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Robert M. Hutchins
October 18, 1954
In 1939 the University of Chicago, under Robert M. Hutchins, abandoned football. Recently there has been a move to reinstate the sport, but the ex-president still believes higher education and football should not be mixed
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October 18, 1954

'college Football Is An Infernal Nuisance'

In 1939 the University of Chicago, under Robert M. Hutchins, abandoned football. Recently there has been a move to reinstate the sport, but the ex-president still believes higher education and football should not be mixed

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You have to get the material, and you have to keep it eligible and happy. In sentencing prisoners who had been convicted of bribing or taking bribes to arrange the scores of intercollegiate basketball games to meet the wishes of gamblers, Judge Saul S. Streit pointed out that one convicted university player in his senior year took courses in music, oil painting, rhythms and dance, public speaking, and physical education. Eight players of another university involved in the scandal were majoring in physical education, and among the courses for which credit was given were handball, elementary swimming, social dancing, football and first aid.

The judge used harsh words: "The responsibility for the sports scandal must be shared not only by the crooked fixers and corrupt players, but also by the college administrations, coaches and alumni groups who participate in this evil system of commercialism and over-emphasis."

These remarks apply to football as much as to basketball?and perhaps more. A larger number of Americans might participate in basketball, but it is football supremacy that stirs their souls?and sometimes, I fear, corrupts.

When people tell you about the advantages of intercollegiate football, they almost always mean winning football. Even those who think of the game as the spiritual core of higher education would have to admit that the spiritual effects of continual defeats were somewhat dubious. Certainly the spirits of alumni, local businessmen and newspapers and prospective donors will not be raised by a long string of losses.


The college president's dream, which seldom comes true, was gloriously realized on Nov. 23,1953, when Hugh Roy Cullen, speaking at a "campus pep rally" at the University of Houston, said, "The great spirit and determination shown by the Cougars last Saturday in defeating Baylor filled me with enthusiasm and prompts me to do something for our great university....I have decided to give the university $2,225,000 in oil payments." You will notice that Houston defeated Baylor. Did any Texas oil man say that the great spirit and determination shown by Baylor in winning a moral victory over Houston prompted him to do something for that great university? Not one, although soon after Cullen did give Baylor's medical school one million dollars. There was no connection between the game and the gift.

To anybody seriously interested in education intercollegiate football presents itself as an infernal nuisance. If all the time, thought and effort that university presidents, professors and pressagents have had to devote to this subject could have been spent on working out and explaining to the public a defensible program of higher education we should long since have solved every problem that confronts the colleges and universities of the U.S. Since there is no visible connection between big-time football and higher education, the tremendous importance attached to it by colleges and universities can only confuse the public about what these institutions are. We know what you get if you lose. What do you get if you win? When Minnesota was at the height of its football power, the president offered me the team and the stadium if I would take them away: his team was so successful that he could not interest the people of the state in anything else.

Nobody questions the value of exercise, recreation and sport. To the extent that a university wishes to make opportunities of this kind available to its students, it should do so as a part of its normal expenditures, chargeable to its regular budget; it should not expect intercollegiate athletics to foot the bill. A football squad usually numbers 45. It is absurd to talk as though an institution that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on this select group, ordinarily the group that needs physical training least, and pays little attention to opportunities for intramural sport, is doing so in the name of health, exercise and recreation. The only exercise for the majority is climbing up and down stadium stairs.


Are there any conditions under which intercollegiate football can be an asset to a college or university? I think not. There are conditions under which it can be less of a nuisance, or a less infernal nuisance. These conditions are hard to bring about and still harder to maintain. If you should succeed, you will do so only with an expenditure of time and effort that could more profitably be devoted to other things. The first requirement is agreement on the part of your constituency that the institution is to be represented by students, and by students who have come to the college in the ordinary way, with no special inducements, and who are staying in college following the regular curriculum, with no special treatment. The second requirement is even more difficult; you have to find convenient rivals of about the same size, whose constituencies have the same convictions. For if they have not, you will be continuously and unmercifully defeated, and this is something that your constituency will not be able to stand indefinitely. On this rock all the great attempts of the last 30 years to "clean up" or "de-emphasize" football have split; intercollegiate football is no "cleaner" or less emphasized now than it was in 1925 because the temptation to break the rules of a conference becomes irresistible sooner or later to some of the members of it. You then have a scandal, a clean-up, new resolutions, and the process goes on as before.

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