To begin with, Irwin Shaw once wrote a vivid short story—The Eighty-Yard Run—about a frustrated, pathetic former college football star who, cast into the world and soon parted from his fame, could not adjust to life's long haul. The theme is suggested again in the person of Tennessee Williams' Brick, the bitter figure in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and I have no doubt such portraits exist in fact as well as in fiction. Yet if the former athletes among Pitt alumni are typical—and there is every reason to believe they are—one need not worry that the athlete, having lost his prominence as quickly as he had won it, finds life desolate. Surely no tragedy can be written from the life of All-America Tackle Ave Daniell (1936), major owner and executive vice-president of the General Ionics Corporation, nor from that of All-America Center Herb Stein (1920), who owns eight businesses. ("It took me seven years to get through college," says Stein. "Not smart, that's all. But I was German stubborn, and I learned in football that you can lick almost anybody or anything if you go hard enough.")
Nor need we commiserate with a tackle named Lou Mervis, who would have made All-America but for a mean trick of fate. Back in 1918 Walter Camp traveled to Pittsburgh to scout possible nominees to his All-America team. Mervis' performance favorably impressed Camp, but unfortunately Mervis that day was wearing a teammate's uniform number and as a result Camp selected the teammate to his All-America team. Lou Mervis, however, seems not to have suffered from bitterness. Immensely successful in real-estate investments and as an amalgamator of industries, he more or less commutes around the world these days. Or as Clyde Barton put it while plucking Mervis' card from his files: "Missing out on All-America did not seem to make any appreciable difference in his ability to cash in."
I am tempted, secondly, to toy with the conclusion that it may be true, as coaches unhesitatingly claim, that the competitive nature of sports—and particularly the fierce thirst for victory found in so-called big-time, high-pressure intercollegiate sports—helps equip the athlete to get along in later life. Indeed, as an educator, I am almost reluctant to admit that among our lettermen who did not bother to earn even a bachelor's degree are a number who have made their way smartly. Kenneth G. Coburn, to name only one, is supervising research metallurgist for the Armco Steel Corporation research center.
Of course the danger in surveys, particularly surveys that produce hoped-for results, is that one may sing oneself to sleep with a lyrical recital of glittering case histories. Yet no accumulation of data can alter the fact that the atmosphere in intercollegiate sports has its rancid pockets. For one thing, although varsity teams serve as a cohesive force that unites alumni and fosters institutional tradition, they seem to inspire too little loyalty among the athletes themselves. One checks the latest list of contributors to Pitt's annual Alumni Giving Fund and is dismayed to find less than 180 former athletes among the many thousands of donors. I am afraid the lesson indicated is that those who receive too frequently do not learn how to give.
Meanwhile, if cynicism and self-interest persist among many of today's athletes, the colleges themselves must be in large measure at fault. As the head of a university which has decided that a vigorous athletic program is on the whole desirable, I am particularly sensitive to the reminder, heard so frequently in the wake of the 1961 basketball scandals, that chancellors and presidents cannot piously divorce themselves from responsibility for the conditions that breed scandals.
As the University of Pittsburgh reaches for new academic peaks, we should dread to have our progress blackened by scandals of any nature. Accordingly, in a memorandum set forth on August 24, 1959 I wrote: "The administration is instructed by the Board [of Trustees] to adhere strictly to both the letter and the spirit of the regulations of the several intercollegiate athletic organizations of which we are a part and also to the objectives of the accrediting academic organizations without whose clear approval we cannot maintain our academic position. It is the Board's desire that the University not merely conform but that it assume constructive leadership in this regard."
At the same time we adopted a reorganization under which our athletic department was knitted tightly into our education structure (lest it operate as an isLand unto itself) and the director of athletics instructed to report his programs directly to me. He was further told: "Intercollegiate athletic contests are scheduled only with institutions whose philosophy of physical education corresponds to that of the University and whose educational standards are similar to ours."
Hearty resolutions contained in memorandums are, of course, as pointless as a speech delivered in a clothes closet, unless conscientiously followed through. Toward that end, Pitt, Penn State and Syracuse universities—all major "independents" that schedule one another—have undertaken a series of reforms which, we believe, will jar our sports programs into the realities of current university life.
The first step, formalized last April, is the abolition of red-shirting—that is the practice of withholding an athlete from competition during his sophomore year in order to prolong his eligibility to the peak of his physical maturity. At a time when many students are cutting their undergraduate period from four to three years by taking on heavy workloads or, as at Pitt, by pursuing trimester programs, red-shirted athletes are directed by their coaches to spread their studies over five years. Surely this constitutes a brazen intrusion on the academic process. West Virginia University, a common opponent from the Southern Conference, enthusiastically joined us in abolishing red-shirting. Other colleges, too, have shunned the practice, and the Ivy League and the Big Ten have specifically prohibited it.
Very shortly our three universities expect to formalize two additional steps. Again following the example of the Big Ten, we plan to quit scheduling games for our freshman teams. The current hard pace of studies gives the freshman quite enough to do just staying in college.