What's Wrong with College Sport?

H. H. ROXBOROUGH January 1 1933

What's Wrong with College Sport?

H. H. ROXBOROUGH January 1 1933

IN SEPTEMBER, 1931, an unassuming young fellow from the United States entered the playing field of the Montreal rugby team and sought the privilege of practising with the red- and blue-striped pigskin chasers. Good football players are always acceptable, but this particular applicant’s sport history was unknown and his physical frame so lacked the bulk and stature associated with mythical gridiron heroes that the Montreal officials paid little attention to him. Indeed, the embryo star was forced to send home for his personal football armor before he could appear in the line-up.

But Warren Stevens got his chance, and he made good. Throughout the season his leadership so inspired his teammates. and his ability to catch, run, tackle, kick or toss resulted in such sensational gains, that the Montreal club, for the first time in twelve years, became football champions of Canada.

Stevens’ ascent from obscurity to national fame was meteoric, but his career was not destined to be that of a shooting star. Today his influence is even more widely exerted, for the unknown athlete of September, 1931, has become the director of athletics in one of the most populous universities in the British Empire.

Naturally, such an appointment caused considerable verbal and literary argument. The personal qualifications of the young director, his modesty, his knowledge of rugby, basketball, baseball and track athletics, together with the high commendation of United States educators, confirmed the wisdom of the selectors. In 1932, Stevens demonstrated his teaching talent by coaching a rugby team that brought to Toronto University its first gridiron title in six years.

But criticism has also been rampant. It is asserted that Canadian universities already overemphasize sport; that the creation of the office of athletics director gives to mere play a recognition that is out of place in educational institutions; that the increasing employment of well-paid sport instructors is a step toward the evils of United States college sports, which are said to include subsidizing student athletes, lowering of scholastic standards to permit the entrance of good players, and excessive salaries to coaches.

Just about the time that the Toronto University governors were approving Warren Stevens’ appointment. Sir Arthur Currie, principal of McGill University, sounded this warning:

“McGill University does not need athletic prowess for advertising purposes. I have travelled widely and have heard McGill’s fame proclaimed in many lands, but never once was the prowess of her athletes mentioned. McGill’s well-earned reputation rests on a more permanent foundation; one of solid educational achievement.”

Sir Arthur Currie’s opinion has much support, but there are many others who emphatically insist that the purpose of a university is to produce all-round men rather than great minds; that the reputations of leading English and United States universities are quite worthy, and they give to sport a prominence that is denied in Canada; that Canada's educational leaders fail to recognize the true values in sport.

Who is right, the sport critic or the play defender? To assist in reaching a verdict, let us compare the prevalence of games in the universities of the United States, England and Canada.

Sports In Great Britain

IN THE field of United States amateur sport, the best track and field athletes, the most formidable football elevens, the leading lacrosse teams, the fastest rowing eights, the pre-eminent hockey sixes, bear the names and maintain the traditions of the various States educational institutions.

The Olympic successes of the United States have been largely dependent upon the abilities of undergraduates. In the trials for places on the 1932 team, the six finalists in both the 100 and 200 metre races were university products. Most track and field records are made by students in their college years. Seven out of eight entrants in the Olympic rowing trials were university crews; the demonstration football match at the Tenth Olympic Games was played entirely by “bookish” athletes; sixty per cent of the members of five leading professional baseball teams are university trained men. Without even a league, the rivalry in United States intercollegiate football is so pronounced that college revenues exceeding $I,000,000 have not been rare, and crowds exceeding 30,000,000 have annually stormed the clicking turnstiles. Thus, there is evidence that not only do United States educators encourage university sport, but also that their knowledge foundries provide the great game spectacles and make it possible for Uncle Sam to attain a world prominence in international sport competitions.

Some Canadian leaders deprecate the extremes of the American system and avow a preference for the play habits and sport traditions of English universities. As a matter of fact, the games history of Oxford and Cambridge universities is surprising to those who cherish the scholastic reputations of the Old World colleges, but are unfamiliar with the extent and prominence of play life in the Mother Country.

The names of such scholarly athletes as Abrahams, Liddell, Lowe, O’Callaghan, Tisdall and Burleigh are respected by those who know their Olympic champions. The students of Oxford and Cambridge universities annually compete in track and field competition with spiked-shoed gentlemen from Yale and Harvard; while the Achilles Club, composed of holders of athletic “Blues.” is recognized wherever knights of the cinder tracks congregate.

Similarly in rugby, cricket and rowing. The annual university rugby match played at Twickenham has attracted 50,000 spectators, the university cricket contest at Lords is an event of national importance, while the century-old rowing struggle between Oxford and Cambridge has attracted throngs exceeding half a million people.

Not only do the ‘‘firsts” engage in important fixtures, but the university sport programme provides an outlet for every student with a competitive complex. Here is an example of what may be expected of Oxford athletes on any seasonable Saturday afternoon: the soccer team plays Southgate, the best golfers play Cambridge, the rugby devotees battle with O. M. T., while the lacrosse team visits the Lee Club.

Cambridge students are even busier. The ice hockey team plays at Prince’s, the rugger players struggle with Harlequin, the squash “racketeers” journey to the Jesters’ Club, the lacrosse team crosses sticks with Surbiton, a second golf string visits Worplesdon, while two trial eights enjoy a stiff workout on the river. Apart altogether from these important outside fixtures, as many as twelve hockey, twelve soccer and ; twelve rugby football teams play local intercollege games. All in one afternoon.

Need it, therefore, occasion surprise that, while the larger Canadian universities grant varying color degrees in about fifteen sports, there are twenty-two games at Cambridge j for which the athletic student may receive j his Blue or Half Blue—which corresponds to our letters?

National Pastimes Gone Wrong

HOW do Canadian universities compare in prominence and extent with the sport activities of England and the United States? Unquestionably, in recent years, the history of play in Dominion educational institutions is a tale of decadence and defeat, and the closer the analysis the more impressive does the rout appear.

Recall the condition in rugby. In 1892 the Canadian Rugby Football Union was organized, and during the first seventeen times in which Canadian universities competed for the national senior title, eleven Dominion championships were won by student teams. But in the last eight years not a single national rugby honor has been gained by an educational institution. Furthermore, with four eligible teams in Eastern and Western Canada, it is significant that not even one of the sectional champions in these eight lean years has represented a university. Yet the colleges are heavily stocked with rugby material which was discovered and developed to some extent in j high schools and preparatory institutions.

Hockey, too. is a game readily acceptable i to undergraduates, but the law of diminishing returns seems to be even more pronounced in this sport than in rugby. In twenty-three years of all-Canadian hockey, only five university teams have captured Dominion honors, and two of those victories were won more than a generation ago. In recent years our teams have slumped so badly that college supremacy in this traditionally Canadian sport is not only seriously challenged by United States students, but has. in the opinion of many competent observers, already passed to Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth or Princeton.

Lacrosse, like hockey, is another traditional national pastime that has gone wrong. Today, in many Canadian universities, lacrosse is almost as foreign as bull-fighting. Even where it is played, the students use it as a medium for a holiday trip and generally are easy prey for the United States collegians.

A similar condition is found in rowing. In 1924 Professor Tom Loudon coached a Canadian university crew to a national title, and the same eight represented Canada in the Paris Olympic Games. Since then, however, the student gondoliers have been denied important rowing honors, even though the Cambridge crew and the University of California eight represented England and the United States in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic tournament.

Even more pronounced than our mediocrity in college rugby, rowing, lacrosse and hockey have been the poor performances of Canadian intercollegiate track and field athletes. Our universities have always had field days, yet during all the years of intercollegiate athletic endeavor not a single national record has been made by a student while representing a university. Neither did even one member of the 1928 or 1932 Canadian Olympic track and field team earn his position on his performance while a university competitor in Canada. It is significant that, on both occasions, the Walters brothers, King, Pickard, Pilling, Edwards, Wilson, Ravensdale, McNaughton and Hester, were all native sons who made the Canadian team while registered as students at United States universities.

During 1931 the only important senior national title gained by a Canadian university was won by the University of British Columbia, which became supreme in basketball. In 1932 the honor roll was bare.

Not only have the colleges of Canada failed to make an impression in competition with non-college teams, but they have also failed to develop the athletic talent they inherited. Young Canadian schoolboys come to universities with recognized ability. Coaches of the United States are anxious to enroll our youthful stars. Many Canadians achieve prominence in foreign countries other than the United States, while even brighter prospects have remained home and athletically succumbed through the ineffective coaching or almost complete disinterest of faculty leaders.

Sport Benefits Health

BUT even more disappointing than the failure to develop champions and build great teams is the general apathy toward the values of games in a true educational system.

At English colleges the entire afternoon is devoted to play. At Cambridge University with an enrollment exceeding 4,000, more than 1,500 students are likely to be engaged, at some period, in rowing. The English educational ideal is to produce not only scholars but all-round men whose bodies and minds are equally developed.

Stanford University, in the United States, so believes in sport that 100 acres of land are available for games. There are nine football fields, five baseball diamonds, twelve tennis courts, two track ovals, two soccer fields and two polo fields, with more than ninety per cent of the men students actively participating in the benefits. Miami University has enjoyed a ninety-seven per cent enrollment in sport pursuits; University of Iowa, with a slogan “every man an athlete,” enlisted 2.500 in game competitions; while West Point provides for an absolute one hundred per cent athletic course of training.

In Canada, there are some notable exceptions, such as the University of New Brunswick, which had seventy-four per cent of the students engaged in football, track, softball, tennis and golf; but, generally, while physical exercises and drills are common, not half the undergraduates play games. For instance, the 1931 Presidential Report of the University of Toronto relates that ninety-two per cent of the men students were physically fit for any athletic competition. but less than thirty-six per cent actually participated in games. More than 3.000 men students were not registered as players in any game.

Why? Is it because sport is injurious to health or detrimental to study? Are these fears imaginary or real? Here are some evidences that the objections are founded on legends rather than facts.

Consider the health bogey. Dudley Allen Sargent, a reputable United States observer, examined more than 1.000 amateur and professional athletes. He reported that not over one per cent were affected with cardiac disturbance, and in only two of these cases did he feel positive that the trouble was due to athletics alone.

W. G. Anderson studied the longevity of 808 Yale University students who had won letters in rowing, football, track and baseball. Of this number the deaths actuarially expected were 112, but the number who had expired was only fifty-eight, which established a death rate little more than half that normally anticipated.

A much more comprehensive investigation was conducted by Dr. Louis I. Dublin. He surveyed the longevity of over 38,000 college athletes who graduated in eight colleges over a span of thirty-five years, and found that the death rate of playing students was nearly ten per cent less than that established by medical tables as the average.

Similarly in studies. The popular conception is that the honor men on the gridiron are dullards in the classroom. Well, here are the cold records of neutral observers.

Athletes Are Good Students

HAY FINLAY studied the scholarship of students at McGill and four United States universities, and reached these surprising conclusions:

While only forty-one per cent of non-athletes eventually graduated, more than sixty-one per cent of athletes completed their courses; the number of non-athletes who failed or withdrew during first or second years was proportionately double that of athletes; the average academic grade of athletes actually exceeded that of the game abstainers; and, finally, that the percentage of scholastic “A” men among the former was greater than among the latter.

These conclusions were confirmed by the Carnegie Foundation investigators, who enquired into the habits and success of 806 Harvard students, of whom 301 were recognized players. This thorough enquiry revealed that athletes stay longer in college, graduate more of their number, and do so in less time than do those who do not play games.

Furthermore, thirteen United States universities conducted specially arranged achievement tests and discovered that those who played games averaged higher than non-players, and that athletes who participated in two sports were even better than the one-game men.

Apart altogether from the fact that controlled sport is not injurious to either the health or study of adult students, play participation strengthens character, increases friendships, and aids graduates in becoming established in business or professional life.

Invariably, industrial leaders prefer men with athletic reputations because of their ability to mix well with business associates. The prominence obtained and acquaintances formed in university sport are assets desired in all selling organizations. Almost any school board, providing scholastic attainments are similar, will show preference for the teacher with a sport background.

Furthermore, the athletic graduate is equipped to enter into the social life of his new community. His knowledge of games enables him to plan play life, to organize teams, to make his influence so pronounced that rural life is brightened. In return, the young professional man increases his practice and becomes a popular leader in public life. In England, British Civil Service appointments are supposedly dependent upon examination results, but the number of Oxford or Cambridge Blues who are chosen indicate the importance of athletic honors in the examiners’ minds.

University sport also has even more direct results. In the United States, sport tuition is so advanced that students graduate from college diamonds into the remunerative profession of baseball, while even in Canada a member of a university hockey team, upon completing his university course, accepted a hockey contract for a three-year period with an annual salary of $10,000. Only recently an advertisement appeared in a Canadian newspaper: ‘‘Wanted, young lawyer to become connected with old-established legal firm, preference given to one who can play hockey.”

Realizing these sport values, why is organized play usually just “tagged on” to the programme of Canadian universities? Surely any course that demands courage, self-control, team play, sacrifice, concentration, loyalty, physical fitness, the ability to accept defeat without remorse or attain victory without undue elation, should be readily acceptable to an ideal educational system.

If these benefits are to be fully obtained, then educators must scrap the notion that sport is just a sideshow, something to be tolerated but not encouraged, a condition permissible only because it pays its own way. Instead, the department of physical education must rank with that of physics, economics, science. This department should deal with student health, physical instruction. intramural and intercollegiate athletics. Coaches should be employed on a full-time basis and be recognized faculty members.

Tins ideal is not only the desire of those animated by civic or national pride, or even those who love the crowds, big spectacles and excitement aroused by important college rivalries. The true value of sport in education is now becoming increasingly recognized by educators themselves. Their opinions are illustrated in the statement of a Princeton dean that “sport participation forms the only practical training in ethics that exists in our modern educational system,” and the recent utterance of Sir Francis Wylie, retiring chairman of Rhodes Scholarship Foundation, that “it is eternally true that a great nation must encourage physical development in education.”