Wednesday, March 02, 2016


I ran across the story-behind-the-story of the most lopsided college football game ever, Georgia Tech over Cumberland College 220-0, one hundred years ago.  The wikipedia version is probably best researched and most accurate, but I liked this older version from the Chicago Tribune better.  I had always assumed that it was just the classic Podunk U vs. national powerhouse story, but there is more to it than that. Cumberland had been a respectable football team two years before but had dropped the sport.  Coach John Heisman - the name may ring a bell - of Georgia Tech insisted they play anyway or pay up $3000 because of lost gate receipts.  That was big money in those days. Yet even that may not be the most important consideration - it was a revenge game. 

How in the world could Cumberland College have done anything to invite revenge from one of the top programs in the country?  They had beaten Georgia Tech's baseball team - also coached by Heisman - the year before, 22-0, by bringing in a professional team from Memphis and calling them the Cumberland squad.

Another reminder that the Good Old Days weren't.  Only after WWII did college sports in general start to develop some standards.  Until then it was Honor System, and that only works in some places.  Perhaps it was seeing moral horror up close, perhaps it was the GI Bill bringing in respectable middle America, perhaps it was the ache to make America live up to its ideals.  But not until then did we look around and say "Y'know, we really need to make sure these players aren't actually professional; and make sure they really go to classes; and fellas, we need to integrate these teams."  You will note that we still struggle with all that.  Standards are hard, and humans resist them.

1 comment:

RichardJohnson said...

Another reminder that the Good Old Days weren't. Only after WWII did college sports in general start to develop some standards. Until then it was Honor System, and that only works in some places.

That depends. Back then, it would appear to me that back then college athletes in general were more similar academically to other students than today. Worse athletes than today, but more likely to be real students than today.

In the '30s, my father was a second string player on his college football team at 6' and 155 pounds. Today, someone with those measurements would be laughed off the team. I recall someone who told me that he was an offensive lineman on his high school team in the '80s at a very well muscled 6'3" and 240 pounds, but didn't even bother trying out for the football team in college because he was too small. For those colleges who adhered to the Honor System before WW2, their athletes tended to be students who happened to be athletes.

Today, those on college teams that compete at the top level nationally are quite often athletes who happen to be students. There was one star on a NCAA championship basketball team who considered it an accomplishment that in his sophomore or junior year in college he read a book cover to cover for the first time in his life. Perhaps he had read a picture book cover to cover when he was in second or third grade, but that previous statement is undoubtedly accurate for his time from middle school through college.

To a big degree, you can't fault the college athletes today for this discrepancy. Those in big time programs are expected to devote much more time to their sport than student athletes were expected to do back then. Today, the time that a college sport at the big time level requires constitutes a part-time or even a full time job. Those time constraints make any college student at the big time sports level who majors in something more challenging than basket-weaving or sports studies- or the like- to be an exceptional student.

As I found out that as a STEM student, I couldn't work a full-time or part-time job and devote the time necessary for my courses, I have a good intuitive understanding for the time constraints that college athletes study under.