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Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time College Athletics

By Ronald A. Smith | Go to book overview

PREFACE

GROWING UP ON a dairy farm in southern Wisconsin seems far removed from writing a history of intercollegiate athletics, which began in America with two eastern institutions, Harvard and Yale. Yet, the same dairy farm allowed me to first get good at several sports, honing individual skills which could eventually be incorporated into popular team sports. I could pitch against a concrete milkhouse wall, shoot baskets in a homemade arena on a wooden barn floor, and throw and kick footballs on a large, green lawn. I was fortunate to have had parents who not only valued education but who appreciated athletic skill development. What if, with bat in hand, I was late swinging at an older brother's fastball and drilled a foul ball through a window of the house or missed helping with the milking because I was more interested in attempting to hit fifteen straight free throws?

Shooting a basketball or throwing a baseball did not get me into Northwestern University, but it helped. Northwestern, like Yale and Harvard before it, wanted to excel in a variety of activities, academic and non-academic. Intercollegiate athletics, which have traditionally given greater visibility to educational institutions than any other activity, were important to Northwestern. It was every bit as vital to Northwestern to compete in the highly visible Big Ten Conference as it was to me to compete at an intercollegiate level.

Who can say how much influence intercollegiate athletics had on the development of colleges or universities such as Northwestern University or on the growth of individual academic departments such as a history department? What there can be no doubt about is that nearly every important institution of higher education in

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