Major and Minor--A Distinction?

Over 200 years ago, Cambridge and Oxford originated the distinctions between major and minor sports. The two universities awarded "blues" in nine sports and "half blues" in seventeen others. This distinction, with slight variations, carried over to America during the early decade of the 20th century. In the then theoretical Ivy League, major and minor sports were clearly distinguished by the size and color of letter award.

Today, the difference still stands in all the Ivy institutions except Columbia and Princeton. In 1934 the Lions formally equalized letter awards in all sports. Today Columbia Athletic Director Ralph Furry is delighted with the system. "It's just perfect for us," he said.

At Princeton, the distinction was abolished in 1949. Under the Tiger plan letters are awarded on the basis of a complicated gradation system, where an average football player will win a better grade letter than an average squash player. In effect, the Princeton system has abolished major and minor sports per se.

Today the six other Ivy Colleges, officially and unofficially, are weighing the merits of the traditional distinctions. Most favor either abolishing them or making serious modifications.

Here, Athletic Director Tom Bolles calls the reason for the differences "largely historical. The terminology is unfortunate. The distinction has just grown up." Bolles hunts around for a suitable criteria, such as danger, physical contact, stamina, spectator, cost, but can come up with no clear reason other than "largely historical."

At Yale, the Undergraduate Athletic Council, composed of captains and managers of all varsity sports, last year recommended to the Board of Athletic Control that all distinctions between athletic awards be abolished. Athletic Director Delaney Kiphuth expects a definite decision before the end of this year.

Pennsylvania coaches feel that "It is ridiculous for one sport to get more recognition than another," according to their Athletic Director Jeremiah Ford, Ill. Like Kiphuth, he predicts that the Red and Blue will equalize athletic awards within a year.

Cornell has moved more slowly than Yale or Penn, but the "Big Red" Athletic Director Robert Kane believes that eventually the new Ivy Leagues in all sports will end distinctions between majors and minors.

This was the case at Brown and Dartmouth. Neither Robert "Red" Rolfe of the Green nor Paul MacKesey of the Bruins indicated their respective institutions had taken positive steps at abolition but both liked the idea.

So the matter stands. Two hundred years after Oxford and Cambridge originated the system, the colleges of the Ivy Group--the self-appointed center of American amateurism--are reconsidering the historical background of major and minor.