SI Vault
 
YESTERDAY IS NOT FAR AWAY
George Plimpton
September 08, 1975
Untroubled by the headaches of big-time college football, the Ivy League is a throwback to an earlier and more carefree time, when game plans, redshirts and weekly polls did not exist. The old grad, drink in hand, hurries toward the stadium in his raccoon coat, perhaps the same one he has worn to the Harvard-Yale game since he was a student. Pregame picnics, a bit more elegant than in other parts of the country, flourish as they did when F. Scott Fitzgerald was at Princeton and Cole Porter at Yale. Harvard and Yale are no longer candidates for the national championship, but their game is still The Game and every November it plays to a full house. On the following pages is a potpourri of scenes from New Haven, Hanover, Ithaca and the like, followed by a humorous and sympathetic look at Ivy attitudes by George Plimpton, Harvard '48.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 08, 1975

Yesterday Is Not Far Away

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Untroubled by the headaches of big-time college football, the Ivy League is a throwback to an earlier and more carefree time, when game plans, redshirts and weekly polls did not exist. The old grad, drink in hand, hurries toward the stadium in his raccoon coat, perhaps the same one he has worn to the Harvard-Yale game since he was a student. Pregame picnics, a bit more elegant than in other parts of the country, flourish as they did when F. Scott Fitzgerald was at Princeton and Cole Porter at Yale. Harvard and Yale are no longer candidates for the national championship, but their game is still The Game and every November it plays to a full house. On the following pages is a potpourri of scenes from New Haven, Hanover, Ithaca and the like, followed by a humorous and sympathetic look at Ivy attitudes by George Plimpton, Harvard '48.

BUT THE IVIES DO FIGHT FIERCELY

The Great De-emphasis came in 1956—the decision of the eight universities of the Ivy League (Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale) to relegate football (and athletics in general) to a status subservient to what was supposed to be the business of their institutions, namely, to educate their students. Athletic scholarships would continue to be banned, spring practice ended, the number of coaches limited, regulations governed by a strict code—steps that seemed to many paradoxical, since the eight universities had been the very font of football, had produced the storied rivalries that started back in the 1870s; the towering names (Heffelfinger, Kelley and Booth of Yale, Brickley and Mahan of Harvard, Warner of Cornell, Poe of Princeton, Oberlander of Dartmouth, Luckman and Montgomery of Columbia...); the eye-popping legends ( Coach Percy Haughton was supposed to have throttled a bulldog to death to pep up his Harvard team before the 1908 Yale game); the huge, frenzied crowds of the '20s; the great marching songs; those literary heroes Dink Stover and Frank Merriwell of Yale; a whole flapper generation that identified with Eastern football; the coonskin coat and the flask and all the attendant rituals and ceremonials of those New England autumn afternoons. Now all of this brilliant history and panoply was being shunted toward an obscure and shameful end, with the quality of the football withering to such a degree that surely the teams, in the vast empty places of their past glory, would play surreal contests as informal and ignored as pickup games in the corner of a municipal park.

But now, because nothing like that happened, many observers believe that the Ivy League's adoption of a more balanced concept of football may be as important to the progress of the game, and perhaps to its future elsewhere, as what the colleges provided at its genesis.

When coaches meet at conferences, the Ivy League people are likely to be left standing off by themselves. The other coaches think of them as men beset with grave problems and better left alone. They cannot imagine a coach unable to tempt a fleet 240-pounder with the sort of athletic scholarships that are almost legal tender elsewhere.

The Ivy League offers scholarships only on the basis of an academically qualified student's need. Annual costs at an Ivy League college average a horrendous $5,900. If a student applies for a scholarship, his parents must "bare their financial souls," as one admissions officer describes the process, by filling out a PCS form (Parents Confidential Statement), which is fed into a computer at Princeton, N.J. to determine how large a grant the student will receive. ( Duffy Daugherty, the former coach of Michigan State, once quipped that athletic scholarships are also based on need: "How much do we need him?")

Even if he gets a scholarship, an Ivy League student must earn about $1,500 on his own by waiting on tables in the dining halls, working in the library, etc.

"It's a very simple formula," says Jake Crouthamel, the Dartmouth coach. "At Michigan State the admissions department takes what the athletic department gives them. In the Ivy League the athletic department does what it can with what the admissions people provide."

"I've lost a couple of kids because they could not afford not to take an athletic scholarship," says Bill Campbell, the new Columbia coach. "I've lost others because of that gilded thing of imagining yourself playing in front of 60,000 at a place where the focus is sharply on football. If you're offered a full athletic grant to go to a place like that, it's hard to justify turning it down. You can have your prospect see your Ivy League campus, show him what the educational advantages are and the future possibilities—and it's damn frustrating because you know the picture he's carrying around in his mind."

Pat McInally, a gawky, swift-footed end who played well enough for Harvard last year to become an All-America and get drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, sat down with some friends and figured out that an NCAA football scholarship was worth 60� an hour to its recipients—which in most cases committed them to little else than playing football. He bristles with figures that support his despair at the imbalance he feels exists between athletics and education at most NCAA colleges. "It's awful," he says. "The priorities are all wrong. Without being sanctimonious, at college I never liked being singled out as a football player, but as someone who played football." Despite this viewpoint, McInally's play at Harvard was so outstanding that a move, quite independent of his own wishes, started in Cambridge to have his uniform number (84) retired—a sort of cheeky gesture which, at Harvard, had never crossed anyone's mind since the university first fielded a team in 1874. But his supporters petitioned for it; after all, McInally was the first All-America from Harvard since 1941 when Chub Peabody, a 185-pound guard, was selected. But then a professor's remark began to make the rounds. "We've never retired a scholar's examination blue book. Until we do that, I don't see how we can retire No. 84." That was the end of the petition; priorities had been reestablished.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5