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!
The suggestion may seem a trifle bizarre at first glance, but a little reflection will show that horse racing has had a close relation to the intellectual life from the earliest times. In all sacred and profane literature the horse has been the intimate friend of man, and it has been his mission to take upon his broad shoulders the load that had become too heavy for his master. The sun itself travelled in a chariot drawn by the most beautiful and the swiftest horses.
It will be at once recognized that a horse race has all the advantage of a football bout and lacks many of its objectionable qualities.
In the first place, it is a better money-maker than a football show. Secondly, it is the sort of event on which the old grads and the undergrads can bet in more way than they can even in football. In the third place, it has the great advantage that the whole audience, including the feminine part, can understand it.
This last point may have its practical advantages. True, many thousands of dollars are spent every year in paying the admission to football games for those who have only the faintest notion of what the game means or how it is played. But in this very fact there is a danger. It may be that people will grow weary of paying good money to watch a show they do not comprehend. But horse racing is as old as civilization and promises to live to the end of time. It has a universal human appeal. It is more conservative to tie up to horse racing as a steady income than to football, which has indeed proved a paying investment in recent years, but which may go bad in the market at any moment, like many other investments that seemed so fair only three years ago. Think what a pot of money a Harvard-Yale horse race would take in!
Of course there are simple-minded people who still inquire what need a university has to make money out of a football team, particularly when the boys who earn the money have to work so hard that they have very little time for the intellectual life which is assumed to be the purpose of the university. Such people point to the fact that no great university of the Old World--not Oxford, nor Paris, nor Berlin, nor Bologna--has ever made a cent out of football. But this is all beside the point. Our universities did not grow into universities as did those of Europe. They assumed the name just as a good man in Kentucky acquires the title of Colonel. They are in a large measure made up of undergraduate colleges, schools of business, correspondence schools, music schools, and all the other things that serve to attract students. This state of affairs is likely to continue for a long time, and these institutions will desire to obtain large sums of money to maintain an athletic regime so that their boys may be induced to play games which apparently they would not otherwise play. Hence the need for football or some equally good money-getter.
It is from this consideration that horse racing commends itself so admirably as a substitute for football. It will bring in just as much money--perhaps more. It will give the boys time to study. It will save the lives of a number of boys every year. It will bring the youth into acquaintance with that noble servant of man, the horse. Here is the solution of the problem of how the collages can make enough money out of one sport to support an elaborate programme of athletics while at the same time protecting their students from the commercializing tendencies of the process. Horse racing is the answer. Once more let the noble animal lift from the shoulders of mankind a load which becomes year by year more difficult to carry.