02. December 2014 · Comments Off on Worshipping the Varsity Man · Categories: 2014 · Tags: , , , ,

Check out the latest edition of Michigan Today for James Tobin’s piece on the Yost’s fight to build Michigan Stadium.  It narrows in on a few folks that represented the opposition to not only the new stadium, but the culture of football itself during the period.   We’re talking the mid-1920s during the first major football arms race (when giant stadiums were popping up all over the place), and some struggled with the new found popularity (and off-field revelry) that followed the growth of the sport.

The piece also includes this clip of Yost at practice in 1928 –FWIW this was after the stadium was built and Yost’s coaching days were through:

A few choice quotes – starting with Robert C. Angell, one of the leaders of the opposition:

As for the players themselves, Angell said, only a few did more in class than maintain their eligibility. Nearly all their time and energy went to the sport. “Their diplomas cover a multitude of intellectual sins.”

But the athletes were only “a few drops in the bucket of university life.” What harm could football possibly do to the thousands of other students who simply showed up to cheer?

Well, said Angell, every autumn, football became a kind of addiction for students, “many but mildly, some seriously.” The sport seized “a monopoly of undergraduate conversation… A scientific theory or a piece of fine poetry has not a chance to squeeze in edgewise.

“Around the dinner table, in one another’s rooms, walking to and from classes, the chief topic for discussion is the team’s make-up, its powers, its chances for the next game…”

And all this talk hauled students’ attention away from the real purpose of college. Their focus was not the mind but the muscles, not clashing ideas but clashing bodies on a field of battle.

“The worship of the man who can throw a forward pass thirty yards…is not likely to turn…impressionable youngsters towards the fascinating problems of science, history and literature.”

And beyond the campuses, Angell said, big-time football was exerting “a subtle degrading influence” on the public’s opinion of education.

Because of press attention to football, he said, now “the ‘college man’ is proverbially an individual with little to do but drink, make love, and cheer for the team.” That influence, in turn, was attracting “pleasure seekers with no intellectual interest”—and “how can we hope to stimulate a love of knowledge in students like this?

Yost naturally didn’t take kindly to Angell’s comments, and offered this rebuttal:

“This same Robert C. Angell is a former member of the Varsity Tennis Team,” Yost fumed in a letter to the press. “He played with racquets and tennis balls purchased by the Athletic Association. He played on tennis courts built and maintained by the Athletic Association. He went on out-of-town trips and had all his expenses paid by the Athletic Association. He wears the ‘M’ Hat and ‘M’ Sweater awards he received from the Athletic Association. The money for all these items was taken from the earnings made by these horrible football men.”

The Michigan Daily sided with Yost and offered this in an editorial:

“What are the objections?” the paper’s lead editorial asked. Angell was attacking intercollegiate football as a whole, they said, not the proposal for a bigger stadium. And that was plain nuts, since “football is here to stay.”

In that case, they said, “one finds it hard to understand how a stadium of 75,000 seats will have a more detrimental effect on the student body than one of 45,000.”

If there were any good reasons not to build a bigger stadium, the Daily taunted, the critics should state them, “but the mere fact that freshmen idolize the Varsity man is hardly a valid objection.”

Check out the entire piece here.

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