SI Vault
Rex Lardner
December 02, 1963
The 1963 Silver Anniversary award winners compare the value of the game today with the 1938 version
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December 02, 1963

A Very Hard Look At Football

The 1963 Silver Anniversary award winners compare the value of the game today with the 1938 version

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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.

"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."

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