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.