Over the past few years a far-western educator surveyed the sporting scene in American colleges and universities. What he saw angered and embittered him. Instead of finding athletics run for their educational and "character-building" value, he saw sports as a major part of big-time entertainment. University athletic departments and academic officials across the nation were agitating over whether college athletics were education or show business.
Harold W. Stokes, Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Washington, was the surveyor, and his analysis is contained in an article entitled "College Athletics: Education or Show Business," which appears in the March issue of the Atlantic Monthly.
Stokes has assumed that big-time athletic ailments can best be cured by admitting openly that intercollegiate sports are operated "primarily as public entertainment and not as educational responsibilities."
To fulfill this obligation Stokes proposes a minor educational revolution which would change the traditional relationship between student and athlete. In effect be would acknowledge that the two are incompatible, and establish separate admissions requirements for the athlete and for the student. Sports scholarships would be freely handed out to all recruited athletes, and once at college they would live solely as athletes.
In essence, Stokes' analysis of the American university sporting scene, based on the acknowledgement that sports should be public entertainment, completely divorces the athletic from the academic.
Nine years ago this relationship was discussed in a slightly different vein. At that time the eight presidents of the so called Ivy League also surveyed the undergraduate sporting scene and were as distressed as Stokes by what they saw. Professionalism, commercialism, and over-emphasis were terms used to describe the surge of "big-time" athletics they felt was sweeping post-war America.
Academic Over Athletic
Today, nine years later, a formal agreement between these eight colleges outlines a sporting code whose spirit contradicts Stokes' proposals. The new agreement--known as the "Ivy Group"-- refutes the very heart of Stokes' argument. Emphatically it denies that big-time sports have any rightful place in undergraduate athletics. Athletic scholarships are strictly taboo; spring football practice is outlawed, and bowl games have no place in education.
The new agreement is built on the principle that the academic authorities should control athletics. The pact, in effect, sets up the Ivy Group as the strong-hold of amateurism in sports.
One paragraph of the Ivy pact clarifies the new league's stand. The preamble states the following:
"Players shall be truly representative of the student body and not composed of a group of specifically recruited athletes."
The conditions of the pact require that "undue strain upon players and coaches be eliminated and that they be permitted to enjoy as participants in a form of recreational competition rather than as professional performers in public spectacles."
The line of conflict between the analysis of Stokes and the Ivy League wanders through definitions of a liberal education, problems of fund raising, and the exact obligations of educational institutions to the nation.
Each deals with fundamental conflicts between athletics and education. Stokes has considered the entire athletic picture and in so doing has been forced to soft pedal the principles of the Ivy League, which has become an ivory tower for athletic amateurism. Yet for the very reason that he deals with the sports world at large, his proposals cannot be called poppycock. Problems he considers are problems the new league has already defined and is in the process of solving.