SI Vault
John Underwood
May 26, 1975
...but rarely anyone else's. MIT fields teams in a record 22 sports without granting a single athletic scholarship or charging admission or caring if anyone turns out to watch, which is always a possibility
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May 26, 1975

Beating Their Brains Out

...but rarely anyone else's. MIT fields teams in a record 22 sports without granting a single athletic scholarship or charging admission or caring if anyone turns out to watch, which is always a possibility

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Smith watched the track team's progress against Bowdoin for a while, then moved downfield, pulling his rain jacket around him and letting his uncovered balding head take its chances.

"We try to treat everybody the same. Our most expensive program is crew, which costs about $14,000 a year exclusive of salaries and overhead. Our full-time coaches make $15,000 to $20,000. The important thing is that we create no jealousies. That's how you get cooperation. If nobody or no team is getting a free ride, they're all willing to help. When a school gives one sport, say football, the lion's share, and that sport subsidizes all the others, you're bound to have jealousies. I'm not knocking college football you understand. I love it and love to watch it. I wish we could have a team. It's a game people are naturally drawn to. If you can handle it, it's certainly worthwhile. But what we have is an alternative. Another way to go. I think there's room for both."

Smith walked past the empty baseball field (the varsity was down at Wesleyan losing for the eighth time in 16 games) to where, under the looming presence of a giant Cain's mayonnaise sign, the rugby team was being cheered on by a vest-pocket crowd, most of them wielding bumbershoots. The ruggers were holding their own in a game with Dartmouth, but their red-and-white uniforms were losing to the muck. An occasional ball popped loose from the scrum and floated dreamlike over the chain-link fence, bouncing into the front of the Chaffin Optical Company across the street.

Smith worked his way back toward the tennis pavilion, which glistened like a huge blister against the seal-gray sky. MIT's match with Williams had been moved indoors. With his own key Smith let himself into the bubble through the back door, bringing with him a giant whoosh of air that stopped play on all four courts and drew stares from a knot of spectators huddled at the far end. Smith apologized to Coach Ed Crocker for the interruption. Crocker was having his own problems. Williams was leading on all four courts.

"We want to be competitive," said Smith, outside again and moving. "We want to win. Too many people think we don't try. We do. We feel in Division III, where there are no scholarships, we've a 50-50 chance in every sport." He smiled, raising his dark eyebrows. "In some our 50-50 chances are better than in others."

He walked past the lacrosse field, where MIT had beaten Holy Cross the day before, and onto the track, where the meet with Bowdoin was winding to an anticlimax. The wet crowd in the bleachers could have been carried home in one car. Peter Close intercepted Smith. "We're getting clobbered," said Close, his head dripping. "It's 95-55."

Smith returned to his office. He took off his raincoat and patted the head of a stuffed beaver near his desk. "That's our mascot," he said. "The idea is we work like beavers around here. The students hate it, just like they hate all those references to slide rules." He looked at the beaver. "It is a pretty goofy-looking thing."

Smith said that every MIT coach is concerned with getting better athletes and more publicity, and this is natural. "A lot of academically qualified athletes don't think they can hack it at MIT what with the grades and the tuition, which is around $6,800 a year, including books and board. They just aren't aware of what's here. Sixty percent of our student body gets some kind of scholarship help. It's available.

"The hard part is that our applicants often overlap with Princeton's and Yale's, and a kid with athletic ability who is accepted by all three will go to Princeton, maybe, because he doesn't think we've got enough sports for him. Just the opposite may be true.

"Enrollment is down everywhere. Ours isn't, but applications are. We're trying something new this year. The admissions office is putting a card in with every form, requesting applicants to advise us if they are interested in an intercollegiate sport. That way a coach can mail some literature to them about our program, let them see what's here before they decide to go elsewhere. It's the closest we've ever come to recruiting."

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