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When Robert Maynard Hutchins, tart-tongued boy wonder of 30, was leaving Yale Law School to become president of the University of Chicago he cast a baleful eye toward the Yale Bowl and prophesied, with an overtone that included all of intercollegiate football: "That will be an archeological ruin in 25 years."
Yale's Bowl and intercollegiate football in general both managed to survive the succeeding 30 years, but Hutchins did bring a measure of truth to his prophecy at Chicago, which in 1939 dropped out of the Big Ten Conference and gave up all intercollegiate football.
In succeeding years the ranks of those who subscribed to the dyspeptic Hutchins view swelled visibly. As the desire for winning teams and the player-recruiting frenzy in the Big Ten mounted, it posed a patent threat to academic integrity in an educational complex whose students (207,000) number more than those of all the universities in Great Britain.
"It began to look," Assistant Big Ten Commissioner Bill Reed told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Correspondent Nick Thimmesch last week, "as though our football would be strictly professional by 1971. We had reached a critical point between athletics and education."
The result, in 1956, was a thoroughgoing faculty examination of the whole problem, a study which led to the enactment of a series of rules so strict as to cause an occasional raised eyebrow in even the de-emphasized Ivy League.
The old play-for-pay scholarship ride, with make-work tasks that were never performed by athletes, was replaced by a regulation permitting the granting of scholarships to athletes only if their families could show need, and then only if the boy was in the upper two-thirds of his high school class. Recruiting tactics were strictly circumscribed, and special athlete curriculums were limited.
Many Big Ten coaches howled in pain. "What we're looking for under this code is a penniless genius with muscles," moaned Northwestern's Ara Parseghian. "If this keeps up," warned Michigan State's Duffy Daugherty, "the caliber of Big Ten football will drop badly." "Socialistic, communistic, foolish and unrealistic," said Iowa's Forest Evashevski.
But the net result was a notable rise in the academic standings of Big Ten athletes (where only 75% of conference lettermen had once graduated, the figure rose closer to 90%), a commendable easing of faculty-football tension and no discernible lessening of enthusiasm among the three million fans who still flock to Big Ten games each year. Even Evashevski has at last admitted a preference for smarter athletes. "After all," is the way he puts it, "they're running up and down the field with my paycheck in their hands. They'd better be bright."
Today control by faculty has largely replaced control by the low I.Q., high-income alumnus in Big Ten football. The control varies from tight at Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin to slight at Indiana, Northwestern and Iowa (schools which are still in phases of football excitement the others have already passed through), but control it is. As a consequence, the professors are no longer screaming for abolition. On a recent tour of the Big Ten to sound out faculty feeling Correspondent Thimmesch found a measure of downright enthusiasm. " Big Ten schools are growing up," Ohio State's Alfred Garrett told him.