With unwavering moral rectitude, Johns Hopkins University, of Baltimore, has been fielding a "pure," wholly unsubsidized football team for a full quarter of a century, thereby establishing the least hotly contested intercollegiate athletic record on the books. Material rewards for playing football at Hopkins are so lacking that last year's team had to pay for its letter jackets, even though it won the championships of both the Mason-Dixon and Middle Atlantic (College Division—South) conferences.
As long ago as 1935 the school rid its sports program of all athletic scholarships, all player recruiting and all forms of special financial aid to athletes. In 1938 Hopkins went even further and stopped charging admission to its games. It is still the only college in the country whose games are free of charge. Money in sports is so repugnant to Hopkins that when its teams go out of town they pay their own expenses, and visiting teams pay their way when they journey to Baltimore.
The question arises: What has total de-emphasis done to football at Johns Hopkins? Has virtue been its own reward? A stout few say yes. More are doubtful. Most, on sad but undeniable evidence, believe that virtue—as the naughty adage goes—has been its own punishment.
This year Hopkins played better than average small-college football. Last year's team, with a 7-1 record, was the most successful in the school's history. The players are ably coached. They know the game's fundamentals. And they run their basic formation—a modified version of the Tennessee single wing that employs flankers and a wingback in motion—with precision and authority.
If the team can be judged by its sensational victory in its 1960 opening game with Franklin and Marshall College, it has the spirit that wins games. With five minutes to go and the score tied 6-6, Hopkins went 87 yards to a touchdown in 15 plays. On the last play of the game, with the ball on the eight-yard line, only three seconds remained on the timekeeper's watch. Tailback Joe Cioni of Hopkins passed to End Al Freeland, who was sandwiched between two Franklin and Marshall men. Freeland tore the ball out of the defenders' hands for the winning touchdown. In the last game of the season Hopkins played gallantly against Western Maryland and lost by one point, 18-17.
On the surface, Hopkins presents a picture of small-college football at its healthy best. But only on the surface. Actually, football at Hopkins is far from healthy. Its teams may perform admirably, but they get only anemic support from their schoolmates.
At the Franklin and Marshall game, for example, out of an undergraduate body of 1,400 only a meager 300 or so students turned out, and many of them were freshmen not yet steeped in the disdain for football that characterizes the Hopkins campus. The rest of the crowd of perhaps 2,500 seemed to be made up of the students' girls, a very few of the alumni and faculty, the supporters of the visiting team and a large block of nonuniversity people taking advantage of the free admission.
Of the few students who did attend the game, the vast majority were listless and almost wholly free of that tingling excitement most collegians generate on a sunny Saturday football afternoon. They cheered only now and then, in a dutiful way. When the gun went off to end the game, a handful of students did rush out and carry the end who caught the winning touchdown off the field on their shoulders. But, as a disenchanted Hopkins lineman said of them as he trudged unnoticed to the dressing room, "They're probably freshmen. They'll get over it."
This boredom on campus was foreshadowed by the program's early failure to win converts throughout the nation. Hopkins had more than its own virtue in mind. It hoped to launch a nationwide reform movement.
Johns Hopkins has always regarded itself as a leader in higher education. When it was founded as the first real graduate school in America in 1876, Hopkins changed the entire course of American university training. Its School of Medicine, founded in 1893, revolutionized medical teaching in this country. In the '30s, when Hopkins began to view the commercialization of college football with alarm, it had some reason to believe that a school of its demonstrated leadership could counteract this trend with a bold endorsement of unsullied amateurism that would capture the imagination of the country's other colleges.