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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During one of those chatty interludes in a televised college football game the other season (no matter which), Sportscaster Chris Schenkel cut rather merrily to the subject of intercollegiate athletics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and how—wow!—Old Brainy had more teams (22) competing in NCAA sports than any other school. There are 697 participating colleges and universities in the three divisions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Some of them are named Southern Cal and Ohio State. Schenkel's discovery was smugly noted in the MIT student newspaper, The Tech, with the comment that this was actually better publicity for the NCAA than for MIT because association with such a "well-known academic institution" was "obviously good for the NCAA's image."

On the premise that it is hardly news once it is intoned by Chris Schenkel, the fact that MIT sends 22 squads of geniuses out to slay the opposition with fastballs, hook shots and backhand volleys instead of coefficients and logarithms is not in itself a revelation here. However, 22 is a goodly number regardless of whose image is served or how good the teams are. MIT's, mostly, are patsies.

What you may not know is that:

? MIT equips and fields all these teams without offering or granting a single athletic scholarship; without recruiting a single athlete, be he blue, red or white chip; without charging a nickel for admission to any event; without caring, really, if anybody shows up to watch, which is always a possibility. Some of its teams do very well, and some merit the inattention.

? MIT will spend $820,000 this year on its athletic program—$345,000 for the 22 intercollegiate sports, featuring this spring baseball, lacrosse, tennis and so forth; the rest for five women's varsity sports, physical education, intramurals and club sports, and a modestly priced stray special or two such as Hatha yoga and Frisbee—with nary a discouraging word from faculty or administration about "how much all this is costing." The expenditure is, in fact, quite modest compared, say, with Michigan's $4.1 million budget or UCLA's $3.3 million, but it should be remembered that there is no hope whatsoever of breaking even at MIT. In the economic pinch, "break even" has become the rallying caterwaul of college athletic programs across the country. At MIT you don't even hear a groan.

?Not a penny of the $820,000 is derived from or expended for the MIT football team. There is no MIT football team. Nor is there evidence that anyone wants one. Athletic Director Ross H. (Jim) Smith says that the subject is broached "in cycles, every five years or so," usually by fiery-eyed stars of the Class A intramural football league (the ones who are coordinated) itching to get their mitts on the likes of Colby and Bates. At MIT, this cyclic phenomenon is treated as if it were an open jar of smallpox virus, and soon routed. Peter Close, the sports information director, notes that the school fielded a football team from 1882 to 1893. In 13 games with Harvard it was out-scored 555-5.

?Twenty-six of MIT's 132 hallowed acres, a vertical slash of oak-lined real estate hard by Memorial Drive on the Charles River in Cambridge, are devoted exclusively to athletics. The complex includes two baseball fields, a lacrosse-soccer-track stadium, 10 tennis courts, a tennis bubble, a rugby field, a gymnasium, a field house, an indoor track-basketball "cage" made of two former U.S. Navy airplane hangars, a swimming pool, a boathouse, a sailing pavilion and various spaces in between for intramurals. They are in constant use. The light in the tennis bubble burns nightly past midnight. It is not unusual for a squash match to start at 2 a.m. Eight intramural softball diamonds are filled in three daily shifts and six football fields are lined off to accommodate 68 intramural teams. Howard W. Johnson, chairman of the MIT Corporation, the school's governing body, says woe unto the department head who tries to lay a finger on a square inch of those 26 acres.

As part of a recently unveiled plan for new development, $6.1 million more has been earmarked for a double-decker indoor ice rink-track facility to be completed in two years. Clint Murchison Jr. (class of '44), the Texas sports mahout, will be the funding ramrod. One might assume that such a grand addition was a proud response to the success of the MIT ice hockey team, which now labors on a junky, well-scarred, 20-year-old "temporary" outdoor rink next to Kresge Auditorium. Games there have been called off when the snow piled up. Toes freeze as does the wooden ball in the referee's whistle. During one varsity game played at 7� below zero the referee dropped the frozen puck on the ice and it broke in two.

This assumption, however, would be wrong. The hockey team has lost a record 33 straight games, including the last four of the 1975 season by a combined score of 44-3. Assume, rather, that the love of sport at MIT, though not new, has nothing to do with traditional American won-lost values. Winning is not everything, and it is certainly not the only thing, and coming in second is not considered so bad. When the women's rowing team finished third in a three-team race with Princeton and Yale recently the coach was elated. "You don't realize how good Princeton and Yale are," he said.

Be assured before going further that this is the same MIT you have always imagined it to be: 110 years of feeding a hungry world (and its laboratories, industries and space agencies) prize-winning scientists and engineers, their feet not quite touching the ground as they emerge from the famed architectural hodgepodge just across the river from Back Bay Boston. MIT is as independent, richly endowed and cocky as ever. The names Aristotle and Copernicus are engraved in stone below the great dome of the engineering library. It is said that students think this to be "the center of the universe"—a place "for men to work, and not for boys to play," quoth MIT President Francis Walker in 1892. Noses at MIT are grindstone oriented. Labs sometimes drag on for seven hours, and a male student averages 1.3 dates a year.

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