Keeping Athletics for All in Hard Times
A primary goal of Harvard's athletic program traditionally has been "athletics for all."
Certainly, the school has tried to field top notch teams in intercollegiate competition. But, in general, this goal has had to give equal time to the attempt to have as many participants as possible.
In recent years, inflation, the growth of women's sports, and other factors have caused the people in the Athletics Department to take a hard look at their programs in men's sports. The question they are asking is: Given our present problems, can we continue to produce high-caliber varsity teams and give a large number of students a chance to participate in sports?
So far, their answer is: maybe.
Harvard's attempt to provide "athletics for all" stretches back at least to 1946, when the Ivy Group was founded. In that year, the presidents of the Ivy schools drafted a joint statement declaring their intent to establish athletic programs for the good of their respective student bodies.
The presidents said they wanted to give every student a chance to participate in sports. Also, they said the intercollegiate teams should be representative of the student bodies.
These Ivy League schools--Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell, Penn, Brown, Columbia, and Harvard--have continued to support these aims since 1946.
Harvard has probably come closer than any other Ivy League school to the goal of "athletics for all." In the present school year, close to 1000 men have competed for Harvard against another college. About 1500 others have participated in the intramural sports program. Also, some of the remaining 2200 men at Harvard College take part in the programs of physical education and recreation offered by the Athletics Department.
Robert B. Watson '37, director of Athletics, said Harvard consistently has had the largest number of intercollegiate competitors of any school in the Ivy League. Furthermore, he said that Harvard has junior varsity squads in more sports than any other Ivy League school.
But Watson acknowledged that Harvard is having trouble maintaining a large number of student competitors.
Financial problems, which have plagued college athletic programs throughout the country, have taken their toll at Harvard.
The twin demons of inflation and recession have already caused severe cutbacks in many college sports programs. For instance, the western Big Sky Conference voted in 1973 to end league competition in baseball, swimming, tennis, golf, and skiing because of the high travel costs involved. The University of Vermont decided last fall to drop its entire football program as part of a $1.3 million overall budget reduction. Syracuse has eliminated its teams in baseball, tennis, golf, fencing, and rifle marksmanship within the past three years. And, last fall, Ivy League members voted to reduce football staffs to no more than seven full-time coaches.
At Harvard, the total budget of the Athletics Department has remained constant during the past three years. Meanwhile, the costs of running the Department's programs have climbed dramatically. In addition, the department has faced demands for new programs from groups within the University.
The numbers of women and graduate students using Harvard's athletic facilities have increased substantially in the past few years.
In sports such as basketball, swimming, crew, and squash. Radcliffe athletes have asked for equal access to the scarce facilities on campus. Also, women have set up a track team and have asked for funding from the athletic department.
The Athletics Department has had to use the same budget to deal with increasing costs and demands for new programs and services over the past few years, and athletics administrators have taken several steps to deal with this situation.
They have used ticket promotions to try to increase paid attendance at football games. They have increased the fees graduate students must pay for classes and facilities. Both of these moves have increased the revenues of the Department.
But cuts in the department's programs still have been necessary. So, before the Ivy League voted the rule change, Harvard cut the size of its football coaching staff. It has cut back on travelling expenses for teams. The number of workers employed to maintain the athletic buildings and grounds has been reduced and further cuts are planned.
But, Watson said. "We are trying desperately to keep maximum participation."
So far, no varsity teams have been eliminated and Watson says that none will be.
But several junior varsity teams have been dropped. Baseball, basketball, soccer, swimming, and golf all had junior varsity squads at some time between 1969 and 1974. None of these sports has had a J.V. squad at Harvard during this school year.
Watson said these squads were dropped because costs were high or student interest was low, or both.
J.V. baseball and soccer were dropped because of the costs involved and because Watson was not sure there was enough student interest to make J.V. squads in these sports worthwhile. However, Watson said it is now clear that there is considerable interest in both of these sports and so there are plans to institute J.V. baseball and J.V. soccer for 1975-76. Also, it is possible that there will be a J.V. lacrosse team next year.
There are now no plans to revive basketball, swimming, or golf on the J.V. level. Golf was dropped simply because it is too costly. Lack of facilities was an added problem in the cases of basketball and swimming. Radcliffe athletes have made increased demands for use of facilities in these sports recently, so even if other problems were solved, it would be hard to find facilities for men's J.V. squads in these sports.
There is some relief in sight.
If the planned $26 million Soldiers field sports complex is completed within the next few years as its designers hope the problems of inadequate space and facilities will be greatly allestated. The addition basketball and swimming facilities could spare a resurgence of J.V. interest in loose sport. In any events, many of the Harvard Radcliffe athletic teams will be able to breathe more easily what the proposed complex becomes a reality.
There is of course the problem of funding the new complex. Where will the money come from. Will there be more cutbacks. Will the athletic budget be diminished in any way to provide revenue for the facilities.
John P. Reardon '60, Harvard director of admission and coordinator for the athletic facilities program, thinks not. He is hopeful that individual and corporation, contributions alone can fund the entire complex. "I do not definitely know about funding possibilities set, but we do not want to put added costs onto the Arts and Sciences budget," he said. "Of course, once they are built, the facilities should help pay for themselves," he added, citing rental fees as a possible revenue source.
Other by League schools have responded to the present crunch in different ways from Harvard.
Two schools in particular have focused their energies on producing small varsity squads of very high quality, Watson said. He said each of these schools spends over $100,000 per year for recruiting, compared with the $100,000 Harvard spends.
Watson is critical of the policies followed at these schools. He says the heavily-recruited athletes who go to these schools are just being "used for sports." He feels that reliance on these athletes is contrary to the ideals of the Ivy League because the athletes "are not representative of their student body."
Another Ivy League school may drop several sports entirely, mainly due to lack of student interest, Watson said. He said that football is the only sport that commands a lot of student interest at this school. As far as other sports are concerned. Watson said, a student is regarded by his classmates as somewhat unusual if he goes out for a varsity team.
The road that Harvard has been travelling during this crunch has been determined by the widespread interest in "athletics for all," both within the Athletic Department and within the student body. Many students at Harvard want to participate in sports and Watson wants to give them every opportunity to do so.
Watson says that many students come to Harvard for a good education, but "they also want to see how good they can be in sports."
There are a few students who are top-notch athletes before they come to Harvard, he said, but they are the exceptions.
Watson said a large part of Harvard's teams is made up of people who were decent athletes in high school and who have developed into good athletes at Harvard "through hard work and good coaching."
This is the first of two parts of a feature on the Harvard athletic program. Part II will appear on Tuesday.