Almost everyone has something to say about intercollegiate athletics?especially during the fall of the year when experts are born as the multicolored leaves drift downward. I suppose that it is only fair to say that I am not an expert?not even an ex-athlete. My only excuse for having something to say is that I have listened to many of the experts, and have had dealings with a number of athletes. All this was in the line of duty during a three-year stint as Chairman of our Faculty Board in control of Athletics at the University. And it will be generally admitted that willy-nilly the President of Notre Dame must have a nodding acquaintance with the intercollegiate athletic world.
Broadly speaking, I have found two extreme attitudes in most of the experts. Those who favor intercollegiate athletics praise it out of all proportion to its merits. And those who decry sports in college are quite blind to the values that do exist on the playing field. I realize that this amounts to saying that neither the friends nor the foes of intercollegiate athletics are quite honest, or let us say balanced, except against each other. However, whether you explain it by overenthusiasm or just plain ignorance, many of the experts seem to have missed the mark in assessing intercollegiate athletics.
ONE SPECTATOR'S VIEWS
Now you can see why I take refuge in not being an expert. There is an old saying that the spectator gets the best view of the game. Here are a few things that one spectator has seen.
I should make it clear from the beginning that we are in favor of intercollegiate athletics at Notre Dame. Some would say: "And how!" Rather than leave it there, I must add that we favor intercollegiate athletics within their proper dimensions. It goes without saying that the proper dimensions should be those of university life and purposes. But if this goes without saying, it does not happen without doing, and continual doing, on the part of those in charge of the university and athletics.
The fundamental difference between intercollegiate and professional athletics is that in college the players are supposed to be students first and foremost. This does not mean that they should all be Phi Beta Kappas or physics majors, but neither should they be subnormal students majoring in ping-pong.
Once this fundamental principle is accepted three equally obvious conclusions follow as the day the night.
First, any boy who has demonstrated during his high school days that he is quite incapable of doing collegiate work should not be admitted to college?even though he may have been an all-state high school fullback.
Secondly, once a qualified student who also happens to be a good athlete is admitted to college, he should follow the same academic courses, with the same academic requirements as the other students. Presumably he is in college for the same reason as the others: to get a good education for life, and to earn a degree in four years. This means, in practice, no fresh-air courses, no special academic arrangements for athletes.
Thirdly, the athlete should enjoy (and I use the word advisedly) the same student life in college as the other students. He should not be treated as prime beef, should not be given special housing and disciplinary arrangements, made a demigod on a special allowance who is above and beyond the regimen that is found to be educationally best for all the students of any given school. In this connection, I am reminded of the animal who is enthroned and crowned with great ceremony at the annual Puck Fair in Ireland. It happens to be a goat.