It is early evening on Saturday, September 25, smack in the middle of Flatbush. Even on a weekend the traffic is heavy along Flatbush Avenue, but few of the honking, screaming motorists are conscious of the brightly lit patch of AstroTurf where Brooklyn College is about to engage St. John's, its archrival from Queens, in a football game. If the news that they play football at Brooklyn College is not stunning enough all by itself, consider this: last May the City University of New York, of which Brooklyn College is part, was unable to meet its payroll. Only an eleventh-hour, $24 million bequest by the state legislature enabled the students to complete the spring semester. To reopen this fall, CUNY had to charge tuition for the first time since its founding as a free municipal college in 1847. And now the football team, the only football team at CUNY's 17 undergraduate campuses, is operating on a budget of $8,500, which would not pay the recruiting phone bill at Ohio State. And yet it has a 7-1 record for the second straight year and won its division in the Met 8 Conference. Last year Brooklyn even played in a bowl game of sorts.
In the back corridor of Roosevelt Hall where the football coaches' office, training room and locker rooms are located, there is no indication of the hushed, tense atmosphere that usually surrounds a team preparing for a big game. What there is, in fact, is chaos. Running dogs, assorted loiterers and clouds of cigarette smoke fill the narrow hallway, while students of both sexes wander around, screaming. Half-dressed football players are fighting with women field-hockey players for use of the only training room. In the coaches' office, hallowed ground before a game at Ann Arbor or Norman, a garage sale seems to be taking place. Coaches duck behind a wall of tinny lockers to change clothes in privacy. The blackboard contains the standard top-secret Xs and Os of battle on one panel, a grocery list and a display of crude graffiti on another.
One player after another barges in through a door that never stays closed, confronting an assistant coach who seems to be on nursemaid duty.
"Coach! I can't get my locker open."
"See if you can find a hacksaw."
"Coach! I lost my mouthpiece."
"We don't have any more. Tear off a piece of underwear or something and stick it in your mouth."
"Coach! You ever hear of a scofflaw?"
"Yeah. It's when you don't pay your parking tickets."
"Oh, yeah. Well, I got $700 worth."