It used to be said that when Ohio State University lost a football game the bonds of the City of Columbus plummeted. That was an exaggeration, of course, though it is true that in 1940, the year Ohio State lost to Michigan 40-0, trading in the bonds of the Columbus Railway Power and Light Company actually was suspended on the New York Stock Exchange. But nothing of the sort has happened for a long time. The credit rating of Columbus is Aa in Moody's Municipals; the financial structure stands firm regardless of victories or defeats. And yet in Columbus people are regarding the students at Ohio State more warily than at any time in the past, and they will tell you—sometimes bitterly, sometimes incredulously—that today's students are self-centered, aloof, unresponsive. Why, they don't—alas—so much as know the names of the school's football players. There are even gloomy predictions that the whole Big Ten will break up because high academic standards and the strict enforcement of recruiting regulations are making it increasingly difficult to attract the best athletes. If you learned your history from James Thurber's recollections of his days at Ohio State, it is all too unbelievable.
Academic standards? Grades? You remember Bolenciecwcz, the great Ohio State tackle in Thurber's My Life and Hard Times. Thurber described an economics professor struggling to get Bolenciecwcz to answer just one question so he could give him a grade and thus make Bolenciecwcz eligible to play in the Illinois game.
"Name one means of transportation," the professor begged. "You may choose among steam, horse-drawn or electrically propelled vehicles."
Bolenciecwcz said nothing. He had "the look of a man who is being led into a trap." The profound silence lasted until the professor, in Thurber's words, broke it "in an amazing manner. 'Choo-choo-choo,' he said, and turned instantly scarlet...' How did you come to college this year, Mr. Bolenciecwcz? Chuffa, chuffa, chuffa, chuffa...' "
"M' father sent me," said Bolenciecwcz virtuously. "I git a 'lowance."
Amid the outcries of the students, some imitating train whistles and others pretending to be locomotives, the professor asked, "What did you ride here on?"
"Train," said Bolenciecwcz, thus coming up with the answer that meant Ohio State would be at full strength on Saturday. Such was the legendary hold of football on Ohio State in its golden age, and its allure is still impressive. The beautiful old gray stadium beside the Olentangy River was first sold out for a home game during the days of the administration of that Ohio favorite son, Warren Gamaliel Harding. For the past 13 years attendance at Ohio State games has averaged better than 80,000, a figure the pros cannot match.
But football's dominance on the campus is over. The dissolution of the Big Ten, or even the end of college football, can be discussed as calmly as any other current campus topic: the draft, Vietnam or the question of whether women visitors ought to be compelled to get out of men students' apartments by 2 o'clock in the morning. "The stipulation is patently unenforceable," editorialized The Ohio State Lantern calmly, "unless the dean of women's secret police force is far larger than we imagine."
The fact that almost any question can be discussed with serenity at Ohio State is one reason why the city of Columbus no longer fully understands its university. For half a century the Big Game at Ohio State has been the Greatest Show on Earth for Columbus. Without a flicker of hesitation, residents call Columbus the football capital of the U.S. They are far more proud of that than they are of the status of their home town as the capital of Ohio.
A young Ohio State professor says, "Football here is an important midwestern cultural event. It is not primarily a college matter. It is for the town of Columbus and for adults. You will find a far greater student awareness of football at Alabama or at Texas—in the sense that students know who the players are and what games are coming up—than you will find among the students at Ohio State."
In Columbus everyone knows who the Ohio State players are and all about the team's schedule. When Ohio State and Michigan meet in their annual play-in, it seems that all Columbus (pop. 580,000) is rushing to the scene. It not only comes to see the game, but also to observe with warm possessiveness such spectacles as the huge Ohio State band—an organization so dedicated that during the 1950 Michigan game it continued to play throughout a blizzard—and the traumatic reactions of Coach Wayne Woodrow Hayes, guiding light of OSU teams for 16 years, as he stalks up and down the sidelines, shouting imprecations at the officials, personally calling every play, visibly suffering each time his team fails to gain, complaining, gesticulating and living up to his reputation as the man who hates to lose. Hayes is the sort of coach that Columbus understands and appreciates.
On a game day 35,000 cars converge on the stadium. From downtown Columbus, crowds pass the tall luxury apartments of Thurber Towers in Thurber Village. They park over some 50 acres of intramural playing fields—including 24 for football—on the giant pastures of the agricultural college across Olentangy River and at the base of the two new dormitories beside the stadium. The dormitories are 24 stories high, the tallest in the U.S.—gaunt, two-toned, almost windowless structures that are known on the campus as the Grain Elevators. Crowds on foot move out High Street and Neil Avenue, cross the Oval, and wander down the narrow one-way streets past Mirror Lake, where grass-lined banks are favored for campus romances. It is here that new members of Bucket and Dipper, a men's honorary society, are initiated during May Week, kneeling on a certain rock in the lake while the old members of the society pelt them with buckets of water.
The way leads past the tall twin smokestacks of the power plant that remind one of how large an industrial complex a university campus with 38,000 students really is, then downhill, past the sizable campus police station and on to the stadium. There is a unity of setting and action here, the right place for football drama. And the day ends happily when the bells of Orton Tower ring out after an Ohio State victory. They do not ring if Ohio State loses. There have been 162 home games since 1940, and the bells have been silent after only 37, three of them last year.
Milton Caniff, an Ohio State graduate who created Terry and the Pirates, summed up the scene in a locally famous poem:
So, on these bright autumn Saturdays, when cars are mercifully stopped at campus gates,
I will take my place in that friendly web of people moving ever west across the Oval....
The poem managed to link football with school spirit, brotherhood, love of country and the civic pride of Columbus, but sentiments of that sort do not seem out of place at Ohio State. The hippie subculture thriving at some more notorious colleges could hardly be more remote. People at Ohio State are no more afraid of being sentimental or square, or corny, or old-fashioned than the violin player who recites poetry on the Lawrence Welk Show. Early in the school year freshmen go to a Dad's Day Game at which the Dad of Dads is chosen. The Dad of Dads award goes to the father of the student who writes the best essay on the subject: Why I Think My Dad Should Be Dad of Dads. It is probably better than having the old man hanging in the closet, and it certainly indicates how far Ohio State is from the off-Broadway mood of many colleges.
Rarely do you see the long-haired one: in the enormous crowds of undergraduates the close-cropped Jack Nicklaus look is the fashion. Among the brisk Ohio State girls hurrying past the parking lots and advertisements—DOES EVERYONE BANK AT 16TH AND HIGH?—there are almost none of the pale, macabre types found among the student demonstrators at Berkeley. There is a lot of talk that brings to mind the '20s—the happenings on Fraternity Row around 15th and Indianola, for example. Now the row includes the new $300,000 house of Alpha Tau Omega, as impressive in its way as the $375,000 Phi Gamma Delta structure or the quarter-of-a-million dollar Delta Upsilon House.
In short, if Ohio State's student body has been banking its football fires—and it has—it is not because the students have suddenly turned into 38,000 campus rebels, oddniks and demonstrators. The university's athletic department says that today's students are "apathetic," but that does not explain it, either. What is happening is a deeper matter and one that seems to apply to many colleges. It is not so much a case of today's students parting company with football as it is of the discovery of other interests previously obscured or even nonexistent. The change just happens to be more apparent at Ohio State because 1) football was once dominant, almost to the exclusion of other undergraduate activities; and 2) Ohio State was renowned as the greatest football factory of them all, a reputation profoundly approved of in the city of Columbus, which looks upon the school as its personal property.
There are many reasons why Columbus citizens have long thought that Ohio State was their school, that they do, in a way, own it. To begin with, they bought it. A century ago Ohio legislators were backward about accepting 630,000 acres of fine federal farmland to which Ohio was entitled if it would start a land-grant college. The University of Michigan, for example, had been operating for 52 years before Ohio got around to taking action in 1870. Ohio finally did accept the land and sold it for 54¢ per acre—amid charges it could have got more for it. This was still not enough money to start the college, so the state offered to establish OSU in the county that would pay the most to get it. Franklin County, which means Columbus, got the school for $300,000.
The first trustees bought the old Neil farm—three and a half miles from the corner of Broad and High in downtown Columbus—because there was a good spring on the property, and from this point Columbus lost interest in OSU for 40 years. Except for an occasional tennis match, when the governor let the team use the court at the mansion, and a few baseball games, sometimes with a squad garbed in the cast-off uniforms of the Columbus Buckeyes, the college scarcely had a sports program. James Pollard, in Ohio State Athletics, 1879-1959, wrote: " 'Official records prior to 1912 appear to have been lost or, worse, destroyed." Judging by fragments that have survived, destruction would be understandable. Through the historical gloom you get such football scores as one from the 1892 season: Oberlin 50, Ohio State 0. Or 1902: Michigan 86, Ohio State 0.
Ohio State first played Michigan in 1897, losing 34-0, and except for two ties it lost every Michigan game until 1919. Ohio State's first touchdown against Michigan was not made until 1904. The next came in 1908. There was a 3-3 tie in 1910, which was hailed as a great victory until the undergraduates drank to celebrate it and were roundly censured in Columbus. The first Ohio State success against Michigan did not come until 1919. Football history has rarely recorded such dogged determination by such persistent losers: in 21 years Ohio State scored three touchdowns and one field goal against Michigan, while Michigan piled up 369 points against Ohio State.
Aside from being the state capital, Columbus was a flat, nondescript farm town. When you read of early Ohio State athletics it is impossible not to feel that its citizens were heartily ashamed of the poor, struggling school on the outskirts. In those days the big sports events in Columbus were the baseball and football games between Columbus East High School and Columbus North or Columbus Central. High school games often drew bigger crowds than college games. George Bellows, a tall, ungainly boy, played basketball and baseball at Central High. The level of competition was such that years later, when Bellows was studying art in New York (before such paintings as Stag at Sharkey's made him famous), he supported himself playing semipro baseball. James Thurber went to East High. He was the president of the senior class, and his brother, Bob, was captain of the basketball team. And it was one of their classmates, Charles Wesley Harley, who did more than anyone to transform the attitude that Columbus held toward Ohio State.
Harley was slight, weighing only 145 in his senior year of high school. He was a good-natured, self-conscious boy with a lopsided grin, and was fast enough to break high school sprint records. Often, when not on the playing fields, he wore a look of puzzlement that may have had something to do with the monumental eligibility problems he faced because of his grades. Until his last high school game (against Columbus North) the football teams that Harley played on never lost. He went into Ohio State determined to keep up the record, and he did. With Harley at halfback, Ohio State went undefeated in 1916, winning its first Big Ten championship and repeating it the next year. It did not, unfortunately, beat Michigan, which was temporarily out of the Big Ten. Walter Camp picked Harley for three All-America teams and said, "Harley is one of the greatest players the country has ever seen."
Harley went into the Army in 1918 but returned to take Ohio State through an all-but-unbeaten 1919 season. In the last game a field goal, with eight seconds left, gave Illinois a 9-7 victory. Harley was also responsible for Ohio State's first victory over Michigan (13-3) and for the football madness which from that year on gripped Columbus. When a stadium was planned in 1920 it was thought Columbus citizens might provide $300,000. They contributed $544,500 of the first $923,755 that was raised. The stadium, wrote a local OSU historian pointedly, "gave Columbus a proprietary interest in the campus such as it had never known before."
And football gave the old farming town of Columbus an emotional release such as it had never known before. For the next 30 years or more you could not get into Columbus before a big game unless you knew somebody. All hotels were sold out, with reservations usually made for the year ahead. During most of those autumn weekends the furniture in the lobbies was quietly removed and stored in warehouses. Holes were cut in paper laundry bags to prevent their use as water bombs. Bookies operated on the street corners, and ticket scalpers, with seats selling for $25 to $60, were everywhere. On one occasion the police rounded up 60 undergraduates selling seats in the cheering section. No college anywhere ever had so many enthusiastic volunteer old grads as Ohio State. After victories the celebrants built bonfires at the intersection of Broad and High, snake-danced through the theaters and poured water on passersby from the windows of the Deshler-Wallick Hotel. Every college in the country, according to one writer, envied the "fierce, affectionate loyalty" of Columbus for Ohio State football. If, to the faculty of Ohio State, all of this proved to be a pain in the academics, it did make an enormous contribution toward breaking down the old barriers between the team and the college.
Columbus accepted Ohio State emotionally just at the time that the revelations of the hearty, corn-fed corruption of the Harding era had shocked the state and the nation. Some of the Ohio Gang's operations, which included the Teapot Dome scandal, were chilling. This grandiose plot was made possible by a ruling of the Attorney General, who also happened to be Columbus' most powerful citizen, Harry Micajah Daugherty. From the law office of Daugherty, Todd and Rarey, he masterminded the election of Harding, an old friend from the town of Marion, a few miles north of Columbus, and as a reward Harding placed their friends in strategic positions from which large-scale graft was easy. A suave and cynical manipulator, Daugherty excelled at getting out from under when things went wrong and letting his cronies take the blame, with the result that Teapot Dome and other scandals, while they were nationwide shocks to the U.S. generally, were neighborhood ruin in the small-town atmosphere of Columbus. Daugherty's right-hand man, Jesse Smith, for example, a courthouse political hanger-on, was found after the Teapot Dome revelations shot in Daugherty's Washington apartment, his head stuffed in a wastepaper basket (President Harding's physician, hurrying to the scene from the White House, called it suicide). Things like that created mysteries in Columbus that were never solved, and perhaps the local citizens took up Ohio State football enthusiastically because it seemed so honest and unspoiled.
At any rate, State's football following was ardent indeed. Joel Sayre, who grew up in Columbus with Thurber and Harley, satirized the attitude of the local sportsmen in his novel, Rackety Rax. In Sayre's story rival gangsters create their own college teams. The games grow increasingly bitter until they reach their logical conclusion when Old Canarsie and the Chicago Mob machine-gun each other across the gridiron. Columbus readers did not think it was funny.
For that matter, they did not think Thurber's stories about Bolenciecwcz and the like were exactly knee-slappers, either. People on High Street would stop each other and say, "I don't see anything funny about that." Thurber was a local hero of sorts, but that was in earlier times. Shortly after Ohio State lost the Rose Bowl game of 1921 to California, City Hall in Columbus caught fire. Thurber, who was then a reporter on the Dispatch, was covering a council meeting at the time. The meeting was so dispirited that no one noticed the smoke. Roused finally, the councilmen escaped to the street. Thurber filled his arms with blueprints from the city engineer's office as he fled. These were the only things saved from the fire as the building burned to the ground. There was not even any insurance on it. "Months passed before a shocked Columbus recovered from the disaster," wrote a reporter—the disaster, that is, of the 28-0 defeat by California, not the loss of City Hall. Or as Joel Sayre put it cautiously in an article called Frenzied Football, "When Ohio State loses, something extra seems to happen to Columbus."
Sometimes visitors could hardly get out of town fast enough. "No team of mine will ever again play Ohio State," said a Wisconsin coach once. Among his general charges of mockery, injustice and humiliation of Wisconsin players who had foreign-sounding names, there was a specific that revealed something of the sportsmanship in Columbus in the days of the Ohio Gang. It seemed that local citizens, pretending the stands were full, secured standing-room sideline badges that allowed them to wedge in behind the Wisconsin players on the sidelines and thus jostle, insult and ridicule them at close range.
It was also charged that Columbus made Ohio State a graveyard for coaches. After John Wilce, whose 16-season career began when Ohio State entered the Big Ten in 1912, the university had five coaches in 18 years. In one period there were four coaches in seven years. Sam Willaman went out after the 1933 season, though Ohio State that year had won seven and lost one. Francis Schmidt was forced to resign despite a four-year term in which Ohio State won 25 and lost only seven. The case of Paul Brown, later the famous coach of the Cleveland professional team, was more complex: Columbus liked him and cheerfully put up with his record of 18 won, eight lost and one tie. But Brown staggered the city's sportsmen by leaving and signing five Ohio State stars for his Cleveland team while they were still eligible to play some more for beloved Ohio State. Carroll Widdoes resigned as head coach in 1946, though in two seasons his teams won 16 and lost only two. Wesley Fesler, who had been a Columbus hero second only to Harley in his own All-America days, led Ohio State to its first Rose Bowl victory in 1950, and quit, fed up with the criticisms of downtown coaching groups, anonymous telephone calls and insults to his wife and children when Ohio State lost.
The demands of Columbus for unbroken strings of victories were accompanied by radio broadcasts attacking coaches individually, open requests for resignations and a civic chill that made a loser's life impossible. Among the many distinctions of Woody Hayes at Ohio State is the best won-lost record in the Big Ten (74 won, 26 lost and six tied), plus four Big Ten titles and two Rose Bowl wins. But his most impressive achievement is that he has staved off the Columbus scalp hunters for 16 years.
Of late, however, this amazing feat of Woody's is losing its gloss, for the scalp-hunters' zest has ebbed. Each football season Columbus has grown a little quieter. They no longer bother to take the furniture out of the hotel lobbies for a big-game weekend. It is even possible to find a room in Columbus on a football Saturday. Things have changed. Perhaps the lack of student interest has proved infectious.
Should anybody, even the townspeople of Columbus, be concerned that Ohio State students are showing less football enthusiasm than they once did? What is behind the trend, and why has it developed? There are arguments on all sides.
There is the contention that the entire Big Ten (bear in mind that the Big Ten is an athletic conference, not a confederation of academic institutions) is breaking up. At most schools football attendance is down. Minnesota's attendance last year was the worst in its modern history. Indiana, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not fill their stadiums. Ohio State's stadium is still filled, but the crowd now comes from Columbus and Cleveland, not from the student body. The number of students going to Ohio State games has remained constant or even declined a little, while enrollment jumped from 28,290 in 1950 to 38,000 last year.
Big Ten recruiting regulations, which are among the strictest in the country, have made it difficult to attract the best athletes. Six boys from Ohio played on the 1966 Nebraska team that won the Big Eight championship. Strict enforcement of the regulations is increasing the muscle gap between the Big Ten and other conferences. Michigan State was put on probation in 1953, Ohio State in 1956. Indiana went into the conference doghouse in 1957 and in 1960 was in trouble again. In 1964 Michigan State was investigated, and last spring Illinois was forced to fire three coaches, including Football Head Coach Pete Elliott.
Grades, IQ ratings, American College Test scores and Scholastic Aptitude Test medians, are playing a bigger part in enrollment. There are 965 high schools in Ohio, and last year they graduated 135, 620 students. Some 47,500 of these went to college. Any graduate of an accredited high school in Ohio who is a resident of the state is entitled to enroll in Ohio State University, and the university is bound to consider his application. And in practice the Admissions Office says that everyone who applies is accepted. A situation like that might seem to be made to order for such candidates for degrees as Bolenciecwcz. But Big Ten regulations now provide that to qualify for an athletic scholarship a college freshman must have a predicted grade average of 1.7 (C minus), which is enough to discourage applicants from the lower half of a high school class from applying. If these not-so-intellectual types happen to be good football players, they have no trouble finding plenty of non-Big-Ten schools that are eager to have them.
How important is that factor in the Big Ten's football future? Last November the executive director of the Minnesota Alumni Association wrote in the alumni magazine that stiffer academic standards and intensified student concentration on studies mean the demise not only of Big Ten football, but of big-time intercollegiate football as it is known today. He argued that the pros will find it necessary to by-pass colleges entirely: "Their recruiting will not be done at the college level, but at the high school level."
It is also discouraging to a football player to find that the campus role of an athlete has changed at schools like Ohio State. Today the Ohio State campus has all the ivy-covered charm of a thruway exit. The colossal building program that has filled the campus with pale-brick residence halls and signs reading STATE OF OHIO, YOUR BOND DOLLARS AT WORK has also left excavations and piled-up earth that suggest plowed fields where they are not going to plant anything but more buildings. Booklets welcoming incoming freshmen show what it will be like in the future, with tall towers surrounded by greenery. Meanwhile one is principally conscious of crowds and the hurry between classes. It is a big place, with little time for, or inclination toward, an athlete who would once have been a hero.
"You could walk through the Oval at 11:50 in the morning with the most prominent athletes on the campus," says Marvin Homan of the Sports Information Office, "stop a hundred students, and they would not know who the athletes were."
"The day of the big football wheel is over," says an Ohio State Official. "For that matter, the day of the big man on campus is over. The campus here? There isn't any."
The blame for this state of things—and blame is a word not everybody would use—is placed on study. "Students are better than they used to be," says John Bonner, dean of student relations. "In my day there were three distinct groups on this campus. First, there were the scholars, the eggheads. Then there were the activities boys, going from one meeting to another. And finally there were the athletes. Today there is only one group. Today's student puts academic proficiency squarely in the center of his collegiate universe."
It is an expanding universe. "This is the education revolution," says Robert Holland of the State Board of Education, "and Ohio State is right in the middle of it." Holland has charge of physical education in Ohio secondary schools, which is the talent mine that has provided Ohio State with its athletes in the past and which is now, increasingly, schooling players for teams in other states.
"Until recently," says Holland, "boys who took an active part in sports in high school often looked forward to college as a means of continuing participation in the sports they enjoyed. The revolution in education has changed that. The athletic program has become quite secondary to the general college experience." And the general college experience is a lot bigger than it ever used to be. Some examples:
•The nationwide increase in college enrollment, from two million undergraduates in 1947 to six million in 1967.
The increase in graduate students—from 237,208 in 1950 to 647,000 in 1966—that has tempered the old undergraduate enthusiasm for sport.
•The growth of new colleges and branch colleges whose athletic character is still unshaped. There have been nearly 500 new campuses created in two decades.
•The tremendous development of community colleges and junior colleges, many with minimal athletic programs. These new and popular institutions now account for nearly a fifth of all undergraduates.
The people who still think of college life in terms of football are unaware of such changes, especially in so singleminded a community as victory-demanding Columbus. But Ohio State's athletes of today seem to reflect the new era.
Including all 16 Ohio State intercollegiate sports, one of every eight varsity athletes is an honor student. Five men on last year's football team had a 3-plus accumulated-hour ratio—roughly a B-plus average—known as an accum. An accum is essentially an average, but in decimals on a four-point scale. Arnie Chonko, Ohio State's 1964 All-America, made Phi Beta Kappa with a 3.6 accum. Last year's quarterback, Don Unverferth, has an accum of 3.4. Ray Pryor, last year's All-America center, was a premed honor student. Steve Arlin, who pitched Ohio State to two Big Ten baseball championships and was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies for more than 5100,000, was an honor student. Bill Hosket, the starting center on the basketball team, has a 3.6 accum. Gary McDavid, a guard on the basketball team and a walk-on—that is, he was not recruited—arrived at Ohio State unknown, made the varsity and happens to have the highest college entrance board test ever recorded by an Ohio State athlete: 30 of a possible 36 on the American College Test measure.
Bolenciecwcz would be terrified by these guys. They are worse than the professors were when he went to college. They are also part of the change in Ohio State athletics, for their presence means that an intellectual climate is coming into existence which not only discourages the Bolenciecwczes in advance, but promotes their movement to conferences where the surroundings are less likely to be inhibiting.
There is a theory proposed by the hardcore of Columbus football fanatics that Woody Hayes is responsible for the student disinterest in football, that 16 years of his three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust game made football an unbearable campus bore: hence low student attendance, the decrease in the number turning out for pep rallies and the fact that so many of the students hurrying across the Oval would not know the team's quarterback if he dropped a football at their feet. Poor Woody, he is a raindrop being blamed for a flood. The rah-rah football factory aspect of Ohio State would have vanished from the campus even if the Woody Hayes theory of the game had been double-reverse-and-a-40-yard-pass.
The reason for this is a great student break with the traditional mores of American college life everywhere in the country. The prevailing attitude is non-rah-rah. It is not anti-rah-rah. In fact it is not anti anything. It is just non; with noninvolvement being the essence of the attitude.
At Rice University, the mood of the students has been defined by other students as malady of the spirit, involving an alienation from the traditional values of society because they are traditional, or because they are expressed in hackneyed and insincere phrases, though the alienation does not necessarily imply a rebellion against those values or a desire to convert anyone else to one's own viewpoint. A writer in The Rice Thresher excited controversy when he coined a word for the spiritual malady—"metapathy," which looks a little more forbidding than "apathy."
Asleep in the deep south, wrote the editor of The Tulane Hullabaloo, referring to the students who were allowing campus political clubs to stagnate. "Nothing like the riots of Berkeley could happen here," wrote the editor of The Arkansas Traveler sarcastically, "not with the apathetic student body we have." Usually the apathy that is attributed to students by other students is political: undergraduates are judged wanting because they do not demonstrate, burn draft cards, take part in civil-rights movements and sit-ins. Harvard is highly regarded for having chivied Secretary McNamara when he tried to speak, and City College of New York is praised for having demanded a voice in the college administration.
Apathy can also mean lack of a sense of humor. "We are no longer finding humor in our lives," a psychology major wrote in The Stanford Observer. "We're too serious. We have no time for Homecoming queens, bonfires and school spirit. After all, we're intellectuals." In this vein Pat Montgomery, the coed editor of the Arkansas State University Herald, wrote an editorial castigating the student body for not memorizing the more complicated football cheers. "One would think college students should be intelligent enough to learn a few simple yells," she wrote hotly.
This form of noninvolvement should not be confused with the attitudes observed on the fringes of college life that have received so much publicity lately: youthful explosions of pop art, flower power, black humor, beats, beards, trips, sandals and underground movies. The apathy of an Ohio State is a more subtle thing than that. If the names of prominent athletes do not mean much on the campus the names of Ken Kesey and Allen Ginsberg mean even less. This is more of a middle-of-the-road apathy, midwestern in temper, unexcited and independent. A visitor wandering through the William Oxley Thompson Library and listening to Ohio State students talk notices that the prevailing mood seems to be a desire to find a personal outlet as opposed to a mass outlet. You go to a football game if you want to, but you are under no obligation to go and must never insist that everybody else ought to go, too.
"We've published a few editorials about apathy on campus," says George Sweda, last year's editor-in-chief of the Lantern, "but I am not sure this is the proper word to apply to the present feeling about sport. There are so many more things going on now than there were in the days when there was only football. This is true in all areas of student activity—there are 400 different organizations you can belong to. It is certainly true in student athletics. The sports program is fantastic. You can take anything—boxing, lacrosse, anything. Hockey has come on fast. It was started as a club—kids who used to shovel snow off a pond so they could play—and has only been a varsity sport three years. A half-million dollar rink was built, and it is packed every weekend."
"Golf is our most rapidly growing sport," says Fred Beekman, who is in charge of OSU's vast intramural program. "We're lucky to have two 18-hole courses. In the last five years tennis has come on strong." Sailing is booming. Basketball, the Midwest's favorite exercise, is more popular than ever but on the participant level, with 35 intramural games nightly during the winter in the men's gymnasium and as many in St. John Arena. This spring there were some 260 softball teams playing, involving around 3,500 boys. Participation is up in everything: Rugby, which is now an intercollegiate sport; cricket, which started as a club activity three years ago and has become a popular campus pastime; fencing, a sport with few outlets in rural Ohio except at Ohio State; track; swimming; handball; varsity lacrosse; and volleyball.
The sum of all this activity suggests that if Ohio State students have become apathetic about football it is partly because they have discovered a new world of participating, of doing something as individuals, which is the same spirit that leads them into the myriad avenues of interest that all those 400 organizations pursue. The diversity appears to be all to the good for Ohio State. But it is a dark day for Columbus. With each grant-in-aid awarded for hockey, each golfer lauded, each crack of a cricket bat on ball, one can almost feel Columbus—the town of stadium builders—flinch.
And thus into history, one must conclude, moves the attitude of a community and a school toward a sport. Thurber becomes a Plutarch. It is now in a historical light that we read his celebrated collaboration with Elliott Nugent, The Male Animal, a play for which Thurber had preferred a more specific title, Homecoming Game.
Dim the lights and think back....
It is the weekend of the Big Game, the time for the annual unbending of a community otherwise secretive and reserved. The curtain rises. It is Friday night. Undefeated Michigan is playing undefeated Ohio State. The pep rally is getting underway. The band is playing by the Neil Avenue gate. Old grads rush across the stage, bellowing greetings and pounding each other on the back. Beautiful girls get rid of one date and hurry to another at Hennick's. There are parties everywhere. A little drinking is going on, some lovemaking, a few fights, some heavy betting and an idealistic young English professor, Tommy Turner, is about to do battle against the Establishment of Columbus, the stadium builders.
Now, 30 years later, it looks as if Columbus has lost the battle. Tommy Turner has won. But the town is getting a measure of revenge. Just the other day it dedicated its latest monument to its famous author—the Thurber Village Shopping Center.