are Catholic institutions and the other is a Christian-based school. Sprint football is not an NCAA sport. The student-athletes will receive scholarships.
“We wanted institutions looking at the formation of these students’ character, both on and off the field, as well as developing their athletic abilities,” Blattner said. “The liberal arts institutions are very much value centered and faith based. We wanted these young men not to just get an education, not to just develop their playing skills, but also to embrace and learn to live by the values of each of these institutions.”
The coaching staff, role models themselves, will stress the school’s mission, its ties to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and the importance of community service.
Two donors are underwriting the cost of the football program and enhancements to the campus recreational and training facilities. Sponsors are sought for the team and a potential bowl game in Canton, Ohio. Buckel, the athletic director, said: “We want to be the football team for the St. Louis area. There’s a void in the professional space now, and we want to fill that. We understand the flagship in the state is going to be Mizzou, but we feel we can give a fast-paced style of football that’s going to be exciting for a lot of fans to come and see.”
Blattner said it’s critically important for Catholic families and nonCatholic families who value a faith-based education to have choices and opportunities to send their children to a Catholic university. The Midwest Spring Football League brings recognition to Fontbonne and gives students from Catholic high schools an opportunity to continue playing their sport and continue their Catholic education. It also brings revenue that supports other programs, including theology, philosophy and religion classes.
Sprint football also is attractive because of a safety factor for smaller players who won’t be forced to compete against much larger athletes.
Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville.