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

By Ronald A. Smith | Go to book overview

III

The First
Intercollegiate Sport: Crew
and the Commercial Spirit

MORE THAN A DECADE after Oxford and Cambridge engaged in their first intercollegiate crew meet, seven members of the junior class at Yale purchased a four-oared boat in New York City. That 1843 purchase established a tradition in rowing. There was no hint of the commercial spirit which was soon to grip college crew. The expense for the year's rowing was $7.19 for each rower. 1 In reality it was more a social activity than a competitive one. Even after three additional boats were purchased by Yale students, a four-oared, an eight-oared, and a log canoe, the first challenge race did not occur until the summer of 1844. The dug-out canoe owners challenged the students with the eight-oared, lapstreak gig to a four-mile race to a lighthouse.

That was the year in which Harvard sophomores organized a crew club and purchased an eight-oared boat, the Oneida. They, too, found the activity more social than athletic. Drinking was often involved. Charles W. Eliot, a Harvard student in the late 1840s and early 1850s, and later longtime president of the college, reminisced that the wide lapstreak boats were used to row into Boston in spring and fall, not so much for exercise as to transport students to drinking establishments. The floors of the boats were used, he said, to bring home "members of the crew who did not propose to return

-26-

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