TRACK:SUPERSTARS AND SOFTNESS
The conflicting opinions of Avery Brundage and Jim Elliott on whether or not America is becoming a second-class track power (Is America a Second-class Track Power?, SI, Feb. 2) interested me. Both men made good points, but I'm afraid I'll have to go along with Mr. Brundage.
If America does become second-rate it won't be because the talent isn't there; it'll be because the talent wasn't used. We have a tremendous athletic potential in this country which has barely been tapped. Russia and the other countries who have come up in track have made their gains through saturation rather than through excellence.
One athlete I know was only a so-so two-miler in college, but shortly after graduating began to show promise of becoming a very excellent walker. He was forbidden to practice on his university's track because the year before he had dropped off the track squad, as he had classes until 7:30 in the evening. The coach of that school is supposedly a great developer of amateur runners because one of his other athletes happened to set a couple of world records last year, but is he truly a molder of men?
A few track clubs exist in the United States, mostly near large metropolitan centers (compared to a club for every little town in Europe), but they are oases amidst a desert of athletic decadence. Even the AAU, which is supposed to rule amateur sports, is oftentimes more concerned with politics and who gets to make what foreign tours rather than the welfare of the athletes.
February 16, 1959
Oddly enough, one of the bastions of track in this country is the same school that produced the most outspoken critic of sports in the country: Robert Hutchins. The University of Chicago offers its facilities to athletes in the area who otherwise would have no place to train and passes the hat to send them away to meets. More than 200 runners belong to the university's track club. Some are members of its varsity track team; others are graduate students attracted to the school not only because of its excellent academic program but because it offers them a place to pursue their favorite sport; others have never been to school at all. Some track club members are very good (three made the trip to Russia last summer); others are extremely mediocre (incapable of running even a 5-minute mile). One broad jumper spends 2½ hours traveling three days a week to work out at the university, because the track near his home closes before he gets home from work. Another runner works out in the confines of his basement and competes on weekends.
There is nothing the matter with track and field in this country that a good shot in the arm or a kick in the pants wouldn't cure.
I was glad to read that Jim Elliott of Villanova has enough sense to realize that America is making great strides in track. American track, as it now stands, was never better. Records are being broken again and again. How can Avery Brundage say we are getting soft?
Pointing out a few of our superstars, as Jumbo Jim Elliott has done, only tends to lull the unwary into further complacency. We're getting soft.
All of us concerned with the Olympic sports program should thank Mr. Brundage for having the courage to speak out. His counsel is much needed today. He aptly puts his finger on one of the evils of college athletics—the buildup of so-called superteams, with only the readymade athlete or superstar taking part. This tends to cut down the number of participants in the overemphasized sports (generally football and basketball), and little attention is paid to other sports. Often an assistant football coach will be named as coach of track, gymnastics, swimming, wrestling, etc., with a resultant loss of participant interest.
However, I do not agree with Mr. Brundage that the college presidents are all to blame and the athletic directors and coaches blameless. Integrity should be expected from all personnel, athletic directors and coaches as well as the college presidents.
I have known college trackmen to practice in the early hours of the morning, in rain or snow, because their academic schedules prevented them from practicing at the regular hours. These men give up their weekends, holidays and summer vacations. These men are devoted athletes, far from being soft.
WILLIAM A. HUNTER
•For an answer to Avery Brundage from superstar Dave Sime, see page 26.—ED.
FOOTBALL: PAST AND PRESENT
Avery Brundage's claim that our colleges are ruining track and field, as well as participant athletics in general, finds a wealth of documented evidence in the same issue. Twelve of our big schools plan to form a coast-to-coast football conference (Football's Jet-age Secret, SI, Feb. 2). Its purposes: to attract bigger crowds, to influence "NCAA-type legislation," to make recruiting athletes easier and to present a "tremendously attractive TV package." Exactly what do any of these have to do with education?
Just how is it going to help build character? How is it going to improve the deplorable physical condition of our youth? As Captain Slade Cutter says, "It would give the sportswriters something additional to write about," but once again the connection with education is difficult to see.
Next year I hope to play 150-pound football at the University of Pennsylvania. At the risk of sounding "Ivy," may I say that I will not bring glory to Pennsylvania, I will not play before huge crowds, nor will I give sportswriters something to write about. But I will have a lot of fun and I am certain that I will be the better for it, both physically and morally—which is, after all, the only justification for intercollegiate athletics.
V. RICHARD MARIANI
Captain Slade Cutter of the U.S. Naval Academy says that "by forming a conference of schools with uniformly high academic standards and uniformly good football teams we can prove that academic excellence and football strength can go hand in hand."
Captain Cutter's thinking is only three years in arrears. While a number of more urgent problems (e.g., how to keep attractive young women from invading the academy grounds and masquerading as Midshipmen) undoubtedly have taxed the abilities and energies of the academy authorities severely, I would point out, for Captain Cutter's edification, that just such a conference has been in existence since early 1956. Its academic standards are unexcelled anywhere in the country; its football championship in three seasons of official league competition has been won, chronologically, by Yale, Princeton and, most recently, Dartmouth. The very fact that, in its three seasons of competition, the Ivy League trophy has been won by three different members testifies per se to the quality of play.
As for the "uniformly good football teams" with which Captain Cutter apparently is deeply concerned, I'd be willing to bet my copy of Captains Courageous that when conference play in the new jet-age league begins, each year one of its 12 member teams is very likely to finish last.
GILBERT S. OSBORN
TURF: TECHNIQUE AND TWO BUCKS
Enjoyed John Hislop's article A British View of U.S. Tracks (SI, Feb. 2), since it brings to light some points of constructive criticism about American horse racing. Hislop is a well-qualified critic. He has been an amateur rider in England for over 25 years, and was leading amateur rider-for 13 years, having ridden over 100 winners, a record.
He is quite right in "observing the inadequacies of the acey-deucey seat of American riders. Last summer Ex-jockey Jimmie Stout, who is now a patrol judge at the New Jersey tracks, remarked that there are very few good apprentices these days because they ride too short and have no leg control to drive their mounts.
Most American jockeys lack the fundamentals of equitation. Attempts have been made from time to time to correct this with jockey schools. However, these schools have been met with opposition and a lack of cooperation on the part of horsemen. To improve their riding style, our jockeys would do well to read the series by Eddie Arcaro which appeared in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (The Art of Race Riding, SI, June 17, '57, et seq.).
JOSEPH A. FAGAN
Hislop does not seem to realize that most people go to the races to bet and to try to beat the odds; that if horse racing were not intriguing enough to the gambler he would take his money elsewhere.
He seems to believe we are hurting the breed here in the States with our system of racing. I strongly suggest Hislop look at American horse racing from the point of view of the American racing fan—the little gambler who wants at the least some excitement for his $2.
GRASS ROOTS & CRUMB PIE
Can't remember enjoying an article as much as I did Gerald Holland's Renaissance in Pinckneyville (SI, Feb. 2). Here is basketball with true Midwestern flavor—real grass-roots stuff. Certainly one of the best articles ever to appear in your fine publication, where topflight stories are hardly at a premium.
It's a good bet that you've made P'ville fans out of a lot of "cold, objective observers from out of town."
JAMES E. CLARKSON
WHAT'S ON CHANNEL 6C?
I'll wager that few realize the extent to which sports are going off television.
The New York Times of September 17, 1950 reported: "TV's football coverage will offer New York fans on Saturday a choice of five different football games during the season, plus three nighttime games." For a typical Saturday afternoon telecast let's take October 14, 1950:
CBS: Army vs. Michigan
NBC: Navy vs. Princeton
WPIX: Yale vs. Columbia
ABC: Dartmouth vs. Penn
Now go to the corresponding afternoon for October 1958:
NBC: Game of the Week
(Ohio vs. Illinois)
WOR: Lawrence High vs. Baldwin High
Several things appear to be significant. First, of course, is the limited number of games in 1958 as opposed to 1950; second, notice there is no eastern team for eastern fans; and third, I don't believe that Westchester, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut will be too interested in a high school game on Long Island.
With wire TV (that's a TV signal brought into the set via wire—which is practical, economical and does not need FCC approval) a whole series of neighborhood TV setups could be operated throughout the Greater Metropolitan area. There might be 25 different wire TV systems operating around the area. Each of these systems might have 25,000 to 50,000 subscribers. Each of these subscribers would be getting three channels on his wire system in addition to the seven channels he is now getting by air.
Let's call these three extra channels 6A, 6B and 6C (because in the metropolitan area you would use 6). With this kind of a wire system it would be possible for many of the college games that are now not appearing on TV to appear on a pay-as-you-see basis because the NCAA, which is now regulating football telecasting, has indicated that if and when pay TV comes football can afford to go back on the air.
But consider the other advantage of these 25 systems in a metropolitan area like New York: 6A might be carrying a big national game like Ohio vs. Illinois, 6B might be carrying Columbia vs. Army, and 6C in Baldwin, Long Island might be carrying the local Baldwin game; but the wire system up in Westchester might be carrying the other two collegiate games and on 6C the neighborhood game between Pelham and Mount Vernon.
Pay TV, instead of taking away programs that the people are now getting (and they're not getting as much as they used to), would be adding programs not only of national and regional importance but also of neighborhood importance. The big national game of the day might cost $1, the regional game 50¢, and the high school game could be 10¢, or even be free.
Football is going off the air because free TV can't afford it.
Beverly Hills, Calif.
•Mr. MacNamara's persuasive argument stems from a sporting and business interest in the wire pay-as-you-see system he describes.—ED.
THE RIGHT MOMENT
I'd like you to know how much I appreciated the wonderful caption you carried with my golf picture ("The Picture to Beat in 1959," SI, Jan. 12).
The gallery following Doug Sanders had been growing steadily all day and, when he reached the 18th green, the tension was felt by everyone.
When he finally stroked the ball it was one of those rare moments in a photographer's life when he knows the ball is hit true and if he can hold his trigger finger till the right moment everything is going to explode and make that picture he has always dreamed of getting.
DAVID F. SMITH