Accent on Living

IT’S getting harder every day to say anything in print about college athletics. The situation is too fluid. A writer with a monthly magazine schedule has no way of telling what may happen to his subject in the few weeks intervening between his copy deadline and publication: the whole crowd — players, officials, and even a few college presidents — may be in jail or fugitives from justice by the time the article reaches the reader.

What will it be — bribery, kidnaping, or simple assault ? Is it a case for the district attorney, the G-men, the T-men, or the postal inspectors? Can the forwards make bail? How about the center?

There are no records around the college that would be of any help. Nobody can find out the names under which the players matriculated, their scholastic credits, or the marks that they eventually achieved in baby sitting, social dancing, and horseshoe pitching. Just as an embassy burns its papers and code books before the enemy takes over, so does the conscientious Dean make sure that the files will be bare when the D. A. arrives.

Where is Prexy, for that matter? No one has seen him since the big rally before the Garden game; he seems to have left no messages and his bed is undisturbed. Has some rival Prexy encased him in cement and dropped him in the river?

I am moved to thesesomber thoughts by a recent radio interview between an awe-struck “sports” commentator and one of the nation’s more eminent character builders—a basketball coach. The commentator wanted to know how on earth the coach’s team had played—and won — so many games “without getting involved in these scandals.”What was the secret behind an achievement which the commentator obviously felt was unique? Not a breath of suspicion! Leveling in every game! C’mon, Coach — howdja ever do it ?

The dialect in which the interview continued is not easily reproduced. To say that both parties to it were plain-spoken men would not quite suffice, for their grammar was grievously sprung and they managed to sound like people who never ventured abroad without first holstering a Luger under each arm. Tough boys in a tough racket was what they seemed to consider themselves. Character building’s no cinch, chum, with a 38-game schedule and thirteen of ‘em in the Garden.

So it was that even the coach was forced to admit that it had needed some planning. Pitfalls at every turn, temptation on all sides. Take when the kids hafta be in Noo York, there don’t anybody know what hotel they’re at. Nothing on the register, so even the switchboard don’t have the room numbers. So nobody can call the kids up — get it? — unless, of course, one of the kids is foolish enough to give out the number somewheres. And another thing, the kids sleep two in a room, so the other guy is there if any funny business was to go on.

Then take at meals, the character builder went on, everybody eats together. They go out, they go out together. Maybe to a movie, maybe somebody wants to see Radio City. Okay, they go as a — as a kind of a — a unit, you might say. They go as a learn, always the team — see? — everybody together and no chance for anyone else, you know what I mean, to get at one of the kids by himself. Everybody together at all times. See?

Nothing was left to chance in the character building carried on by this coach. The sports commentator was prompt to agree that anything like a deal would be all but impossible against such precautions. He was glad to learn, from the coach himself, about how the team’s blameless record had been extended year after year. He was honored to have the coach with him on his radio program and he cer’nly wanted to give the coach his congratulations and he knew the radio audience would feel just like he did about a man who had devoted his whole life to good clean sports.

With the interview ended, the commentator had just enough time left to moralize briefly on the “scandals,”on the folly of those who would tear down great American games simply because a few unfortunates here and there had strayed from the straight and narrow. That such lapses had little meaning, he concluded, was evident when one looked at the 1951 attendance figures: scandals or no scandals, the gates were just as big as ever.

And while he was about it, he wanted to point out the basketball cases — and he was not the man to deny that blame should fall on those who were really guilty — all lay within the supposedly “amateur" domain of college athletics, while not one single instance of crookedness had been uncovered in professional basketball.

And that’s all for tonight, folks, Be seein’ yah.

But alas, even as character builder and commentator were on the air, perverse fate was preparing to prove that each was talking through his hat. Before the week was out, a district attorney announced that he had several of the character builder’s most distinguished alumni in custody on bribery charges. Another public prosecutor caused the arrest, at about the same time, of a referee who he said had been helping adjust scoring opportunities in various professional basketball games, according to the needs of the gamblers.

Character building nowadays must be a disillusioning task for the college authorities— for dear old Prexy and his fellow innocents, the guileless Director of Athletics, the naïve coaches, the wide-eyed scholarship committees and alumni. How could they have dreamed that college boys were such infernal crooks?