Popular Science Monthly/Volume 61/October 1902/Domestic and Intercollegiate Athletics

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I NEED no statistics to prove that engineering schools and engineering departments as a rule take no active part in intercollegiate athletics. There may be exceptions, but we never hear of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or Troy, or Worcester, or Stevens, on the gridiron or on the diamond or in regattas. How the teams are made up at Harvard and Yale, Cornell, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, I do not know, but I suspect that student engineers are generally 'too busy' to find time, and too interested in their work to feel an overmastering craving for athletics, so the athletic spirit which occasionally bursts into flame is gradually quenched by the steady stream of 'lectures' and 'laboratory calls.'

Doubtless we have all been somewhat to blame in this matter. We have seen so much that the student engineer ought to get and to do, and so much that the future engineer ought to know and to be, that we have pre-empted the students' hours of play and recreation as well as their hours of study, and have overlooked the plain duty of attending to the physical natures and appetites of the young men in our charge.

It is my conviction that we have made a serious mistake. To a certain degree we have defeated ourselves. Faculties and boards of control have great responsibilities in the direction of athletics, which responsibilities in a vast majority of cases they fail to meet properly. Sometimes they grossly mismanage matters, but more often they neglect them and try to ignore them. They let things drift. They admit in a half-hearted way that physical culture is a good thing, but they discourage every development of athletics under student management, while they inaugurate no adequate management of their own. In many cases athletic managers, supported as they are by strong popular favor, are a sort of terror to tutors and professors; they compel them to assist or at least to wink at deception and dishonesty.

It is useless to expect clean athletics when the members of the faculty participate in or condone fraud and unfairness. I do not willingly admit the shortcomings of college officers, but their own confessions can not be gainsaid. I know of no more corrupting ence upon students than a dishonest faculty. You would be astonished and mortified if you knew the extent to which professors in reputable institutions make false returns of the standing of players supposed to be indispensable to the success of a college team. The excuses they offer are that they must make allowance for different standards, and hence some 'diplomacy' is necessary to secure a fair game; and secondly that the demand for leniency is so strong that it becomes a duty to the institution they represent to exercise a discreet indulgence. It is extremely discouraging, it is said, to make a poor showing in what are popularly held to be manly sports, through the maintenance of high standards of scholarship. In one institution a student is held to be disqualified by dropping below an average grading of sixty or seventy per cent.; in another he is allowed to 'pass' on an average of thirty or forty per cent. Similarly the phrases 'college grade' and 'post-graduate' mean little or much according to usage. It is clear that the temptations to place new and unwonted meanings to the word 'conditioned' are very strong.

Has not the time arrived for a general conference of representatives from all institutions for higher education, whether literary or technical, for the purpose of formulating rules and adopting uniform standards in so far as they bear upon the question of eligibility to athletic teams? All admit that high standards are necessary in determining a man's worthiness to be proclaimed an attorney, an architect, an engineer or a physician; while a more moderate standard may be admissible in the general studies which are regarded as in no way professional. A university may require a passing grade of forty per cent, in its college of letters, but insist upon sixty or seventy per cent, in its schools of engineering, law and medicine. Evidently there should be no such discrepancy in determining athletic eligibility for intercollegiate games.

Local conferences have already been held, but I suggest an effort to bring together all institutions east, west, north and south, and if possible to adopt standards and rules that all can faithfully observe. My object to-day is to lay before you some considerations in favor of the systematic management of both domestic and intercollegiate athletics in every school or college of engineering, and to submit some practical suggestions in regard to the latter feature.

I have recently given some thought to manly sports, and I venture a few words in regard to their value in every scheme of all-round education.

The General Value of Systematic Athletics.

The modern development of athletics has resulted from a combination of causes. The physical asceticism of the middle ages has passed away. Muscular Christianity is now the rule and not the exception. A weak, stunted and famished body is no longer regarded as a sure abode, not even as a promise, of a purified, robust spirit. The Roman motto of a sound mind only in a sound body is in universal favor.

Again, a continually diminishing proportion of the people are engaged in reducing the wilderness, in raising the crops and in rearing the stock which are needed for food; and as for the rest of us, we are walled up in great cities, roofed in from the sunlight and pure air, and then given a maximum of brain work with as little as possible of physical exercise. This state of things can not long endure without serious injury to our manhood. Close observers of the American people state that nervous diseases and all complaints arising from excessive brain work, combined with a lack of physical health and vigor, are steadily increasing, and if we would avert the threatened physical degeneracy of our nation we must consciously introduce physical culture and athletic games which shall strengthen our bodies and invigorate our minds.

The army and navy draw but a very small fraction of our youth to the fascinations of military or marine life, and even the cadets must have their sports and games in addition to the routine of drill.

Perhaps we can leave mere fun to the children, but contests which tax one's strength and skill have perpetual charm for young men who are at an age to be delightfully conscious of their strength, and increasingly ambitious to exhibit their skill. Now, more than ever in history, opportunities for exhibiting strength and skill in competition must be manufactured. In primitive days the young farmer, the builder, the hunter, the soldier, found abundant opportunity to exhibit his prowess without modern athletics. The marked development of athletics during the last four years is due to no change in the mental, moral and physical tastes and appetites of young men, but to a social development which renders necessary special provision for the gratification of those normal tastes and appetites.

Manly Sports vs. Gymnastics.

I find it necessary to make a distinction between manly sports and gymnastics. They agree generally in affording athletic culture, but they differ in the order of importance they attach to exercise and to sport. Gymnastic training makes the exercise the main thing, while the pleasure and passion for competition and victory are secondary. It is just the other way with athletic games; with them the game is foremost, while the physical and moral benefits are incidental.

'Athletics begin where gymnastics leave off.' There is no antagonism between them; the one supplements the other. Every participator in field sports should bring to his games a body well developed by judicious gymnastic training. On the other hand the trained gymnast is entitled to the peculiar delights and rewards of athletic games.

The Relation of Physical to Mental Vigor.

There is in the minds of many people a natural and reasonable fear that an enthusiasm for athletics involves a loss of interest in scholarship, in the high ideals of the spirit and in the details of a chosen course of study. It is feared that even when one does not lose his interest in study in consequence of his interest in athletics, he must suffer a loss of the time which athletics require. I doubt if any of these fears are well grounded. There is great economy of time in spending a proper amount of it in healthful, invigorating exercise; and again there is a great waste of time in lingering and poring long over one's books. On this point I can speak from considerable experience and observation. Again and again I have felt it my duty to order students to close their books and go out for exercise or for a game. The physical ills that students suffer from as a rule arise from too little exercise, not from too much.

Says Dr. Mitchell, of Philadelphia, in a little book labeled 'Wear and Tear': 'A proper alternation of physical and mental labor is fitted to insure a lifetime of wholesome and vigorous intellectual exertion.'

Again he says: 'Eat regularly and exercise freely, and there is scarce a limit to the work you may get out of the thinking organs.' Mental action is a distinctly physical process. Without the free circulation of blood in the brain there can be neither thought nor sensation, emotion nor ideas, and the quality of the mental action is largely dependent upon the quality of this supply of blood. Here then seems to lie the solution of this vitally important problem. We succeed best not by diminishing the amount of brain work, but by so regulating the manner of our lives as to make that amount of work harmless. The time we spend in judicious and absorbing exercise is not lost.

Will you pardon me for drawing upon my personal experience? I am old enough to draw some safe conclusions as to the immediate and permanent value of moderate athletics.

When I entered Harvard there was no gymnasium, no baseball, no Rugby football, no athletics of any kind except rowing, and that was too expensive for me. So I got on a while without any exercise. I had always been accustomed to an active life on a farm, and I was soon in a bad way. Fortunately my people became alarmed and insisted upon my joining a boat club; so I joined a club near the end of my Freshman year. I enjoyed the sport, became a 'good oar,' and rapidly recovered my strength and vigor. From that time I joined regularly in the sports of the seasons as they came round. I have a set of heavy Indian clubs which I have used for forty-five years.

During my Senior year in college a vacancy occurred in the university crew and it seemed to be necessary for me to pull an oar in the 'Harvard.' There were special reasons for hard study in a particular direction on my part, and I was very unwilling to abridge or interfere with my hours for work. Moreover, I was a member of a cricket club which had been challenged to play by a lower class, and I could not refuse to meet with the club during practice hours.

Meanwhile, I had, of course, my daily lessons and exercises to prepare, and the regular recitations and lectures to attend. With reason, I said that my hands were already full; and yet the case was so urgent, and I loved rowing so much, that I concluded to try the experiment and see if, with more regular habits of eating and sleeping, and a steady, hard pull of eight miles per day, I could not do as much work in the time that remained as I had been accustomed to. I drank neither tea nor coffee, used no tobacco, and indulged in neither wine nor beer; I ate neither puddings nor pies, strawberries nor ice cream. My diet was chiefly beef, mutton, potatoes, oatmeal, bread and milk. I went to bed at ten o'clock. To my surprise, I found I could do about two hours' steady work in one, my head was as clear as a bell, I was as strong as an ox, and I had never felt so gloriously in my life. I should add that I have never had any reason to regret the decision I then made.

My own experience thus confirms the statement of Dr. Mitchell, and I have no doubt that your experience and observation point in the same direction. One conclusion then seems to be reached: To be able to perform our intellectual labor successfully, we must alternate it with active exercise which is intense enough to absorb the attention without taxing those areas of the brain that need rest. Such active exercise as a general thing is found in the manly sports. Therefore, our intellectual well-being demands as a general thing that we participate in them rationally and regularly.

The Moral Influence.

But there is more in athletics than mere physical and mental health. There is a moral training which is of equal if not of greater value. One acquires from successful athletics as from gymnastics a mental dexterity which is of infinite worth. In an emergency, one must not lose his head or forget his hands. Be it a shipwreck, a midnight fire, a school panic, a summer camp—the man of brain and brawn is a saving help.

The moral and mental value of high-class athletics is well pointed out by the late President Francis A. Walker:

It must be said that the favorite athletics of to-day are, in great measure, such as call for more than mere strength and swiftness. They demand, also, steadiness of nerve, quickness of apprehension, coolness, resourcefulness, self-knowledge, self-reliance; further still, they often demand of the contestants the ability to work with others, power of combination, readiness to subordinate individual impulses, selfish desires, and even personal credit, to a common end. These are all qualities useful in any profession; in some professions they are of the highest value. So genuine does this advantage appear to me that were I Superintendent of the Academy at West Point, I should encourage the game of football among the cadets as a military exercise of no mean importance. It is the opinion of most educated Englishmen that the cultivation of this sport has had not a little to do with the courage, address, and energy with which the graduates of Rugby, Eton, and Harrow, have made their way through dangers and over difficulties in all quarters of the globe.

Rugby football has taken a strong hold upon popular favor and no outdoor entertainment can command so large an attendance of respectable people as a game of football between two teams of college boys. Of course there is mixed with a love of the game pure and simple a great deal of college spirit and college pride.

But there is something more. There is a moral force that is mighty and strong, and which only a player truly knows. The player alone feels the wild joy of the charge, the struggle, the tackle and the gauntlet. None but the player feels the absolute necessity of obeying orders, of cooperation, of vigilance, of instant decision and prompt action. A novice at the game subordinates the care of the ball to the care of himself; he can not help this; he feels that his person is worth any number of points in the game, and he risks a defeat to avoid a bruise or a sprain; but when he is trained and can fall safely without thinking of himself, he subordinates himself to the requirements of the game and puts his whole soul as well as his body into the play.

Experienced players can see great moral gain in all this, and in the sense of obligation to cherish the body so that it may always be at its best. Men who have made athletics a business have taught us that certain things weaken and enervate a man and make him less noble and less manly; so the football player must avoid them, not only while he plays, but as long as he wishes to be noble and manly.

President Thwing's Views.

In a recent number of the North American Review, President Thwing of the Western Reserve University elaborates 'The Ethical Functions of Football.' His points are summarized as follows: (1) Football represents the inexorable. It embraces things that must be done at specific times, places and in specific ways. (2) Football illustrates the value of the positive. It teaches one to do. It is action, not inaction. It bucks, it punches, it breaks, it runs, it goes, it goes through the line, it goes round the ends, but it goes. (3) Football represents the value of a compelling interest. There are other interests, good and bad, but certain temperaments need something like football to arouse them. Speaking of a lazy boy, Emerson said: 'Set a dog on him, send him West, do something to him.' Football serves such a purpose. (4) Football embodies the process of self-discovery. Every football game is a crisis. It not only creates power and develops power; it also discovers the possession or the lack of power. (5) Football develops self-restraint. Self-restraint, or more broadly, self-control, is one of the primary signs of the gentleman. Football demands self-restraint for it teems with temptations to do mean and nasty things. It thus helps to make the finest type of a gentleman.

Few college men would claim all the above, but if we grant the half, football is amply justified, and deserves general support.

It is interesting to note the favor with which athletics are received by educational leaders on all sides. I quote a paragraph from Supt. Thomas M. Balliet, one of the ablest of Massachusetts educators:

The need of systematic physical training as a part of the legitimate work of the public schools is to-day not questioned by anyone who is informed on the subject. The health and care of the body is as much the concern of the school as the training of the mind, and this fact is coming to be very widely recognized by school committees. . . . The best authorities on physical training place much less emphasis at present than formerly on formal gymnastics, and far more on free, spontaneous outdoor play as a means of physical culture.

Unmanly Interference.

In the interest of fairness and good breeding General Walker protests vigorously against a style of systematic cheering or yelling, which directly or indirectly tends to disconcert and impede opposing players. In this protest I cordially join. Good play should be generously recognized no matter who makes it, and neither the side lines nor the grand stand should say or do anything to embarrass or confuse visiting players. It ceases to be a manly sport when ungentlemanly tricks are resorted to. Fair play means the golden rule; treat others as you would wish to be treated in a similar situation. I do not say, as you would expect to be treated, but as you would wish to be treated. I regret that in many a community visiting clubs are treated by the spectators in such a disgraceful way that one is forced to infer that they do not know what fair play and good breeding mean.

Last spring I witnessed some athletic contests between the representatives of different educational institutions in a neighboring park. One institution was represented by a big-mouthed man who sat on a front seat, and made rude and insulting remarks in a loud voice just when men whom he wished to disconcert were on the point of a jump or a vault or a throw. I had no interest in any particular player, but I was intensely disgusted at that man's behavior, and I felt deeply humiliated to find myself in such company. Had I been clothed with the proper authority, I would have had that boor promptly expelled from the park. I have witnessed other exhibitions of unfairness and bad manners on the part of the spectators, and I have felt ashamed for my city and State, but nothing quite as bad as that I saw last spring. I hope no such unfairness will ever be seen on your campus or on mine. We must train our audiences 'to be as virtuous and as impartial as the Greek chorus, to the end that the game may be played by the players and not by the spectators'. We

Must set the cause above renown,
And love the game beyond the prize.

Professionalism has been the curse of intercollegiate contests in many of the younger and smaller institutions of the west. Even in the east, eligibility rules have been agreed to with difficulty, and then readily evaded or ignored. It has been rare to find a college team where every member was a bona fide student playing without compensation in some shape or form, such as remittance of fees and dues, payment of personal expenses, or excuse from lectures and examinations; while veteran players, almost gray in athletic service, are received under the ample cloak of 'post-graduates.'

I close with some practical suggestions based upon my experience as chairman of an athletic board, and upon a study of the conditions which obtain elsewhere.

The following rules and definitions are respectfully submitted:


1. To be eligible to membership in a team representing the institution one must be a bona fide student, doing full work as a 'regular' or a 'special.'

2. His average scholastic standing must not be less than sixty per cent, and in no single branch or study shall his record for the last quarter be less than fifty per cent.

3. If a 'dropped' student, or a 'not-promoted' student, he shall not be eligible till after one year, either in the same department or in a different department. (For example, a student not-promoted in a school of engineering can not secure eligibility by withdrawing and entering the college of letters or the law school.)

4. He must not have been a representative college athlete for four years either in one, or more than one, institution. The four years begin with the date of his first appearance on a representative team; no allowance is to be made for not playing, except in the case of exclusion under Rule 3.

5. He must hold a certificate of actual physical soundness, and a muscular development sufficient to justify his taking part in a proposed athletic contest; this should be signed by the gymnastic director if a physician, or by the highest medical authority connected with the institution.

6. He must be able to swim if he proposes to row in a college boat either for practice or in a regatta.

7. He must not be in arrears to the local athletic association.

8. He must not be receiving and must never have received compensation for playing or teaching others to play athletics. Compensation is here held to include not only salary, but rebates and remission of fees, ordinary personal expenses, a share in the gate money, or financial aid in any other direct or indirect form.

9. He must be free or acquitted of all charges of improper and ungentlemanly conduct in his athletic record.

All the above rules shall hold as well for substitutes and ranking candidates for positions on a college team.

Miscellaneous Rules.

1. An athletic committee appointed by the president or elected by the faculty shall represent the faculty and board of control in all athletic matters. The chairman shall certify to the eligibility of every man on the team, and whenever asked for it he shall furnish a certified copy of the athletic record of any man on the team.

2. The athletic committee shall pass upon the time, place and conditions of a proposed intercollegiate contest, and shall determine the amount of absence from college exercises a member of the team may have during a season.

3. The athletic committee shall at all times be free to examine and audit the accounts of the treasurer of the athletic association.

4. Contracts for coaches, trainers, grounds, etc., shall not be valid until approved by the athletic committee.

5. Except for practice and informally, i. e., not for public exhibition, a university team shall not play with teams from preparatory schools nor with teams from non-educational institutions.

6. No university team shall play formally or informally with a professional team or with a team containing professional players.

7. A university team shall not play with the team of another college or university unless every member of the opposing team be eligible under rules substantially the same as above.

8. No personal expenses for travel, clothing, training or medical attendance shall be paid for students not enrolled as members of teams and substitutes.

9. If a member of a team becomes ineligible for any reason, he shall at once be dropped from the team and a promotion shall be made from the waiting list.

10. If a player be dropped from a team on account of delinquency or dishonorable conduct, he shall at once cease to wear athletic honors in the way of numerals or letters.

11. Members of a university team shall not have played on a team of similar character during the preceding summer vacation.

12. Managers of teams shall be elected by the athletic association.

13. Each team of actual players shall at the end of a season elect the captain for the succeeding season.

14. Managers in consultation with the athletic committee shall make up the schedule of games for the season.

15. Captains with the approval of the athletic committee shall make up their teams from the eligible lists.

The object of all athletic organizations shall be understood to be chiefly the following, arranged in the order of importance, the most important first:

(a) Physical culture, with the mental alertness and moral stability which follows in its train; consequently the greater the number and variety of athletic games and teams the better.

(b) To meet the normal and healthy demand of young men for manly sports, for recreation and relaxation, and to relieve the tedium of much study.

(c) To foster to a reasonable extent local pride and emulation, to create an esprit de corps, and to promote harmony and good-fellowship between students and faculty and between different departments.

(d) To advertise a college or university by arousing an interest among preparatory students and others who otherwise might never be attracted to the advantage and enjoyments of higher education.

To secure these objects every student should be encouraged on entrance to immediately submit himself to a physical examination, and with the advice of the physical director or the athletic committee not only begin regular gymnastic practice, but join a branch of the association devoted to systematic practice in some athletic game.

Every program of hours in a school of engineering as well as in a college of letters should recognize the demands of rational athletics.

  1. Read before the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, Pittsburgh meeting, July, 1902.