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There unquestionably is a great demand for this kind of game. The demand isn't hard to diagnose. Ohio is a heavily populated state but, unlike New York or California, it has comparatively little outlet for the hungry and abundant entertainment dollar. Since OSU now claims to have the biggest single campus enrollment in the country, more than 21,000 students, it seems only natural to Ohioans that it also ought to have the best football team, year in and year out; that, in the immortal words of one college president, repeated tongue-in-cheek by OSU's President Howard L. Bevis, "We should have a university of which the football team can be proud." Not only do the alumni demand perpetual gridiron greatness, but so does everyone else, which is where things get blurred. When the barber, the cab driver and the waitress all express themselves firmly on the matter, they are doing more than getting a vicarious thrill out of identifying themselves with the university they were never able to attend. They are helping form what is obviously a professional atmosphere—and it is the atmosphere and the attitudes that are important—in which Dem Bucks (and dem bucks) play a role highly similar in the mass mind to Dem Bums in Brooklyn.
"If football is a plaything for the community and nothing more, if we can't prove that the program is three fourths education and one fourth circus, then we should cut it out," says Dick Larkins, the university's personable and efficient athletic director. "But we think we can steer the ship in such a way that we have a fair measure of success and still uphold the best principles of academic life." Somewhat defensively, Larkins adds: "I don't know of any football player who doesn't go to class."
Jack Fullen, the alumni secretary, who is an outspoken opponent of big-time football, turns the argument around. "The football tail is wagging the college dog," he maintains. "Larkins has to meet an $800,000-a-year budget in the athletic department. If he doesn't fill that stadium every Saturday, he won't be able to make ends meet. Like Woody, Dick is a creature of the system. Little by little his ideals are disintegrating as he has to use football receipts to pay off the bond issue on the new field house. We'll never be off the hook until we stop worrying about attendance."
Since attendance depends on the quality of the football, both Larkins and Hayes are staunch defenders of the recruiting methods that each year bring two or three dozen of Ohio's best high school players to the university. Says Larkins: "If athletics are forced to pay the freight for a program that ought to be defrayed by the state, then you've got to produce a winning team for the community as well as for the alumni." To which Hayes adds: "The only way we can justify college football is to see that the kids get their due educationally, that they get here and then stay here."
If a high school football star does meet OSU's academic requirements, he can get himself a state scholarship of a few hundred dollars a year and either a part-time state office job, paying about $60 a month, or a considerably better one working for such wealthy alumni as John Galbreath, the real estate man and sportsman, or Leo Yassenoff, a Columbus contractor.
Galbreath and Yassenoff are probably the two best-known members of the Frontliners, an organization comprising some hundred alumni in the state whose prime function it is to recruit young high school stars. Ironically, the Frontliners were organized eight years ago by Fullen, who figured if he couldn't beat the system he'd string along with it and at least "try to sell OSU to players instead of trying to purchase them."
The fact that there have been abuses of the system of encouraging and supporting players is essentially the public's fault, Fullen feels. Because football is a state-wide institution, with everybody getting in on the act or wanting to, the opportunities for evil begin back in the lower echelons. "What we've got in Ohio is the guaranteed annual B for high school football stars," Fullen says. "Can he run, can he pass, can he punt?—that is the question. If he can, the wherewithal and the consciences can be easily provided and appeased."
Fullen may exaggerate, but a couple of recent, celebrated cases would seem to prove his point, and perhaps an axiom—that abuses are inevitable once the goal (read touchdown) is established in the image of a constantly victorious football machine.
The first concerns a young man with the odd name of Hubert Bobo, a handsome, Atlas-type fullback who came from the tough little town of Chauncey, Ohio. There, according to Fullen's research, he seldom went to classes more than three days a week and was awarded his high school diploma by the school board over the protests of the principal because Bobo promised to put Chauncey on the map. At OSU he was a terror, both on the field and off. A tremendous blocker and an astonishingly fast, helter-skelter runner for a big lad, he played a big role in OSU's great '54 record. He also openly boasted of having four tutors ("modern indoor record"), and he got involved in a paternity suit. Bobo finally flunked himself out, and since then he's turned down some good Canadian pro and southern college offers. Today he has a job and Hayes, sore beset as he is, would be delighted to welcome a reformed Bobo back to OSU.
The other case has to do with Russ Bowermaster, a young end from Hamilton, Ohio. Bowermaster played fine freshman football at OSU last year but then he too flunked out. This past summer he failed a make-up course, so he wasn't available this fall. While he would hardly seem to be meeting the academic standards Dick Larkins and Hayes proclaim, patience is called for because, as Woody says, "This kid's a helluva football player." Now, like Bobo, Bowermaster is expected back when he finally catches that elusive academic pass.