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For Harvard's athletic department, it was a revolutionary week. The men's golf team took the ECAC championship. The football team garnered a come-from-behind victory. The women's volleyball team won two games in a row.
And Thomas F. Stephenson '64 donated $2.5 million dollars to the University to set up a Thomas Stephenson Family Chair for Harvard football coaches.
All are extremely surprising developments, for sure. But only one, the Stephenson donation, should prove important in the long-run.
Two million dollars of the donation will be put into an endowment fund. The yearly interest from the fund will pay for the coach's expenses--year in and year out. It works the same as an endowed professorship. Yale, Princeton and Stanford have such endowed chairs already.
The move is only the most recent attempt by the administration to bring Harvard into what Brown alum Joe Paterno calls "the real world" of college athletics.
This is a world in which sufficient funds for scholarships and program development are hard to come by, a world in which athletic departments must scrape and save for financial security, a world in which not all schools will are able to pay for grown men to put on pads and beat the hell out of each other on Saturday afternoons.
Sound scary? We've been there before.
Twice during this century, in the 1900s and in the 1950s, Harvard administrators seriously considered abolishing the program because of its financial burden and violent nature. They were unable to do so, not-so-ironically, because of the a obstinacy and ferocity of Harvard football fans.
The Stephenson donation, to put it all in perspective, gives those fans all they could ever want: the promise of Harvard football forever and ever.
"More than anything, it's about security," said Coach Tim Murphy. "These times are tough for institutions. This ensures that there will always be money around for the program."
At Harvard, the development means different things to different people. For zealous purists, it means another purchase in the larger sell-out of college athletics. For stuffy academics, it means the elevation of a recreational position--football coach--to the status of a tenured professorship. And for Marxist intellectuals, it means a snaky move by prissy, bourgeois capitalist universities to dominate their proletarian counterparts on the grid-iron.
But for everyone else, it means plain, good, common sense.
In these tough times for athletic departments, long-term stability is hard to come by. That stability is necessary for meaningful athletic programs to develop. Any move which ensures such security and does not compromise the integrity of the University should be welcomed.
The athletic department should not only be applauded for its efforts in securing the Stephenson endowment, but encouraged to search out more endowments for other sports--particularly those on shakier financial foundations.
Only then will we be able to look at the details of Harvard sports. Only then will we be able to worry about football comebacks and back-to-back volleyball wins.
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