The following article, reprinted through the courtesy of the Atlantic Monthly, was written by Mr. Henry Pritchett, presiden of the Carnegle Foundation which made a detailed study of American college athletics in 1929 and attacked their general conduct.
In its twenty-third bulletin, issued in 1929, the Carnegie Foundation published a detailed study of athletics as practiced in American colleges. The report made clear the fact that in the colleges of our country organized athletics, and particularly football, had ceased to be games played for sport's sake, and has been transformed into shows for the public, through which the colleges received huge sums in gate receipts, comparable in some cases to the income from tuition fees.
This report aroused varied emotions in the breasts of those responsible for the conduct of college athletics. There were some quick denials, but the facts in detail were always made available, and in the end the accuracy of the report was generally admitted. Some colleges proceeded to 'clean up', but in general this process, even when the intentions were of the best, has not been easy.
In the words of the sermon to the fishes,--
The sermon now ended, Each turned and descended; The eels kept on feeling, The pikes kept on stealing, Much delighted were they, But preferred the old way.
The truth is that trying to keep college football pure and undefiled, and at the same time make it pay large sums into the college treasury, is very much like the effort to enforce the Volstead Act--it runs counter to the qualities of human nature. When the football player sees his college gather in a million dollars in one year in gate receipts and considers how hard he has been worked to achieve that result, he is strongly inclined to feel that he is entitled to some of the swag. To sure, this money is supposed to be used to maintain the general athletic programme; but for the football players athletics means reporting for duty in August, and working hard till after Thanksgiving, only to resume practice early in the spring. He has begun his football in the secondary school (sometimes for pay), and when he sees his college taking in all this easy money he sees no reason why he should not receive something for the hard work which brings so much money into the college till. At this point comes the bootlegging alumnus, filled with ardor for the success of Alma Mater, ready to subsidize the young athlete by dark and devious methods.
This makes a situation in which our poor human nature is sorely tried. College officers may do their best, but under the most virtuous of deans it is difficult to keep the young athlete from taking pay if his college is cashing in on the game to the tune of hundreds of thousands. It is the Eighteenth Amendment complex transferred to college athletics.
The situation might be dealt with in several ways.
The college might, conceivably, take action to denature football as a money-making enterprise. They might cut out the professional coach, give up gates receipts, and put football back to the status of a game as it is conducted by the undergraduates of Oxford and Cambridge. This would be admirable, but is there any probability that it will be done in any reasonable time? Would, for example, great football institutions like Harvard and Notre Dame, or Chicago and the University of Southern California, forgo games in which some hundreds of thousands of dollars are realized at a single gathering? Perhaps they will in time, but the time may be in the long future. If one of good old colleges had the courage to do this, it would reap a reward beyond its wildest expectations. A little virtue in a naughty world is so resplendent.
There is another method which does not impose so severe a test of academic virtue, but which may accomplish much. That is, to substitute some other sport for football that will bring just as much revenue into the college chest while not exacting the tell in young lives and lowered college ideals for which football is now, in large measure, responsible. For the cost of commercialized football is to be reckoned, not only in the present, but in the future lives of young men whose ideals of the intellectual life have been shaped under its influence. Boys start in the secondary school as candidates for football glory. They are steered into a football career in college, where they are worked to the full limit of their physical powers, showered with demoralizing publicity, and are able to catch but a faint vision of the intellectual life for which the college is supposed to stand (and sometimes does). The practical problem is to rescue these boys from the football regime and substitute something else which will bring the college just as much money.
The substitute must provide at least three things: it must be a great spectacle which will attract crowds of paying sight-seers, it must invoke at least the semblance of college rivalry, and it must be so ordered that graduates and undergraduates can easily bet their money on the result. It ought, of course, to be simple enough for the spectators--men, women, and children --to understand. But experience has shown that this is not indispensable if the ballyhoo is sufficiently vigorous. Many a spectator at a football game does not know what it is all about. He sees only the struggling figures, and if he has good luck may each sight of some warrior carried out on his shield--sometimes wounded, perhaps slain--to make a Roman holiday.
There is one sport that fulfills all these conditions, an ancient sport beloved of men from time immemorial--horse racing. Instead of a football fight with its enormous draft on the energies of its devotees and its tell of young life, let us introduce in the colleges the humane and noble sport of horse racing!