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

By Ronald A. Smith | Go to book overview

XIV

Brutality, Ethics, and the
Creation of the NCAA

IN AMERICAN INTERCOLLEGIATE HISTORY, no year has been as momentous as that beginning in mid-1905. It was a watershed year, as important to the direction that college athletics would take as the contemporary publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle was to creating legislation in the meat packing industry. In both cases the time was ripe to change laissez-faire policy by establishing national guidelines over brutal and unethical practices. One dealt with animals and the other with athletes, and some saw similarities between the two, particularly with regard to football. Not surprisingly, President Theodore Roosevelt was intimately involved in the reform of both meat packing and intercollegiate athletics.

Football disputes were the stimulus to the whole reform movement and the creation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association that year. Football completely dominated all other college sports combined. The dean of Brown University, Alexander Meiklejohn, pointed out the ambivalent nature of football on the college campus. On the one hand he believed that football was the most important social force for good in colleges. On the other hand, he saw that "its influence for evil is becoming so apparent in the forms of unfairness, untruthfulness, and brutality as to threaten the most vital interest of the college training." 1

The corrupting side of athletics, especially football, gained most of the attention in the 1905-6 school year. Frederick Jackson Turner,

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