In an 1892 game against its archrival, Yale, the Harvard football team was the first to deploy a “flying wedge,” based on Napoleon’s surprise concentrations of military force. In an editorial calling for the abolition of the play, The New York Times described it as “half a ton of bone and muscle coming into collision with a man weighing 160 or 170 pounds,” noting that surgeons often had to be called onto the field. Three years later, the continuing mayhem prompted the Harvard faculty to take the first of two votes to abolish football. Charles Eliot, the university’s president, brought up other concerns. “Deaths and injuries are not the strongest argument against football,” declared Eliot. “That cheating and brutality are profitable is the main evil.” Still, Harvard football persisted. In 1903, fervent alumni built Harvard Stadium with zero college funds. The team’s first paid head coach, Bill Reid, started in 1905 at nearly twice the average salary for a full professor.
We cannot afford to be myopic on this issue. That is, there are only a limited number of programs that make big money, but yet there are hundreds of schools who absorb big losses at the cost of providing athletes a place to compete and earn a degree. The purpose of the NCAA, along with Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), Little League, and dozens of other organized forms of amateur sport is to provide a venue to play these sports – something we should not take for granted. The problem is that some have shifted in thinking that playing an organized sport is a right, whereas it still stands as a privilege.