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Robert Coughlan
October 01, 1956
A remarkable Notre Dame survey of ex-football stars is checked with surprising results against experiences of players from four other schools
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October 01, 1956

What Happens To Football Players?

A remarkable Notre Dame survey of ex-football stars is checked with surprising results against experiences of players from four other schools

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Statistics consistent

It must be said at once, and not without chagrin, that the statistics gathered on the additional players merged into the pattern of the original Notre Dame survey and largely reinforced its findings. With the worst of intentions, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED could locate not a single jailbird, convicted rapist, forger, swindler or even anyone to fit the common belief that football heroes often turn out to be hod carriers in the end. Indeed, the nearest thing to a typical specimen among them is Bill Wightkin. He makes a little more money than most men his age and he is still playing professional ball seven years out of school. Otherwise he can stand as a model for the group.

As one SPORTS ILLUSTRATED reporter, an Iowa alumnus with a built-in grudge against Notre Dame, wrote after completing a number of interviews in the Midwest: "I must confess that my attitude toward Notre Dame football and its players has changed. Somehow the combination of Catholicism, the lore and legend of Knute Rockne, the masculinity of Notre Dame itself and the national reputation it has, does something to anyone who goes out for football in South Bend. It's like being on the Yankees, in the Marines or maybe even like being the chef at the Waldorf. The sophisticated can laugh at Notre Dame if they want to, but believe me, boys, they have something down there."

The interviews did something more than verify the survey. They produced both some amens and dissents that help in understanding the changing situation of intercollegiate football in the nation. These bore most notably on the question of "professionalism"—on how far a school is justified in going to secure and reward its players.

While a great majority of the Notre Dame men felt that players should receive no inducement beyond the B-R-T working scholarship, there were more dissents than had been encountered in the survey, and—significantly, it would seem—these came mostly from the younger men. Martin Wendell, '49, now partner in a construction business, thinks, "A guy should get a little something extra. He's doing a day's work out on the field—what the heck!" Mike Swistowicz, '50, now with Armour & Co., approves of the Notre Dame system but adds, "Well, to be perfectly honest, I'll say that if someone can get extras and wants them, more power to him." Ziggy Czarobski, '48, the mammoth All-America tackle who is now resident manager of the Leland Hotel in Aurora, Ill., says: "I think the school ought to do something extra for you. They should line up an athlete with a good job rather than have him scalping tickets all the time. They should also make good contacts for you. You know once you're there [in school] they got you."

Steve Oracko, '50, now teaching and coaching at a small college in Illinois, believes in extra inducements "...if they are spread equally over the squad. No one boy should be way ahead of the others." Corwin Clatt, '48, now athletic trainer at East Peoria high school, observes, "The way things are today, a young athlete knows there are material benefits to be had. A fellow should get something. It shouldn't cost him anything to go to school." Paul Matz, co-captain of the 1954 team, says, "An athlete has lots of expenses above board, room and tuition. And he puts in at least three hours a day at hard labor; at least twice a week, when there are meetings, he spends five hours a day. Anything of this nature doesn't go unrewarded after graduation. I don't say athletes should be given cars and clothes and what have you, but I do say they should be given money honestly and openly to meet expenses other students don't have."

Such comments represent a radical departure from the point of view of nearly all the older men, especially those of the Rockne era. It is pertinent, too, that the younger men report having received many more offers from other schools. Rockne's great Four Horsemen team of 1924, for instance, had an average of about two other scholarship or job offers per man. Ralph Guglielmi, '55, All-America quarterback for two years and now an Air Force lieutenant, came to Notre Dame on the usual B-R-T and disapproves of other inducements, but he had his pick of 50 offers when he left high school. Oracko received 32 offers. Dick Szymanski, '55, had about 30. With competition at such a pitch it is no wonder that some athletes are inclined to value their talents at a rate higher than subsistence.

Notre Dame has troubles too

Nor is it at all surprising, accordingly, to discover that some Notre Dame players benefit from unofficial assistance by devoted alumni. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED found no flagrant examples of this, and its guess is that the practice is at least no more widespread among Notre Dame alumni than among those of most other schools, not excluding the Ivy League. The point is, however, that not even Notre Dame's executives, strict as they are and sincere as they are in trying to prevent this form of extra reward, can suppress the practice under the intensely competitive conditions of today.

The interviews also turned up a regrettable byproduct of the Notre Dame scholarship system. Since at any given time there are about 100 football "scholars" on the campus, the coaches have not been particularly interested in looking beyond that reservoir of talent for football players. Several men noted that unless a boy came to the school with a football scholarship, it was not easy for him even to draw a uniform, let alone attract attention from the coaching staff. The case is not clear-cut: some men do come up through the school's strong intramural program to make the varsity—and receive scholarships in their sophomore or upperclass years. But they have had to work against more than the usual odds. This defect is not peculiar to Notre Dame, of course, but can be found wherever a large number of athletic scholarships are given.

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