Flanked on his left by Oklahoma's Bud Wilkinson and on his right by Ohio State's Woody Hayes, a former third-string end from Whittier College named Dick Nixon arose one day last week to make a speech.
"Intercollegiate athletics," said the Vice-President of the United States, "are being more critically examined today than in any period in the last 25 years. I would like to state some of my personal views on the subject.
"I believe that competitive sports are good for America's young men. Americans need the fighting spirit, the determination, the teamwork, the discipline which competitive athletics invariably instills.
"My only objection to competitive athletics is that there is not enough of it."
As good as two halfbacks
This being a luncheon of the American Football Coaches Association, the Vice-President could hardly have endeared himself more to the voters present by passing out 200-pound halfbacks. Nothing makes athletic coaches happier than talk of more athletics. Yet among the throng assembled in Philadelphia's Bellevue-Stratford ballroom, there were a few hard put to repress a shudder. Guests of the coaches on this occasion, they were in town for a more important function than to eat baked chicken and listen to speeches. They were the athletic directors, deans and department heads of the nation's colleges and universities who had gathered as delegates to the National Collegiate Athletic Association's annual convention. It had taken them 52 years to get this business of intercollegiate athletics under control in the first place and they sure didn't want anyone—even a Vice-President of the United States—to come along now with talk of more emphasis and upset the whole apple cart.
As it turned out, there was no cause for worry. Mr. Nixon was really just winding up to pitch for President Eisenhower's youth fitness program, a project which the NCAA itself recognizes to be of such vast importance that much of the organization's own future planning revolves around the subject. So the delegates merely nodded happily and that afternoon, at the end of six quiet but not insignificant days, packed up and headed home.
NCAA members, down to the smallest college representative, can hardly be blamed for the feeling of pride they share today over their organization. After almost half a century of stumbling along in the darkness, in the past five years it has become an effective watchdog over the nation's college athletic program. From a small, almost totally ineffective group in the first decade of the century, and later an amorphous mass of colleges which seemed to be bound together only by the fact that they were colleges, the NCAA has developed into a tight-functioning unit with arms and legs, a healthy body and, most important of all, a brain. Since 1952 the NCAA has also grown two big hard fists and it is this, perhaps more than anything else, which has earned for it universal respect and so much recent success.
Problems remain to be solved, of course, problems less acute than in the past but still big enough to prevent the NCAA from feeling that perfection is just around the corner. Captain Tom Hamilton, for example, head of the U.S. Navy's wartime preflight physical training program and now athletic director at Pitt, is, like President Eisenhower, frankly alarmed at the state of fitness of the nation's youth.
"Incoming college students," he told a round table during the convention, "are progressively in worse shape. More and more they lack the basic skills. I think it is mainly a problem of administration. Kids are normally active if things are available for them to do."