A Twentieth-Century Meaning
of American College Athletics
THERE IS A TENDENCY to define history as the story of change over time. In large part this is true of the developing period of intercollegiate athletics in America. Change has been stressed. For example, college sport developed from rather unorganized activities to more organized class battles, and from the initial, almost spontaneous, intercollegiate contests to highly rationalized athletics. There was change from student-directed athletics to institutional control; from the student captain to the professional coach. Rules of eligibility moved from a laissez-faire approach to a more highly regulated state. Change appeared to rule nineteenth-century sport.
As important as change is to our historical understanding of college sport, continuity is a significant factor. Continuity in men's intercollegiate athletics from the latter years of the nineteenth century through the twentieth century is in many ways more important than is the change. The athletic programs of the late twentieth century are patterned after those developed in the previous century. The commercialized, professionalized, and rationalized college athletics of the twentieth century were not accidents. The major colleges that have followed this model had good teachers. The role model for big-time athletics were the two most elite colleges in nineteenth-century America—Harvard and Yale. One should not be misled by the Ivy League emphasis on academics rather than athletics. Both the perceived evils and benefits of intercollegiate athletics