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The forgotten sports of Bradley

Bradley’s football team plays in a game. Photo courtesy of Bradley University/Twitter

Bradley has a long and rich history, and the athletics department spans the entirety of that history. From its inception, Lydia Moss Bradley wanted athletics to be at the forefront of the institution, as part of her financial contributions were put towards a gymnasium. The sports that Bradley offers have changed since the early days, but many have withstood the test of time.

Currently, the school offers seven men’s and eight women’s NCAA-sanctioned sports, but there are always some that are left out. Here are a few of the sports that didn’t quite make the cut, or have been discontinued for the time being.

Women’s Soccer

Fun fact: Bradley is the only NCAA Division I school that sponsors men’s but not women’s soccer. 

The only sport in this article to not be offered by Bradley at one time or another, one would think that with the importance of Title IX and the rising number of women competing in athletics, the school would have added it by now, but that is not the case. In fact, more schools offer women’s soccer than men’s, leaving more questions than answers for the Braves.

As with every collegiate sport, financial considerations have to be discussed. Soccer’s popularity on campus is not what it once was, and it certainly isn’t on the level of men’s basketball, so profits may be low if another team were to be added. However, the cost to field a team does not seem like an issue as the facilities at Shea Stadium are already available, which is something that would hinder a lot of other programs looking to get their start.

There is a Bradley-sponsored women’s club soccer team, but a Division I squad does not seem to be in the works. Adding another women’s sport may push Bradley over the Title IX threshold of proportionality, but it could be a place for expansion in the future if the Braves were to add another men’s sport.

Football

Perhaps the most obvious sport that is left out on campus is football.

The first team to grace the Hilltop, football came to campus in 1897 when the university was founded, but was discontinued in 1970 in order to help out other athletic programs financially. Even now, the Missouri Valley Football Conference operates as a separate entity, as many schools in the normal MVC do not have the budgets to incorporate football without risking financial losses. This, plus the retirement of head coach Billy Stone, led to the ending of the program over 50 years ago.

The team was fairly successful up until 1949, when they would win just 89 games over the last 21 seasons and only one game in both 1969 and 1970. As a result, student interest was at an all-time low and the program was operating at a financial deficit for the last 10 years of its existence.

While it would be nice to see the Braves on the gridiron again, football is an expensive sport, and other teams we all love to watch may cease to exist if it were to come to fruition.

Swimming/Diving

The other sport besides women’s soccer that the MVC sponsors but Bradley doesn’t field a team in is swimming and diving. Both the men’s and women’s programs were discontinued at Bradley following the 2001-02 school year, with then-Director of Athletics Ken Kavanagh citing budgetary issues and a desire to raise the level of competitiveness in the athletic department as reasons for the cut.

Since the MVC began hosting a championship for the sport in 1994, both teams struggled to make an impact. They finished last in the conference each of the eight years prior to the disbandment, and only once did either program finish within 100 points of the next-best finisher.

Bradley only had the money to offer two full-tuition scholarships for each program, well below the NCAA limit of 14 for the women and 9.9 for the men. They also had an aging facility and part-time coaches, so Kavanagh did not think the cost to become competitive in the sport (which he said would be upwards of $500,000) was worth it.

Currently, Drake, Belmont and Murray State are the other MVC schools that do not field swimming and diving teams.

Men’s Tennis

Bradley disbanded the men’s tennis team in 2014 in favor of men’s indoor track, completing the trifecta of running sports on the men’s side. Fielding a team since 1921, tennis had just come off one of their worst years to date, finishing 3-18 overall and 0-4 in the MVC in the 2014 season. That same school year, men’s cross country enjoyed its best season in nearly 25 years, while the outdoor track and field team competed in the NCAA Championships for the first time since the 1970s. 

A month before the announcement, men’s tennis graduated four of their eight players and another requested a transfer. In addition, head coach Tim Gray resigned after just one year at the helm, leaving the program with no coach, few players and very little success compared to their counterparts on the track.

Three years later, with only two member schools left in the sport entering the season, the MVC dropped men’s tennis altogether.

 

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