SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
March 01, 1982
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March 01, 1982


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A few weeks ago we ran in this space an anonymous satirical letter in which the chairman of a college English department, hoping to improve one of his student's chances of winning a Rhodes scholarship, asked the school's football coach to put the fellow in the starting backfield (SCORECARD, Jan. 25). The English department head conceded that the young man was rather puny but noted, "As you have often said, cooperation between our department and yours is highly desirable." The letter had reached us from a Midwestern university, where photocopies of it were circulating. We passed it along as a telling comment on today's win-at-all-costs coaches who try to pressure professors to bend academic standards for athletes.

Did we say today's coaches? A reader, Ralph J. Sabock, an associate professor of physical education at Penn State, informs us that virtually the same letter appeared, among other places, in his 1979 book, The Coach, and was first published in a 1955 issue of College English, a periodical of the National Council of Teachers of English. The author was William E. Stafford, a prize-winning poet who has since retired from his position as an English professor at Oregon's Lewis and Clark College. We reached Stafford, who wasn't surprised that his letter had resurfaced. In the 26 years since it was written, he noted, it has been reprinted frequently, sometimes with proper attribution to himself, other times not. "It's almost like folklore," Stafford said of his 26-year-old sally.

Other alert readers gently informed us that a slightly different version of the letter had run in the July 13, 1970 issue of SI. It had ostensibly been written by Hugo Hellman, a speech professor at Marquette, to Al McGuire, then the Warriors' basketball coach, who had gone public with it; Hellman's "Rhodes scholar candidate" wanted to play basketball, not football. More recently, the Jan. 20, 1982 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education contained a tongue-in-cheek memorandum in which an academic dean asked an athletic director to find room on various varsity teams for a Rhodes scholar candidate. The author, David Churchman, chairman of the behavioral science graduate program at California State University at Dominguez Hills, says he was unaware of Stafford's strikingly similar letter.

Stafford's oft-reprinted, widely imitated letter serves as a reminder that the problem of overzealous coaches isn't new at all. Stafford recalls that he wrote it after a run-in with a football coach who had complained about a grade a star player had received in English.

There was a 3-year-old colt named Drop Your Drawers in the field of eight starters last week in the $50,000 Mountain Valley Handicap at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. Did Drop Your Drawers win? No, El Baba did. Place? No, that was Lost Creek. So what did Drop Your Drawers do? Showed. Of course.

It has been almost two years since the University of New Mexico's basketball program was rocked by revelations of transcript forgeries and financial improprieties that led to the conviction of Head Coach Norm Ellenberger on charges of fraud and filing false public vouchers. Happily, changes have been made. For one thing, the school has actually been trying to recruit athletes capable of doing college work. For another, it has increased academic counseling services for its jocks. Although it would be naive to think that things are suddenly perfect at New Mexico (or anywhere else in big-time college sports, for that matter), it's heartening to report that the basketball team, which is still under NCAA probation because of what came to be known as Lobogate, led all men's teams at New Mexico last semester with a grade-point average of 2.8 on a 4.0-point scale. One Lobo player is academically ineligible, but his subpar grades were more than offset by another player's 3.75 average. The team's 2.8 grade-point average compares favorably indeed with the university's overall undergraduate men's average of 2.37.


As has become the custom among fans of a number of college basketball teams, Penn rooters threw confetti and streamers onto the court after the Quakers scored their first basket in a 79-62 Valentine's Day win over Harvard. That prompted this chant from the Harvard crowd:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
The streamers were cute,
But you still come from Philadelphia

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