Hey Scott, hope this isn’t a bad time. Wouldn’t want to disturb you while you’re busy maligning another college football program with provocative words and a flippant tone. As a self-described “friend” and “admirer” of Stanford Football, I’m sure you’ll appreciate knowing when you’ve stepped out of bounds. So allow me to sidle up to you as we go through your article, Time for Stanford to Punt on Football? Cardinal Have No Place in the Big-Time, and I’ll explain why Stanford’s football program is going to stay right where it is. 

“Oops, is this a bad time? Am I piling on? Look, this isn’t just about last Saturday. You lost to (stage whisper) Sacramento State.”

I’ll start with the obvious: not a single Stanford fan relished losing to Sacramento State. But to answer your question: no, this isn’t a bad time. After a few down years under David Shaw, the fanbase is pretty energized about the future. There’s an entirely new coaching staff, headed by Troy Taylor, who was Sacramento State’s previous coach – you forgot to mention that detail! 

After a decade of continuity, it takes time to adjust the style of play, establish a culture, and replenish your roster. The new Cardinal is young, and your article is the equivalent of kicking a toddler in the shins during those first independent steps. 

“Maybe it’s time to think about dropping football. Not literally dropping the football this Saturday. I mean dropping the sport. It has become an uncomfortable fit for you.”

Okay, let’s move on to your questioning of Stanford’s values and whether football fits into that equation. Stanford is about excellence in all aspects. The athletics website reveals their mission of offering “a wide range of high quality programs which will encourage and facilitate all participants to realize opportunities for championship athletic participation, physical fitness, health and wellbeing.” They further recognize that participation in sports offers opportunities to teach, learn, lead, win, and serve – all values that align with football and Stanford more broadly. Fits like my Ugg boots from 2006! 

Furthermore, as you cited in your article, Stanford Football funds other sports, and thus provides opportunities for other student-athletes to learn and lead. Stanford athletes are prolific in Olympic sports, accounting for 296 medals since 1912. Your short-sighted suggestion has far-reaching consequences for thousands of swimmers, volleyball players, and the like.  

Stanford, we have seen the future of big-time college football, and you’re not in it… Sure, you could play catchup with NIL and the transfer portal, but is your heart and soul really in that?”

Au contraire, mon frère. Since 2009, Stanford had a sub-.500 record on just three occasions, and all three were in the waning years of Shaw’s career. Seven of those seasons had three or fewer losses, and they appeared in a Bowl game every year between 2009 and 2018, including the Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, and three Rose Bowls. They also won three Pac-12 titles, had five Heisman runners-up, and a No. 1 overall draft pick. 

“Big-time” can also mean preparing players for the next level, and Stanford does that too. Since 2012, Stanford has had the most NFL draft picks in the Pac-12 at 48. More than Oregon! More than USC! Pretty impressive for a “non-big-time” college football program. 

Lastly, Stanford has been slow with the transfer portal and NIL, but we are seeing an uptick in both. Taylor and staff have brought in five transfer players, including quarterback Justin Lansom from Syracuse. Additionally, the launch of Lifetime Cardinal provides access to more resources and opportunities in NIL. The collective is run by former Stanford athletes and partners, and their hearts are very much in this. 

The truth is, in the new era of college football, anything can happen. Just look at what Coach Prime is doing in Colorado at lightning speed. Northwestern and Purdue have typically been middle or bottom of the pack, but the Wildcats played in the Big Ten Championship Game in the 2020 season and the Boilermakers did so in 2022. The 1990s and 2000s were bleak for Duke, and the school is hosting ESPN’s College Game Day this weekend. Bottom line: no one thought Stanford could be a big-time football program, but they were and they can be again

“Speaking of science, it is becoming harder every day for you to justify recruiting the brainiest students in America to your beautiful campus, then sending many of them on Saturdays to have those brains pounded into Silly Putty.”

I agree with you about the seriousness of brain injuries, a risk that exists for everyone that plays the sport regardless of how “brainy” they are. The reality is, we have a better understanding of the risks than ever, and the student athletes at Stanford are well-versed in protections and consequences of the sport they play. Stanford actively researches ways to make the game safer, through AI, equipment innovations, and other means. And finally, Stanford student-athletes should have an opportunity to play football while accomplishing their dream of a Stanford education. Head injuries are serious business and – with full awareness of risks – people are deciding to do it anyway. 

David Shaw bailed out last year. That fellow bled Cardinal red. His Stanford roots were deeper than the Tree’s. Shaw didn’t get out in order to take a big-time NFL job, he slipped away because he could read the handwriting on the wall. It said your football teams will have decreasing chances of success, and relevance.”

The assertion that David Shaw walked away because he doubted that Stanford could be successful or relevant again is simply wrong. The team was in a rut, the culture (rumor has it) a shambles, and Shaw became ineffective as head coach. It was time for someone new. If there was any writing on the wall, it said, “Running the ball up the middle 15 times a game isn’t an offense. Also, cut it out with the end zone fades.””

To sum it up, Scott, I hope this has opened your eyes to what you were missing. It’s easy to take things out of context, like a loss to Sacramento State or the San Francisco Chronicle losing millions of dollars a year from 2000-2012. Those are data points that don’t accurately portray the whole picture, and strip away any recognition that change takes time following new leadership. Like the SF Chronicle following the Hearst takeover, Stanford is finding its footing under Troy Taylor’s new regime. They have the resources and they have the pipeline (like a recent commitment from four-star quarterback, Elijah Brown) as they try to recapture the greatness Stanford achieved during the Harbaugh and Shaw days. Stanford Football isn’t going anywhere.

About Jill Cowan

Jill earned an honorary degree in sports snark from Twitter University. She resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she spends the fall months at Stanford Stadium. Jill loves flea flickers, Spider 3 Y Banana, and Jim Harbaugh rage. She detests visors and The Wave.