, Salem, MA

December 12, 2012

Letter: Keeping football in its proper place

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

With the close of another college football season, let us take a moment to remember Robert Maynard Hutchins and Arthur Holly Compton.


Robert Hutchins and Arthur Compton were not some legendary backfield duo like Army’s Blanchard and Davis. Nor were they innovative coaches who revolutionized football with a new offensive formation, as did George Halas and Clark Shaughnessy.

They were educators. In 1929, at the ripe age of 30, Robert Maynard Hutchins was named president of the University of Chicago, and he led that institution through two decades, finally stepping down in 1951.

Arthur Holly Compton was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who became chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis in 1946.

And their significance for college football? Simply this: They had a sound perspective on the sport and its place in higher education.

Hutchins made national news when in 1940 he shut down the football program at the University of Chicago. A member of the Big Ten, Chicago’s football team had suffered through a succession of losing seasons, outclassed by its conference rivals. ...

Other Big Ten schools awarded athletic scholarships and provided subsidies to their players, but Hutchins would not go that route. To the University of Chicago community, he wrote, “We cannot subsidize players or encourage our alumni to do so without departing from our principles and losing our self-respect.” ...

Arthur Holly Compton faced a different situation at Washington University. When he took over in 1946, there was no football team; the football program had been discontinued in 1942 because of the war.

Compton brought football back to the campus after the wartime hiatus, but he set the terms for its return: Sports at Washington were to be “strictly amateur,” and the school would give no athletic scholarships. ...

I can report from personal observation that he got the athletic program he envisioned. When I attended Washington U. in the early 1950s, the football players were students just like the rest of us. They went to class, they wrote papers, they took exams; they were accorded no special treatment and were held to the same academic standards as everyone else. (I should add they played a creditable brand of football and treated us to some exciting Saturday afternoons at Francis Field.) ...

Robert Hutchins and Arthur Compton prized the academic integrity of their universities and would not allow that integrity to be compromised. Their kind of leadership — wise, clearsighted, resolute — is sorely needed today, given the excesses that characterize big-time college football.

There is the Penn State scandal, of course. According to Louis Freeh’s report, a “culture of reverence” for the football program permeated all levels of the Penn State community. ... There is a Big Ten school where the newly hired football coach is making $4 million a year. ... The University of North Carolina’s football team was penalized by the NCAA earlier this year for “improper benefits” — sports agents had given presents to players. ...

So yes, let us pause to remember Robert Maynard Hutchins and Arthur Holly Compton.

John Adams