Popular Science Monthly/Volume 24/March 1884/College Athletics II

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643358Popular Science Monthly Volume 24 March 1884 — College Athletics II1884Eugene Lamb Richards





WITH regard to the evils of the present system of college athletics it must be remembered that the best system will not be free from all evil. No human system can be free from evil. Even the divine government of the world does not exclude the existence of evil. That the present system has evils is no valid argument against it, unless it can be shown either that these outweigh the good, or that some other practical system can be devised which shall have all the good with less of the evil of the present system.

1. One evil alleged against the present system is the excessive amount of time required for exercise under it. It is no doubt true that some students do give too much time to athletics. Some students also give too much time to study; yet that fact is not brought forward as a fatal argument against the college course of study. Of the two excesses—excess of study and excess of exercise—the dangerous pressure at present is toward excess of study. But, in point of fact, this evil of too much time given to athletics has been greatly exaggerated. The winter term is not open to the charge of excessive athletics. The athletes then training do not devote an average of more than an hour a day to exercise. Perhaps a few give an hour and a half. It would be safe to say that, counting all the time consumed, including the time of exercise, the time used in going to and from the gymnasium, and the time used in dressing and undressing, it would not go beyond two hours per day, and in most cases would be less than that amount. So, to consider the question of excessive time, we must look at the fall and spring terms. In the fall, during days when afternoon recitations are held, the class nines do not spend more than two hours' time altogether, including both practice in the field and the time of going to and from practice. The same may be said of the Foot-ball and Lacrosse Teams. On Wednesday and Saturday afternoons the students give from two to three hours to practice. On these afternoons the match-games occur. They are prohibited on other days, except during examinations, at which time they are allowed on any day, provided no player is thereby prevented from attending his examination. The crews, also, in practice on the water and in going to and from their boats, spend two hours daily. On Wednesdays and Saturdays they use more time, but the practice is so arranged as not to interfere with recitations.

In the summer the same amount of time, daily, is given to practice, except that, when recitations cease and examinations begin, the University and Freshman Nines use more time. Even then that time will not average more than three hours per day. When match-games are played out of town, to the time of the game must be added the time used in travel to and from the scene of the match. In the season of 1882, of the games played during the time when recitations or examinations were being held, only five were played out of town by the Yale University Nine, though the men went out of town once or twice more but were prevented from playing by the rain. Of these five, three were played in New York city, which is only a little over two hours' ride from New Haven. Of the remaining two, neither needed more than thirty-six hours' absence from town.

The University Crew row only one race a year. The Foot-ball Elevens and the Lacrosse Team play a few games out of New Haven, but do not use in this way as much time as the Nine.

2. It is said that the excitement attendant on these sports distracts from study. It is true that the contests do furnish excitement for the students, but it is excitement of a healthy kind. Athletic sports do not divert so many from study as the theatre and billiards. Banish athletics, and you increase the attendance at the theatres and the saloons, where the temptations are greater, and the excitements less healthy than those of the ball-field and boat-race.

3. There is the evil of betting. This is not an evil peculiar to athletics. The men in college, who are in the habit of betting, would continue to bet on something else, if not a game were played nor a race rowed. Gambling would increase if the athletics were prohibited. Games and races in colleges do not create betting. They simply divert it from other channels.

4. Then there are the disorders consequent upon victories. These disorders are sometimes quite serious, but are by no means so serious as they are often represented to be. On the campus such disorders have never been more serious than some disorders taking place after the conferring of degrees. They have always been easily controlled. They have been avoided when the college authorities have given notice that a recurrence of them would imperil the existence of the athletic organizations, or annul the permission to play match-games. These disorders, then, can not be a necessary and inherent evil of athletics.

It may be replied that disorders consequent upon victories are not confined to the college campus. Indeed, to the minds of many candid men, the great disorders which bring dangerous disgrace to the present system of college athletics, and reflect upon college government as well, occur at the intercollegiate contests, when the athletes meet on neutral ground. Such men admit the advantages of the system. They would encourage it in the separate colleges, but would have it go no further. They would abolish intercollegiate contests altogether. But this action would do away with the very element (healthy rivalry between colleges) which is the most effective motive power and stimulus of the whole system. Without this element the. system would go to pieces in many colleges. In others it would be miserably contracted and inefficient. For this evil a more general interest in the subject on the part of instructors and parents, and their more general attendance at the games, would easily suggest the remedies of a healthy and manifested public opinion and a judicious personal influence.

5. It is charged against athletics that they benefit, the few, and that these few are those least requiring the exercise. One part of the charge can be appreciated—that few are benefited—these few being the members of the Crew, Kine, Eleven, and Lacrosse Teams of the university. These, with substitutes, amount to about fifty men. But it has been already shown that more men are induced to exercise than the actual membership of these organizations; and that the present system affects, in the matter of exercise, at least half of the undergraduate department.

The objection, that the men under training in the university organizations are the men least requiring the training, can be understood to be one of two propositions, viz., either that these men have naturally so much power or skill that they need not develop any more, or that they will cultivate their strength and nerve without being stimulated to do so by the workings of the present system. This would be like arguing that men of great mental gifts either do not need an education, or would get an education without any opportunities being provided for this purpose in a school or college system—a proposition which, however true in exceptional cases, taken as a general statement no argument is required to prove absurd. Men of muscle do need exercise. Indeed, it may be said that they must have exercise. The more systematic such exercise is, the better their brains work, as observing instructors of such men will testify. The reason is plain. They enjoy better health. The men who suffer most from the confinement of student-life are the men of vigorous bodies. Their vital force is like a flame. It must be fed with oxygen. Many of them, without the capacity of self-control, and without the health which they gain by exercise under the present system of athletics, would never be able to graduate. Many others would graduate with impaired bodily powers, and others still as slaves to habits of dissipation.

6. It is said, again, that the system may develop men, but it only makes fine brutes of them, and sets before the college a false standard of excellence, viz., one entirely physical. It can not be said with truth that the standard is false. The standard of good scholarship remains, and many of the athletes take high rank in scholarship. The standard of good conduct remains. The students still respect their fellows who approach these standards, yet they think no worse of a man, but rather better of him, and rightly, too, if he be a thorough man, and have a manly body as well as a good mind and upright character. Other things being equal, the bright mind and good heart in a strong body are better than the same things in a weak body, because they can accomplish more in life.

It is further said that the applause bestowed upon some feat in any of the athletic contests helps to establish some boy in the conceit that he is a great man, because he can do such things, and that, therefore, study is of no further use to him. There may be such youths, but, whatever be their fate at other colleges, they seldom appear at the college with which the writer is connected, and when they do appear do not stay.

7. The evil of a general nature last to be considered is that of expense.

The expenses of the organizations which have special university representatives are only taken into account, since these are the organizations of which the evils have been so loudly proclaimed to the public. In the table given below (for Tale College), the "expenses" and "income" are the totals for both university and class clubs combined. For base-ball, foot-ball, and Lacrosse, the amounts in the column headed "Earned" are made up for the most part of gate-money taken at exhibition-games. For the boat clubs, of the amount put in the same column, $1,045.36 was the net result of a dramatic entertainment given by the students for the benefit of the university club. The balance was obtained from entrance and carriage fees at regattas, renting of lockers, and sale of boat.

CLUBS. Expenses. INCOME.
Total. Balance from 1881. Earned. Subscribed.
Boat. $7,348.86 $7,426.52 $177.54 $1,322.11 $5,926.87
Base-ball. 6,863.38 7,254.15 5,457.15 1,797.00
Foot-ball. 2,792.36 2,792.36 $1,080.71 1,329.65 382.00
Lacrosse. 574.00 575.00 225.05 349.95
Total. $17,476.04 $18,048.03 $1,258.25 $8,333.96 $8,455.82

It will be observed that the total amount subscribed is less than half the expenses. Two hundred and ninety dollars of this sum was given by graduates. Deducting this, and considering that, according to the catalogue of 1881-'82, there were, in the undergraduate academical and scientific departments, seven hundred and eighty-six students, the cost (above earnings) of the present system averages only a little over ten dollars per man. As all departments are benefited by the system, the average ought to be taken for the whole university. There being in the university over one thousand men, the average cost per man would be considerably less than ten dollars. It will be said that part of the earnings come from the students, since they are the chief attendants at the game. This is true. Assuming that half the earnings come from the students (an amount probably in excess of the real amount), the average cost per man for the university will not be far from twelve dollars. Fifteen dollars per man would undoubtedly cover the whole cost of athletics throughout the year, counting not only the athletics represented in the table, but all other kinds as well. Certainly this does not seem an extravagant sum to pay for the benefits derived from the system. The writer believes that the expenses can be very much diminished. The tendency to unnecessary increase of expenses can certainly be diminished by measures hereafter noticed.

By the table, it will be seen that the subscriptions for base-ball and foot-ball were small in amount as compared with their earnings. It is generally believed, among students, that the university organizations of both these sports can be made self-supporting.

The evils already commented on are general. There are other so-called evils which are special—some peculiar to one kind of athletics, but not belonging to the others. One of these, charged against base-ball, is that the game brings the students into contact with "professionals." Whatever may be the extent of the evil in other colleges, at Yale it has not proved to be so great as to call for Faculty interference, or even to excite apprehension. All the evils, real or imaginary, connected with ball-playing, are reduced to a minimum when the students meet "professionals." They meet them simply for practice. Betting is, as a rule, precluded by the fact that the result is generally a foregone conclusion, and men bet on only doubtful issues. Off the field there is no more intercourse between the students and the "professionals" than is necessary to transact the business attending the match. The professional nine are then generally represented by their business manager, and the students by the president or treasurer of their club. In the game one nine is in the field, while the members of the other are at the bases, or waiting for their turn at the bat. The "professionals" are under the strictest discipline, so that their presence does not invite or occasion dissipation in any form. Victories of college nines over "professionals" are not frequent, and are not attended by disorders on the campus.

But to some objectors the evil of "professionalism" in athletics includes more than playing with professional nines. The employment of professional "trainers" in preparing students for contests is, for some, the chief evil. Such trainers are looked upon as bad companions for our young men. It is contended that they undermine the morals of our students by their profanity and generally low talk. They are also supposed to give too high a standard of excellence for our amateur athletes, and thus to draw on too much of their time and strength, in the effort to make them conform to this standard. All these things may happen in some cases, but they do not happen frequently. Admitting, for the sake of argument, what is generally denied by the students, that for the past two years the crew has been coached by the professional oarsman who rigged their boats, his coaching would have brought him into personal contact with not more than a dozen men at the most, and for a time of only three or four weeks in the spring and summer. For a short time in the winter some of the candidates for the university nine have exercises in boxing with a trainer, in order to bring them into "condition" for the spring and summer work. There can hardly be more than fifteen such men.

The only other really professional training done has been done for those who go into track athletics. This training lasts for about six weeks, and is given to some fifteen or twenty men. A "professional" has sometimes accompanied the foot-ball team when they have played their great matches, but his office has not been to train the men, but to apply his skill to limbering stiffened joints and healing bruised muscles.

It is quite natural that students, when taking lessons of any kind, should prefer the best masters. Unfortunately, the best masters are not always the best men. That the pupils are, therefore, always led into bad courses by the example of their instructors does not follow. There is enough good sense in college students generally to dissociate good instruction from faults of character. The trainer seldom influences the student beyond the purpose of his training. The young man does not make a companion of his trainer, nor trust his morals to his direction. An easy cure for possible evils in this direction would be for the faculty of each college, troubled by vicious trainers, to forbid their students employing such men. An investigation, however, into the relations between such trainers and their pupils would show that the pupils despise the lowness of the men quite as much as do the faculty themselves. Another and better remedy would be to select an amateur athlete from the graduates, educated as a physician, and give him a salaried office, with duties as general adviser and guardian of the athletic interests. Such a man, if properly qualified, would help the students to a safer and better physical development than they now get, and would, besides, soon drive away all trainers exercising improper influences among them.

In foot-ball there is no professional element. But it is charged against the game that there is danger in it to life and limb. Undoubtedly it is a rough sport, but year by year it is becoming less dangerous in consequence of the increasing strictness of the rules and the severity of the penalties against foul play. In the match-games these rules are generally so well observed that few accidents occur. In the games between Yale and Princeton, which have always been the most hotly contested, no man has been seriously hurt. It is a game which particularly requires courage, and is therefore a most manly game. It is like a battle with the danger not all left out, but a battle in which courage and self-possession not only secure victory but safety. With all its dangers it is less dangerous to the players than the confinement accompanying excess of study.

One great evil connected with athletics, and not generally receiving public notice or animadversion, is the excess of feeling between students of different colleges, occasioned by the intercollegiate contests. This excess of feeling seems akin to excessive class-feeling already noticed. It is partly due, no doubt, to the youthfulness of the parties. It is seldom entertained by the contestants. It is a strange fact that such feeling does not appear to exist between professional clubs, nor between professional and amateur clubs. In this matter, therefore, it would seem that the students might learn a good lesson from "professionals."

What the condition of the college would be without a system of athletics is a question already partly answered by what has been said in meeting the charges against the system. We can understand, also, the effect of abolishing the present system by calling to mind the disorders reported in colleges in which no such system is allowed to exist. The revolts against authority and the great disorders between classes now occur with the most frequency not at colleges which have the greatest number of students and the most extensive athletic organizations, but at the colleges in which the students either are not able or are not allowed to establish such organizations. The disorders which used to occur in New Haven thirty or even twenty-five years ago ought to convince any candid man that, however great the present evils of college-life are athletics, the past evils without athletics were worse. On one occasion in those "good old times," in consequence of a conflict between students and town boys, a cannon was brought before the college buildings to demolish them. The writer remembers another occasion when there was a collision between students and firemen, and one of the firemen was mortally wounded by a pistol-shot. That night the dormitories were bolted and barred and the students acted like a besieged party, and were making preparations for a possible fight the next day. In those same good old times there were more frequent disturbances between classes. There were snow-ball fights, too, on the campus, to the great destruction of window-glass. According to the testimony of men in the college in those days, drunkenness was more common. Certainly within the last twenty years the college sentiment with regard to intoxication has undergone a change for the better. Before that period a student given to this vice did not

Fig. 1. Fig. 2.
necessarily lose caste among his fellows as he does at this day. The pressure of college opinion is against dissipation. It is absolutely necessary for the athletes to abstain from it. Being taught the evil effects of excesses upon their strong men, the university is not slow to see that intemperance is a wrong and an evil for all men.

As a contribution to this part of the discussion, the accompanying diagrams are offered, as bearing on the subject of disorders. The first diagram gives, for each year of the twenty college years from 1862-'63 to 1881-'82, the percentage of the number of men expelled and suspended from the Academical department of Yale College to the membership of that department. The numbers were taken from the Faculty records, and include expulsions for all cases of disorder; all dismissals and suspensions for disorders by day or by night; for drunkenness and for marks and irregularity. Each case counts as a unit without regard to the severity of the penalty. Had more weight been allowed to one case than another, it is not likely that the results would have been materially changed, as the severe punishments of expulsion and dismissal are infrequent. No account is taken of dismissals for scholarship, the writer for, the present confining his investigations to the effects of athletics on college order. The percentages are arranged in vertical columns, one for each college year, the year being written under the column. Each square represents one fifth of one per cent (0·002). Thus, in 1862-'63, the cases of discipline were four and one tenth per cent of the total membership for that year. In the next year the cases of discipline were one and seven tenths per cent, etc. The average for the twenty years will be found to be about three per cent. For the first decade the average was a little more than three and six tenths per cent, and for the last decade a little less than two and four tenths per cent. Though a race between crews of Harvard and Yale was rowed as early as 1852, yet it was not until the summer of 1864 that the Harvard-Yale boat-race began to be the regular event which it has since continued to be. The first permission to play ball out of town was granted to the Yale Club in June, 1869, and the first permission to the Foot-ball Team was given in November, 1878. These permissions are indicated on the diagrams.

In the second diagram the expulsions, dismissals and suspensions for hazing, rushes, and attempted interference by members of one class with the liberty or property of members of another, are given by numbers. Each square represents one case of discipline. These cases, though already counted in forming Diagram No. 1, are represented in No. 2 by themselves, in order to make evident the fact that this particularly troublesome class of disorders is diminishing. The writer has already stated the reasons of his belief that the diminution of them is due in great measure to the influence of athletics.

In the opinion of the writer, the diagrams show that, whatever may be the public impression, the real facts, as evidenced by the Faculty records, are, first, that the college disorders, as a whole, have not increased since the introduction of athletics; and, second, that one class of disorders has sensibly diminished. Of course, other influences have contributed to bring about these results. Still, even if the claim in behalf of athletics of a special influence for good in this respect be not allowed, it can not be fairly said that the evil effects of the system are such as to overpower all the other good influences.

As to those evils which are capable of remedy, and of which the remedy has not been before expressed or implied, we will take up that of unnecessary expense. It has been before shown that the expense of the system is not enormous, considering the good done. But undoubtedly it is greater than it need be. Moreover, it will naturally tend to increase. Still, it is well to remember that, as the number of athletic organizations increases, the increased subscriptions demanded of the students begin to waken some of the thoughtful among them to wiser discrimination in their giving, and to a sharper watchfulness of the management of the associations to which they do give. Consequently, new care in the spending of money is required of each university organization, and a healthy suspicion on the part of the students is developing itself. In other words, each athletic interest begins to act as a check on the extravagance of the others. Still, money is inevitably wasted, in consequence of the inexperience of the young men. Each officer, as a rule, serves but a year, when he makes room for a new officer, who is as inexperienced as his predecessor. The experience gained each year might be made serviceable by associating with the incoming treasurer a permanent graduate treasurer. The vice-president might be elected to become president as soon as the year's service of the president expired, so that he would serve as vice-president one year and one year as president, his service thus extending over two years. It has also been proposed to consolidate the athletic interests under one salaried superintendent, who should be a gradate. The objection to this plan is that, though it might secure a more consistent and economic management, it would destroy the present healthy rivalry of the athletic interests, and relieve the students themselves of the responsibility of success or failure. Besides the changes suggested, a general auditing committee for all the interests should be formed consisting of graduates and undergraduates. At pressent, though the accounts of all the interests are published, yet nobody feels it his particular business to object to any one item. If a graduate finds fault, his complaint is not worth much, as only undergraduates are supposed to know the needs of to-day. A committee of both graduates and undergraduates could audit the accounts, and would be able to make suggestions which would be sure of a hearing. By such changes in the system and the economies which ought to result from them, field-sports, such as base-ball, foot-ball, and lacrosse, should be self-supporting. The income derived from gate-money should meet the expenses.

Since some very worthy people who believe in manly sports object to young men playing for money taken at the exhibition-games, it is necessary to say a word of explanation with regard to this feature of all ball-games. If field athletics are to continue, the expense of them must be met in one of two ways, either by gate-money or by subscription. Most young men prefer to give their money at the gate, and thus to pay for what they see. If a club knows that it is to spend only what it earns, it will be stimulated, first, to play as good a game as possible; and, secondly, to spend its earnings with prudence. It seems only just, too, that, if the public desire to see a good game, they should pay for the exhibition. The men work hard in practice, and are entitled to have their expenses paid. More than that they do not ask. They do not play for gain, but for honor. By their rules, they do not allow any man to be a member of their organizations who has earned money as a professional.

The evil of liability to strains and injuries in athletics can not be entirely obviated. It is well to bear in mind, at this point, the fact that even those who are not athletes do not, therefore, enjoy immunity from accidents. Yet, so far, according to the recollection of the writer, no regular member of a Yale Crew, Team, or Nine, has been permanently injured by participating in a race or match. Still, it is possible that a slight injury, to a person having organic weakness, might result in a fatal difficulty. Such an issue might be avoided by the requirement that every candidate for trial should be examined by a competent physician, and, in default of procuring a certificate of physical soundness, should be excluded from participation in athletic contests. Besides this, every candidate for a place in a crew should be debarred from entering a race unless he had mastered the art of swimming.

If, moreover, the Faculty of every college having a system of athletics would exert a sympathetic as well as a judicious oversight of the students interested in the system, they would find the young men quite willing to listen to friendly suggestions. If, also, the times of recitation were so arranged that a proper amount of time could be devoted to exercise without interference with study, more brain-work, and of better quality, would be secured than by the policy prevailing in some colleges, according to which, not only no encouragement is given to athletic sports, but, on the contrary, every obstacle is thrown in their way.

The college which neglects or ignores physical culture may send out scholars, but it will not educate forceful men. It will not be the living power which it might be. Truth is not to prevail by the dry light of intellect alone, but through the agency of good, wise, and strong men.