Each year millions of Americans attend college football games (22 million last year). Their pulses stir to the brave music of collegiate marching bands parading across the white-lined green of football stadiums, and they respond as a heaving, oceanic mass to startling plays on the field. Away from the stadiums, many millions more bask in the glory, past and present, of their alma maters. A game of football, educators have admitted, some ruefully, provides a rallying point for alumni, brings back a flood of lively memories and instills the spectator with pride at being included in this important and colorful part of the American fabric. The spectacle is precise, polished and generally admirable.
At the same time, however, several aspects of modern football trouble educators, college administrators and, in some cases, coaches, athletic directors and even alumni. And with reason. Many coaches are made to feel that they must win consistently if they are to hold their jobs—and this in turn leads to a multitude of sins. Alumni are sent combing the country for talented prospects and offer exotic inducements, including cash, for players to attend their colleges. In some cases, team practices are brutal and bloody—the hired player being considered a piece of meat who must produce on Saturday or leave school. Some schools lower academic standards for the athletic specialist. Others allow him to spare his intellect for the most important pursuits (such as X-39 sweep with power) by taking courses like bait casting and roller skating.
Abuses and the specter of abuses have become so worrisome, in fact, that the National Football Foundation, an organization that regards the celebration of college football as its chief reason for being, sounded a warning this fall in its publication, Footballetter. "We believe, "it wrote, "that football has been misused in many parts of this country and in many institutions by overzealous alumni, by hotel promoters, by Chambers of Commerce, by Downtown Quarterback and Booster Clubs, by people not connected with any college, who have used the game for financial gain or for vicarious thrill. In many communities these people and these influences bedevil the coach and the college administration."
The confrontation of amateur sport by crude commercialism is not new. Though it may have been forgotten, deep concern over morality in sports was as prevalent 25 years ago as it is today. "Football will suffer if steps are not taken to correct the evil of semiprofessionalism," asserted an Ivy League coach during the season of 1938.
December 2, 1963
"The trouble with football," echoed a prominent leader in the field of education, "is the money in it. Football is carried on for the monetary profit of the college through the entertainment of the public."
During the football season of 25 years ago, both the newspapers and the public were up in arms about overzealous recruiting and the practice of paying players to attend college. The finger of scorn was pointed at Coach Elmer Layden of Notre Dame, whose team was a fearsome power in the Midwest. Thanks to shrewd recruiting, Layden's collection of varsity players included 42 football captains of parochial and public high school teams. At Harvard 700 student sportsmen complained to police that a gambler had welshed on $8,000 worth of wagers. More than a score of freshman football players at the University of Pittsburgh laid down an ultimatum: either the university would pay their tuition, room, board and certain other expenses or they would quit the team. And in the Midwest, Robert Maynard Hutchins was in the process of dissolving intercollegiate football at the University of Chicago.
Three weeks ago Chicago's recent attempts to restore football on a modest scale were met by students staging the first football sit-down strike in history. The strike delayed but did not prevent Chicago's game with North Central College of Naperville, a suburb of Chicago. The Chicago University student council expressed apprehension that the university would make a return to big-time football. While the student demonstration might have been more prankish than earnest, it does point up the fact that college students, as well as their elders, continue to worry about the effects of the pressures of big-time football.
Is their concern justified? To find out, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED solicited the opinions of the 25 Silver Anniversary award winners of 1963 (SI, Nov. 11)—varsity players graduated in 1939, who have since distinguished themselves as leaders in the communities in which they live. These men represent every geographical section of the country and come from large and small colleges. Five were All-Americas, and another, Bill Osmanski, became one of pro football's finest players. All were asked to evaluate the ethical standards of college football today and to compare them with those they knew 25 years ago. To get a fuller picture, they were asked many specific questions about the game then and now, among them the following:
Is the game rougher today? Is it more or less fun? Are there more pressures on the players from coaches, schools and alumni? Are players more susceptible to the blandishments of gamblers. Aware of both the good and possible evil in football today, would you play now if you were just entering college? Would you advise your own or other boys to play?
In general, the Silver Anniversary award winners are satisfied, even pleased with the present state of football. Three-quarters of them believe that the game has improved, that it is faster, more exciting to watch and better played. They attribute this to increased specialization brought about by the platoon system, improved equipment, the example set by professional ball (which young players can see on TV) and expanded skills resulting from better coaching. Many, however, recognize that with these improvements have come less desirable changes—an impersonal relationship between coach and player and increased commercialization. While most were reluctant to say so directly, their statements reflected a somewhat wistful feeling for the simpler past. One who is strong on the point is, surprisingly, Allie Reynolds, the member of the group who achieved the greatest fame as an athlete. A fullback at Oklahoma State and later an inspired pitcher with the New York Yankees, Reynolds said: "I don't think football is as much fun today. It's too mechanized. The players are too tightly fitted into an assembly line. Football is not as rewarding an experience now, despite the prestige gained by big football schools."
Similarly, the Rev. Ray Montgomery recalls football as a less complex game when he played. "I had an alley, two yards wide, over and under which no one could pass," says the former DePauw guard, now pastor of the Christian Church in Speedway, Ind. "Offensively, we knew that the defense was fixed in place. We knew within a yard where every player would be. Today the players stunt, block, cross-block, leave great holes. Your opponent taxes your ability to readjust. He's more nimble and elusive." But Mr. Montgomery had a good time playing football. "If they have more fun today," he says, "more power to them. We enjoyed it, though."
Robert D. O'Brien, better known as Davey during his All-America days as a passing tailback at TCU, thinks today's football is a great deal like the game he played but, for obvious reasons, he is concerned about the fate of the small man. Now in the automobile business in Fort Worth, O'Brien says that "the 5-foot-7 man like myself is pretty much a thing of the past. He is discouraged at the outset, and some good prospects arc probably overlooked."
But assembly-line methods are precisely what appeal most to Donald McNeil, former center at Southern California and now head of the J. A. McNeil Company, a construction firm. McNeil is intrigued by the fact that today's game is more intricate. "It requires more mental capacity and greater concentration," he says. "Today's player must be able to learn five times more plays than he did in our era. He must be bigger and faster. He gets better coaching, wears better equipment, plays on better fields and executes his assignments better. Smalltime football is as good today as big-time football was 25 years ago."
Former Holy Cross and Chicago Bear Fullback Bill Osmanski, now a practicing dentist and a lecturer on dentistry at Northwestern, agrees. "Since the advent of the T formation," he says, "there is more deception and more interesting play. It's a better game with free substitution."
The award winners are evenly divided over whether the game is rougher today than it was, and some cite the same facts to support opposite points of view. V. Earl McCaleb, for instance, former co-captain at Abilene Christian and now an insurance agent, thinks it was rougher in 1938. "There have been rule changes designed to do away with roughness. There are stiff penalties for roughing the passer or kicker and piling on. Today's player can afford to play a little harder—but not rougher—because equipment has improved. Mouthpieces protect the teeth, and face guards on the helmet protect the face. We always had several players get their teeth knocked out. I got my nose broken, which I don't think would have happened if I had been wearing the face guard they have today."
"Face cages add from 30% to 40% to the bravery of today's players," thinks Mr. Montgomery. "A split lip, peeled nose and cut tongue were the badges worn proudly on Saturday night 25 years ago. Today you can come out of a game with a face looking like an ad." But he believes deliberate roughness is the great exception in present-day college football. "The real weapon of today is the forearm," he says.
Robert W. Gibson, who was center on the Dartmouth team and is now vice-president of a Minneapolis lawn-mower concern, agrees with Mr. Montgomery. "More talented athletes are playing for keeps as if their livelihood depended on it. With pro scouts in the stands almost every week, they are virtually playing for a contract."
Probably closer to the problem of roughness, both legal and illegal, than any other award winner, Dr. Daniel F. Hanley, college physician at Bowdoin and an authority on athletic injuries, believes that the game is no rougher among schools the size of Bowdoin but that it is in bigger schools. "This is a direct result," he says, "of officials and players seeing the pros pile on every Sunday. They figure this is the way things-should be done. In the college game the ball is dead when it's grounded. Piling on is done just to hurt other players. The number of football injuries would be reduced if piling on were stopped."
Thirteen of the Silver Anniversary winners think football is more commercial now than it was 25 years ago. "Because of increased gate receipts," says Edward J. Bock, former Iowa State All-America guard and a vice-president of the Monsanto Chemical Company, "football is big business now. But this is not bad. In fact, I feel it is desirable. As long as the NCAA polices the schools and requires that they each maintain the same standards of conduct regarding athletes, I see no evil."
But Brigadier General John W. Dobson, who played end for Army and currently heads the Antilles Command in Puerto Rico, disapproves of what he calls hypocrisy in college football. "I'm in favor of letting the professionals play pro football and the schools play amateur football," he says. "Schools are getting involved in huge stadium investments, and to pay them off they have to draw crowds by fielding a winning team week after week. If three-fourths of our big football factories were honest they would come right out and hire a football team to represent them. Except for the Ivy League and the military academies, the football team does not belong to the student body. Football should be looked at as a game and not as a business or a method of advertising your college."
Those award winners who went to small colleges and who have kept in close touch with football at similar schools feel that the schools have kept their sense of proportion. "At my college, Colgate," says Howard L. Jones, president of Northfield and Mt. Hermon preparatory schools in Northfield, Mass., "football does not 'wag the dog.' It is played with zest—we enjoy winning—but the general conviction is that what happens in the classroom is of greatest importance."
The contrast between the attitude toward football at a large university and a small college is pointed out by Dr. Martin Hilfinger, who was co-captain at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. and is now involved in cancer-research projects. "At the 'emphasis' schools, the attitude is almost ridiculous. The only goal is making the top 10 and then going on to a bowl to add to the school's finances. A coach's job can be at stake on the outcome of a single game. If the whole interest is to win at any cost, the game is not a good influence. Football should be only part of a student's life. Many schools have lost all sense of proportion in their efforts to recruit players. I'm not aware of any college seeking out prospective top scholars."
Only four of the 1963 award winners thought that today's players were apt to be tempted by gamblers, and all of these attributed this more to the times than to football. "In every area of society," says V. Earl McCaleb, "there has been a general breakdown in high moral standards of conduct. Society fails to condemn such things as cheating, dishonesty, immorality. Everything is easier nowadays for the unscrupulous."
Some of the award winners, in contrast, feel that only extremely rarely will a player be susceptible to bribery. Fred W. Heitmann Jr., former guard at Northwestern and now a bank president in Chicago, says flatly, "College football players are not and never have been an easy prey to gamblers."
Opinion was sharply divided when the question of present-day recruiting practices was considered. Allie Reynolds feels that overzealous recruiting causes many athletes to become more interested in sports than in education. He is in favor of holding a college's recruiting to a specified geographical area.
"The number of good players coming out of high school is limited," points out Jerome (Brud) Holland, an All-America end for Cornell and now president of Hampton Institute in Hampton, Va., "so there is bound to be overemphasis on the true worth of the sought-after player in relationship to the need of the college. In the larger, state-supported schools, where a winning football team brings in money for other activities, recruiting is much more aggressive than it used to be."
Fred Heitmann speaks with approval of the Big Ten grant-in-aid program. "A prospective student," he says, "must have a satisfactory rank in his class and a minimum college board score before he can even be considered by a Big Ten school. Once admitted, he must maintain a certain average to continue to receive aid. There still remains in some schools the practice of allowing athletes to take courses that require little effort to pass, and this is a bad influence."
Opinion was divided, too, on the influence wielded by alumni on the football team. Victor Bottari, the All-America from California, and Dr. Charles Sprague, who played at SMU, think alumni pressure on the school to field a winning team and their efforts to induce players to attend their school have decreased. "Alumni are saner nowadays," says Bottari, an insurance man now.
"When I went to school," recalls Dr. Sprague, Dean of Tulane's School of Medicine, "conference rules were not so stringent, and the scramble for talent was more informal. So it was quite possible that a good high school player would be offered a convertible to attend a particular college."
An entirely opposite view is expressed by Allie Reynolds. "Alumni pressure," he says, "is evident in every phase of present-day football except the actual conduct of the game itself. This is obvious from the great lengths schools go to to build winning teams."
Would they play football again? Almost unanimously, yes. The Reverend Robert Green, however, would not. A former captain of the Harvard team and currently rector of St. Matthew's Parish in Wilton, Conn., Mr. Green thinks football took up too much of his time. "After viewing it from a perspective of 25 years," he says, "I wish I had divided my time into more activities."
Almost all the rest speak highly of football, citing benefits derived from it that cannot be obtained anywhere else. "There is the travel, the sense of achievement, the solid friendships," says Dr. Holland. "You learn to budget your time and make it meaningful. What I learned under Coach Snavely was to take defeat without becoming frustrated. To look forward to a better day. Some kids can go all through college and not learn defeat. But in football you may get your head knocked off one day and go right back the next, determined to do better."
"Perhaps I would have gotten better grades if I had not devoted the time to football," says Dr. Sprague, "but the experience I gained more than offset what I missed from not taking part in other student activities. There's something about hard physical contact that is valuable to a man. At the time it's an outlet, but in addition it teaches you to accept adversity and to profit from your mistakes."
Brigadier General Dobson points out another value. "The basic problem of prejudice," he says, "is a failure to develop respect for the other fellow. In a contact sport like football, where everyone on the field is accepting the same blows and trying to win for his team, you develop that respect and there is no room for prejudice."
"Football is good for the player," says former All-America Marshall Goldberg, now a vice-president of Emerman Machine Corp. in Chicago. "General MacArthur has stated many times that if he had to pick a man to carry out an important job, he'd pick the one who had played college football. He can stand the knocks and disappointments better."
Nearly all the award winners would recommend that a boy play football at college—but with qualifications. Dr. Hartley believes the football player should take up at least one other sport that has carryover value, such as tennis, golf or swimming. Several thought too many pressures were brought to bear on the big-time college player and recommended football at the smaller schools, but NBC Foreign Correspondent John Hlavacek thinks the choice should depend on the boy's size. "If he is small in size," says Hlavacek, a former tackle at Carle-ton, "he would be better off at a small college. But if he is big and talented, I would recommend a larger college, to let him realize the most from his ability. Small-college football is a lot of fun to play, but I see nothing wrong with a boy attending a big school, forgetting about the fun and working hard to make it with the pros. Football players are valuable pieces of property. There is no reason why the boy shouldn't benefit by letting someone make use of that property."
"I would advise a player," says Davey O'Brien, "to choose a school that offered him what he wanted to study. Next I would tell him that he should play football under the best coach he could find—and I don't mean the best football strategist or the coach with the best record. I feel the character of the coach the boy plays under is more important than whether he plays big-time or smalltime football. I played under Dutch Meyer, and there's no keener competitor. But he always taught us that there was something more to the game than having to win all the time. His first concern was always each boy as an individual."
A kicker and passer at Yale, Gilbert W. Humphrey, chairman of M. A. Hanna Company of Cleveland, has two sons at that university. George is center and captain and Watts is a sophomore on the varsity. Like O'Brien, Humphrey stresses the importance of the coach. "I can't say enough for John Pont," he says. "His relationship with the players is much closer than the one we had with the coaches 25 years ago." He is pleased that players get no special privileges at Yale. "My sons have to take the same courses, and they must maintain the same grades. They don't have to play football. They play it because they like it."
Thus the game of college football—with its rule changes, more intricate formations, greater wealth of plays—remains, despite overemphasis at some schools, as much a builder of the character of today's sophisticated players as it was 25 years ago. As for the alleged increase of abuses, the situation is best summed up by Herman Weiss, who played football at Case Institute and is now a vice-president at General Electric.
"Twenty-five years ago, social, political and economic problems seemed quite remote," he says. "Today we are all involved in them. We are also involved more in morality. Exposing abuses in any field is a popular activity. What might have gone on 25 years ago in collegiate football and been completely overlooked is carefully scrutinized today. I don't believe there was much corruption in college football when I played, and I don't believe there is much corruption today. And I don't believe it will grow corrupt. The people interested in the game won't let it."