We all know college football gives Wall Street a run for its amoral and immoral money. Why do we turn the other way?
This thread is why I prize my alma mater. Universities are not supposed to be about football. What's sad is that many alums, past and present, would read that last sentence with shock, mockery, and disbelief...you mean the earth is not flat? You fool...
The big money and big alumni egos and big cheats have been around for nearly a century. It took one dick of a college President to just say no:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/sports/ncaafootball/at-the-university-of-chicago-football-and-higher-education-mix.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&pagewanted=print
September 16, 2011
Where Football and Higher Education Mix
By BARRY BEARAK
CHICAGO — The University of Chicago, well known for Saul Bellow, Milton Friedman and its links to 85 Nobel Prizes, was once famous sea to shining sea for football. It boasted a legendary coach, a Heisman Trophy winner and a national championship.
Then, in 1939, it did something extraordinary. It gave up the game to save its soul.
“In many colleges, it is possible for a boy to win 12 letters without learning how to write one,” Robert Maynard Hutchins, the university’s president, had written acidly of sports in The Saturday Evening Post. He particularly disparaged football, deriding as myth the idea that the game produced men of good character or instilled a sense of fair play. Indeed, for a college to be a success on the field, he said, it must be something of a scoundrel beyond it.
Seventy-two years later, what Hutchins called the “infernal nuisance” of college football is troubling more university administrators than ever. Ohio State, Miami, Southern California, North Carolina and on and on: it is as if global warming were affecting the number of big-name colleges in hot water.
And yet Chicago is quietly back on the field. Instead of euthanizing the game, Hutchins merely put it in a coma. In 1969, football returned as a varsity sport, oddly enough during the Vietnam War era when many rebellious students were comparing blocking and tackling to bombing and strafing.
Since then, the game has been thriving on its own measured terms in N.C.A.A. Division III, free of the highest level of competition. Winning is a preference and not an obsession. Players, though zealously recruited, are not given athletic scholarships. Championships are won but little noticed.
Chicago presents its own kind of parable: going from all to none before settling on a path in between.
“We’re just a teaspoon in a larger sandbox,” said Dick Maloney, the team’s head coach since 1994. “There are places where football is more like a giant shovel, but I prefer it when everything is kept in perspective.”
The university has 15,500 students, but a new version of Stagg Field, where the team plays, has only one short row of bleachers running the length of a single sideline. The old stadium, demolished to make room for a library that holds 4.5 million volumes, resembled a medieval castle complete with turrets. The former Stagg Field seated 55,000; the new one holds 1,600.
“I’d say 25 percent of the students don’t even know we have a football team,” said Jake Longtin, a defensive lineman who is also a team captain.
Last year, when the squad won the University Athletic Association championship, the clinching victory merited only 187 words in the hometown Chicago Sun-Times and none in The Chicago Tribune.
Of course, the Maroons of the University of Chicago no longer play Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, as they did when they won seven conference titles in what later became the Big Ten. Nor do they play Michigan, the team they beat to win the national championship in 1905.
These days, Chicago’s main rivals are other large urban universities that exist at the forefront of scholarly research and in the backwaters of football: Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Case Western in Cleveland and Washington University in St. Louis.
On a recent hot and drizzly Saturday night, the Maroons won their home opener against Beloit College, 44-25. School was not yet in session but a crowd of about 1,400 was enthusiastically, if moistly, observing. No band played, no cheerleaders cheered, no mascot turned somersaults.
John W. Boyer, the dean of the college, was not at the game, but in a subsequent interview he praised the football program, not necessarily for the team’s play but for its appropriate niche within the university. He called it an important student activity, likening football to debating.
He said proudly, “We have a nice and proper team.”
A Sport Dismissed
The University of Chicago was founded in 1890. John D. Rockefeller, in his wisdom and with his money, was its great patron, endowing an elite university in the centerpiece city of the American prairie. To get things going, 10 major buildings were hastily erected and renowned scholars were promptly assembled.
Prominence in the public eye, of course, was not something so speedily to be achieved, and for that the university’s first president, William Rainey Harper, looked to a solution that would one day be the temptation of lots of up-and-coming colleges: big-time football.
Barely a generation old, the new sport, adapted from rugby, was a sensation in the Northeast. To summon it westward, Rainey hired a young Yale man, Amos Alonzo Stagg, enticing the coach not only with a sizeable salary but an associate professorship and full tenure. The Maroons soon became the original Monsters of the Midway. Stagg proved a brilliant formulator of X’s and O’s who likewise knew how to pluck the brawniest and nimblest from local high schools. His 1899 team was undefeated, knocking off, among others, Notre Dame, Cornell and Brown.
In many ways, football was rougher in those early days, with rulemakers still trying to distinguish between the violence that would be allowable and the choking, punching and stomping that would not. But the building blocks of the modern game were falling decisively into place: 10 yards produced a first down and a team had four plays to travel the distance. The forward pass, once considered a lunatic experiment, was adopted as a reliable tactic.At the same time, the unsavory aspects of the game were taking root. The business of college football, like the business of America, was business. Massive stadiums were built, and winning teams were required to keep them full. Alumni slipped cash into secret slush funds, and the best football prospects were lured to the university that bid the highest. Special makeup exams rescued failing athletes from the annoyance of academic probation.
Chicago was considered relatively clean, and however deserved of this virtuous reputation, by the late 1920s its claims of rectitude were supported by a long skein of mediocre seasons. The university was simply unwilling to subsidize football players in the manner of its better opponents. Attendance at games thinned to embarrassing numbers. In 1932, Stagg, still a mythic figure, resigned and took his playbook west to the College of the Pacific.
College football, beset by cheating scandals, had many powerful enemies but perhaps no one was a more fetching phrasemaker than Hutchins, who in 1929 became the university’s fifth president. “As for me, I am for exercise as long as I do not have to take any myself,” he said, among his many witticisms.
Hutchins allowed that ancient Athenians and Renaissance Italians were as crazy about sports as modern Americans, but he said they were wise enough not to mix them up with higher education. The life of the mind should not be sidetracked by the straining of muscle. Instead of football, he said, colleges should focus on sports useful later in life, like handball, skating and golf.
Though Hutchins’s crusade against football had been made more acceptable by Chicago’s retreat into mediocrity, nothing ran better interference for it than the season the Maroons put together in 1939. The team managed to beat Wabash and Oberlin but it was outscored in its other games, 306-0, including 61-0 defeats by Harvard and Ohio State and an 85-0 loss to its archrival, Michigan.
“The alumni were very upset with this string of totally humiliating defeats, though I expect the faculty were especially humiliated by being defeated by Harvard,” said Boyer, an expert historian not only of the Habsburg Empire but the university itself. “By then, doing nothing was not an option.”
And yet, giving up football was not the only alternative. Chicago could have played more games against the Oberlins and fewer against the Michigans. But it seems only so much pride could be swallowed. Competing against its lessers was deemed as disgraceful as a whooping from its betters.
“Football has the same relation to education that bullfighting has to agriculture,” Hutchins said breezily in dismissing the game.
Other uses, ostensibly meritorious, were found for Stagg Field.
Three years later, scientists standing on the balcony of a squash court under the west stands set off the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction, an event that necessarily preceded the explosion of the world’s most powerful bomb.
Recovering the Game
In 1956, Chicago hired Wally Hass as its athletic director. A former football coach, he began plotting the sport’s revival, first by teaching a football class, then by beginning a football club that played games against featherweight opponents.
Hutchins was gone by then but other antifootball zealots were wary of the club metastasizing into an official team.
Just as some students once cheered the Monsters of the Midway, others now took pride in attending the university that had booted football out the door. Before a club game kickoff, several dozen protesters staged a sit-down strike on the 50-yard line. “Ban the Ball” read their placards, in English and in Greek.
Other students preferred to watch the game, failing to agree that football was a unit of the military-industrial complex. “Football si, oddballs no,” was their chant. According to an article in The New York Times, the dean of students rebuked the antifootball protestors as “dogmatists” who “wouldn’t let other people have their fun.”
Club football continued, and, finally, after a petition drive, the counter-revolution was complete with the game restored as a varsity sport in 1969. No immediate danger of a return to gridiron glory presented itself. A sparrow, not a phoenix, emerged from the ashes.
Mike Lockhart had been a football star in high school: “I told Coach Hass I didn’t want to go out for the team unless I was going to play, and he smiled and said I could probably start at 11 different positions. That’s how it was, some good players and some others who didn’t even know all the rules.”
Gary Leland, at about 215 pounds, was a lineman on offense and defense. “It wasn’t that I was so big,” he said. “It’s just that no one else was bigger.”
The 1969 team was 2-4, a respectable enough record, though five opponents were the junior varsities of small colleges like Wheaton and Valparaiso.
Whatever the caliber of play, a few hundred students attended the games. The university was known more for eggheads than big biceps, and at halftime, instead of a marching band, a giant kazoo was brought onto the field. Fans followed with smaller versions of the instrument, moving about haphazardly rather than in formation, an activity meant to celebrate the concept of Brownian motion, the random movement of particles.
“People were there as much for the giant kazoo as the football,” recalled the cheerleader Ramona Lauda. The university’s reputation for ascetic intellectualism was wryly acknowledged. One cheer was:
The Peloponnesian War
Who for? What for?
Who we gonna yell for?
Chicago won only seven more games in the next six years. “Wally Hass was improving the schedule faster than we were improving the team,” said center Charlie Nelson. One of the early squads had a nose tackle who weighed but 135 pounds, so there was a kind of heroism in taking the field, “like Hector preparing to fight Achilles,” remembered Jeff Rasley, himself an undersize volunteer on the 1974 team, which was 0-8.
Patsies from the past now reared up in predation. In the 1974 homecoming game, with the legendary halfback Jay Berwanger, the first winner of what is now the Heisman Trophy, in the stands, the Maroons were thrashed by Oberlin, 69-0. “Berwanger was too gracious to say anything,” Rasley recalled. Besides, Chicago claimed a moral victory that day when Oberlin missed an extra point.
“We weren’t a great team but we had great fun,” said Bob Yovovich, a middle linebacker in 1970 and 1971. “I know this is mouthing the party line, but it was also a tremendous learning experience.”
That’s where Hutchins was mistaken, former players agreed. The game does build character. Players do learn how to lead; they do learn how to follow.
There was nothing inherently wrong with football.
Finding a Balance
During the first 25 years of what university record keepers call the modern era, Chicago’s football team had but two winning seasons.
Given the university’s chesty reputation for academic rigor, all that losing might well have been welcomed as a scholarly credential. But in the past few decades, it has been trying to modify its long-standing image as “the place where fun goes to die.”
Football may not be synonymous with fun, but in the United States attending a game on a crisp autumn afternoon is widely considered a significant part of the college experience. Winning seems to make the activity more pleasant.
“In the ’80s we were losing students who wanted a better quality of student life, and part of the solution was athletics, more coaches, better facilities,” said Tom Weingartner, who has been the athletic director for 21 years.
Maloney, who is enormously personable, was hired. He had coached at the professional level in Canada; he had worked in the Ivy League. “People asked me if I had a death wish, coming here to Chicago,” he said. “But this was an opportunity. There was an interest in not going 2-8 every year.”
But winning requires a recalibration of emphases. Successful recruiting is essential. To get able players, Maloney said he or members of his staff visited prospects in not only neighboring states but also California, New Jersey, Texas and Florida. They look at video of 3,000 players to compile a database of 700 athletes, of which they will pursue 200 in order to reel in 25.
Chicago’s recruiting pitch carries the element of surprise, though that’s hardly an advantage. “I didn’t even know they played football,” said Nate Williams, a senior offensive lineman who grew up only 30 miles from the university.
Maloney pursues high school players who may have been all-region or all-conference but who are “two inches too short or a half-second too slow” to play at a major college. The depth of this talent pool drops immensely when it is further winnowed to students with superior grades and test scores.
When Maloney wants a player, he said, he brings the athlete’s academic file to the admissions office, where “the only advantage I get is quick service.”
But at Chicago, as at most of the nation’s elite universities, a football player has the advantage of a big pair of cleats in the door. “Admissions always tells us, ‘There are 500 kids with perfect test scores we turned away,’ ” Maloney said. “But they also want kids who bring something else to the table — sculptors and actors and, yes, football players.”
The Maroons have 80 on the team, all recruited, no walk-ons, Maloney said. Most likely, a purist like Hutchins would disapprove of such solicitations, even if two-thirds of the team are economics majors and its cumulative grade point average is “something like 3.24,” according to the coach.
So far this season the Maroons are 1-1, having dropped their second game to Concordia University Chicago, a college only a third the size. During Maloney’s 18 years, the team has been 86-72.
Chicago’s star player is wide receiver and kick returner Dee Brizzolara, a junior from Aurora, Ohio. The Maroons were not his first choice. He said Princeton recruited him really hard when he was in high school but he lost his opportunity to play in a big Ivy League stadium after an unfortunate run-in with the ACT exam.
Nevertheless, he insists he is happy where he is. He seems a cinch to break several of Chicago’s “modern era” records and he ran through the list: all-purpose yards, receptions, receiving touchdowns, maybe even total scoring.
But that hardly makes him a big man on campus, he said, shrugging off the very notion. He said: “People hear you’re on the football team and they say, Oh yeah, what football team? Really, being a football player at the University of Chicago is no different than being anyone else.”
He added, “Well, except we’re usually larger.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 20, 2011
An article on Saturday about the University of Chicago football program, which was abandoned from 1939 to 1969 but is thriving again on its own measured terms, misspelled the surname of a star player. He is Dee Brizzolara, not Bizzolara.