Amherst women’s soccer is as dominant, if not more so, than Alabama football (no, seriously).
In Division 1 college football, teams from the top division, the 1A, routinely play teams from the second tier, 1AA in “tune-up” games that prepare their starters for the rest of the season, allow backups to see the field and gives coaches the chance to evaluate their players before more important conference or marquee matchups. Sounds like a win-win, right?
Well, it is. For everyone except the 1AA teams, who routinely travel to Alabama, to Clemson, and on and on, getting destroyed by schools they really have no business competing against.
Similarly, the Amherst women’s soccer team will again open its season against the Mount Holoyoke Lyons in an away contest on Sept. 5.
This will be the fifth season in a row that the Mammoths have begun their campaign against the Lyons. Since 2010, the Mammoths have played the Lyons in one of their first three matches each season, except in 2013 when the match was cancelled.
The comparison between Alabama football and Amherst women’s soccer might not be readily apparent, but it comes into sharper relief when the Mammoths’ unbelievably dominant record against the Lyons is examined.
The Mammoths have outscored the Lyons 47-1 since 2010, averaging almost six goals per game, while their opponents have only been able to muster 0.125 on average.
Needless to say, the Mammoths have not lost since 2010 to the Lyons, the last year that data was available for both teams.
The divergent fortunes of the Mammoths and the Lyons are also apparent when comparing overall records over the same time frame, a useful barometer in determining team strength.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Since 2010, the Mammoths have not registered a losing season. Mount Holyoke, on the other hand, has had one winning season in the last decade.
Overall, the Mammoths have a record of 115 wins, 35 losses and 15 ties since 2010, while the Lyons have won 43 games, lost 104 and tied 10.
The numbers seem to indicate, in all fairness to Mount Holyoke, that the Amherst women’s soccer team is excellent, and the Mount Holyoke squad is not.
This yearly game is a recent phenomenon. Prior to 2010, the last time the Mammoths played the Lyons was in 2006, and this game was scheduled in the middle of the Mammoths’ non-conference schedule (Amherst won, 6-0).
It is only in the past decade or so that Amherst has taken to scheduling Mount Holyoke as its first, or close to that, game, a glorified tune-up to get the squad ready for the year ahead.
But why? Most other NESCAC squads do not start their years with non-conference matchups, and none seem to have as easy a time beating these initial opponents as Amherst does.
The matchup does not seem to prime the Mammoths for success any more than their opponents. And if some were to say, “Well, it’s a Five College rivalry!” one could then ask, “Then why don’t we play Smith every year, instead of just once in the last decade?”
The answer seems simple: Amherst enjoys steamrolling Mount Holyoke at the onset of every season.
So we return to D1 college football, and perhaps the highest-profile example of mismatched teams. In 2016, the top-ranked University of Alabama Crimson Tide faced off against the University of Chattanooga Mocs.
When asked before the game whether or not he thought his team could win, the Chattanooga head coach said, “Everyone in the country knows it isn’t a great matchup. We’re going to play hard and that’s all we can ask.”
And play hard they did: Chattanooga stormed out to an early 3-0 lead after a field goal … and then promptly did not score again and saw Alabama reel off 31 straight points and cruise to a comfortable 31-3 victory. If one were to ask the Mount Holyoke coach a similar question, it is unlikely that they would be as blunt as the Chattanooga head coach.
However, it would be foolish to expect anything other than an opening-game drubbing for the Lyons, considering the consistent disparity between the two schools on the pitch.
Nick Saban, the head coach of the victorious 2016 Alabama squad, has consistently come out against these games between teams with wildly different skill levels, as recently as last week.
If it were up to him, games like Alabama vs. Chattanooga, Clemson vs. Wofford, Auburn vs. Mercer and, yes, Amherst vs. Mount Holyoke, would not exist.
This is not to say that when the Mammoths line up against the Lyons that they should take it easy, score two goals and then pass the ball around its defense.
To do anything less than compete and win to the best of their ability would be disrespectful to their opponents.
But, in the future, it might behoove the athletic department to question the virtue and value of having their squads voluntarily face off against teams that legitimately cannot compete with them.
A similar storyline to that of Alabama vs. Chattanooga is likely to play out on Sept. 5 when the Mammoths face the Lyons in their season opener.
At least Chattanooga scored some points against Alabama in 2016; history tells us that the Lyons will not.