Upon the fields of friendly strife
Are sown the seeds
That, upon other fields on other days
Will bear the fruits of victory.
It was MacArthur who instituted the Honor Code. World War I had just been fought, and the sentiment was strong that if you could not trust a comrade in the classroom, how could you depend upon him when the bullets began to fly? "The highest standards of honor were to be demanded," Superintendent MacArthur wrote. "A code of individual conduct, which would maintain the reputation and well-being of the whole."
"There is a great contradiction in MacArthur," says John Craigie, West Point '51, who was the swim team captain that benighted year. "Honor was a different concept in the 19th century. It was much more a matter of pride, of what we would call machismo today. You responded to affronts. And MacArthur was very ego-driven, very 19th-century in that respect. But 20th-century honor is more a matter of integrity, and the Honor Code MacArthur created was really very modern."
Surely, then, it was all the more distressing for MacArthur that his beloved football team betrayed the academy. That is, if it were not indeed the academy that had failed itself, failed its cadets. Even now, a half century later, it is difficult to be sure who was more responsible for sowing the seeds that bore the poisoned fruit that would, in other days, spoil other fields.
Specifically, the misalignment of values took the form of an overemphasis of football. We do not wish to be misunderstood in this statement.... What caused 90 young men, some of them generally considered among the finest specimens in the Corps of Cadets, to join together to conspire to defeat the Honor System in the interest of the football team?
—REPORT OF THE BARTLETT COMMITTEE, September 1951
The worship of college football, the conflict between academic integrity and pigskin idolatry, was hardly original to West Point in the 1940s. But even if the scandal flabbergasted the country and was called in Congress an example of "chronic moral turpitude," the lessons were never learned, and the glorification of intercollegiate football remains undisturbed to this day.
It had not, either, taken Army long to succumb to the allure of gridiron glamour. Until Blaik was appointed coach in '41, Army's teams usually had been coached for a tour of duty by a career officer, who was assigned to the team in the same manner as he might be posted to Fort Leonard Wood as supply officer. But when Blaik was lured from Dartmouth, he was permitted to hire a professional staff and was bestowed the rank of full colonel. He was also appointed athletic director, and systemized recruiting began.
During the war, the academy virtually doubled in size, allowing Blaik to use his influence to have a large number of players granted appointments. During the war Blaik started an informal tutoring program for his boys, and he organized a six-week cram course to help recruits prepare for the academy's entrance exam. The cram course became known, derisively, as "the monster school."
Among soldiers Army's football success was not universally admired. Some of the monster players were called "tramps"—or worse: draft dodgers. "They resented us, they resented Blaik, they resented the whole football setup," Pollard recalls. Many "ring-knockers," as academy graduates are known, saw Blaik as no less a shirker than his tramp players. Even after his death, in 1989, when he was buried at West Point beneath a tall, dark gravestone shaped like a football, Red Blaik would remain a figure of division, as his admirers and detractors fought over a proposal to rename Army's Michie Stadium for him. The compromise probably only irritated everybody: Blaik Field at Michie Stadium.
Although he was known as Saint Blaik, the coach was not a man of gentle accommodation. He had fought the professors at Dartmouth, as he would stand up for his team at West Point, never giving quarter to men like Colonel Harkins. In fact, at times Blaik seemed to enjoy irritating his martial rivals. When plebes arrived, for example, it was customary for them to dress up in their new wool dress grays and march, in groups, to visit the houses of pertinent staff officers. Blaik would countermand the general order and have his new players visit him in cooler, more casual khakis. During the 1950-51 school year the rift between academics and football intensified. Harkins was furious that Blaik had won leniency for the '51 captain-elect in a disciplinary matter, and he seethed when the Honor Council voted to spare another of Blaik's Boys who had destroyed a damning personal deficiency report.