In answering your request to compare athletics in American and English colleges I wish to make it clear that owing to the comparatively short time I have been at Cambridge I have not had the opportunity to go into the matter really adequately. The opinions I have given below are not based on any deep study of the subject; thought out and written rather hastily, they represent merely observations which I have made since my arrival here last October. You may take them for what they are worth.
To my mind athletics in the English universities are run on a much better basis than in the American. The entire spirit is different over here,--and I think healthier. From what I have seen in both countries I have been led to the conclusion that the Englishman loves sport more than the American. He will go out to play golf in the middle of a raging snowstorm with the thermometer down to ten. And when the conditions of the ground and weather preclude any possibility of the hounds being able to follow the scent, he will go hunting just the same. Everyone goes in for some sport. There are practically no "grinds" in our sense of that word at Oxford or Cambridge. The types of flat-chester, sallow, bespectacled student one sees laboring in the stacks of Widener do not exist here.
At the same time the English do not take their athletics as seriously as we do in America. Of course everyone at Cambridge wants to beat Oxford, but in their eyes no victory is worth the while if they cannot have fun in attaining it. And the Englishman usually refuses to be bothered by strict training rules. A player on the rugby team is quite unlikely to lay aside his Dunhill and give up his mug of ale till a week or so before the Oxford game, if at all. If rugby developed into a game where the strictest of training was necessary, where the player had to learn signals, listen to long talks on how to play, and practice day after day without scrimmage, he would not consider it fun or sport in the true sense of the word. He would consider it a drudge, would give up the whole thing, and go out for some other sport. The track and crew men, of course, have to keep fairly strict training, but even so, they have not yet found the need of training tables where red meat is served up ad lib. They live a natural life.
With the notable exception of the dark-skinned East Indian, the yellow men from the Orient, and some of the Americans, the members of the English universities, one and all, indulge in sport: There are many more athletic fields than at Harvard. And all are crowded. What is the system which brings this about? It is based on intramural sports, on inter-college rivalry. Each one of the eighteen colleges at Cambridge has its own rugby teams. Every man, be he good or bad, is given a chance to play at least three times a week; the best players in every college on their first or second college teams every day. Elaborate inter-college football schedules are arranged. As with football, so with every other sport. The great difficulty of arranging intramural sports at Harvard is the lack of convenient units such as these colleges for keeping up the interest.
The University football team at Cambridge is made up of the best men from the college combinations. They are tried out in actual games with outside teams, and as a result, through the season the football team changes somewhat from game to game, until, by the time the Oxford contest is near, the best fifteen men are selected. During most of the week these players stay with their regular college teams, only playing together in the University games on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Contests often take place away from home, but as distances are negligible here, there is no cause for worry on the part of the faculty.
Who coaches and selects the football team? There is no "coaching system" at Cambridge. The captain picks his men, shows them a little now and then when needed, and every so often gets advice on his team from old "Blues", who correspond to our letter men. Such professional coaching as exists in England is done at the schools. By the time the men come up to college they are supposed to know themselves how to play.
As in America there is a widespread public interest in the college teams, and also, to a certain extent, the hero-worship of the players, which we see at home. But a sensible and intelligent press has perceived the dangers to college sport of too much publicity. The sporting pages present facts in a terse and dignified manner, and seldom dwell