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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Perhaps more than any other two colleges, Harvard and Yale gave form to American intercollegiate athletics -- a form that was inspired by the Oxford-Cambridge rivalry overseas, and that was imitated by colleges and universities throughout the United States. Focusing on the influence of these prestigious eastern institutions, this fascinating study traces the origins and development of intercollegiate athletics in America from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century. Smith begins with an historical overview of intercollegiate athletics and details the evolution of individual sports -- crew, baseball, track and field, and especially football. Then, skillfully setting various sports events in their broader social and cultural contexts, Smith goes on to discuss many important issues that are still relevant today: student-faculty competition for institutional athletic control; the impact of the professional coach on big-time athletics; the false concept of amateurism in college athletics; and controversies over eligibility rules. He also reveals how the debates over brutality and ethics created the need for a central organizing body, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which still runs college sports today. Sprinkled throughout with spicy sports anecdotes, from the Thanksgiving Day Princeton-Yale football game that drew record crowds in the 1890s to a meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt on football violence, this lively, in-depth investigation will appeal to serious sports buffs as well as to anyone interested in American social and cultural history.

Excerpt

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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