A quick look into the College archives shows just how long athletics has been part of the Holy Cross experience. In 1859, “The Mount St. James Fencing Club” was formed with the intention of giving its members “a practical as well as a theoretical knowledge of the sword and its uses.” By 1862, the College prospectus reported the organization of football and cricket games on “the College farm.” By 1874—the same year that the first campus gymnasium was built—we had a baseball club that was traveling to away games. A football “association” was established in 1891 and basketball was introduced in 1898. In 1929, an alumnus, Cleo O’Donnell of the Class of 1908, was named the College’s first full-time director of athletics.
What followed that hire was a progressively more expansive and well-known athletic tradition that evolved into what many alumni now regard as a golden age of Holy Cross sports: The 1942 gridiron upset over an undefeated B.C. team. The 1946 appearance in the Orange Bowl. The 1947 NCAA Championship. The 1952 College World Series.
Golden age or not, looking back from 50 years on, it is clear that, today, the playing field in college athletics is a dramatically different place. Some critics point to the advent of television, and the advertising revenue that a nationally televised game can generate, as a tipping point of sorts—the beginning of a slippery slope that paved the way for widespread scandal, cheating, hypocrisy and abuse within the world of college sports.
In October 1982, at a meeting of the Eastern Association of College and University Business Officers held in the Pocono Mountains, Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J., ’49, then the president of Holy Cross, delivered an address on the future of intercollegiate athletics.
“One need not be a coach, a sports writer, or even an avid sports fan, but only a cursory reader of the daily newspaper,” said Fr. Brooks on that day, “to know that in recent years intercollegiate athletics have become demented on all too many college and university campuses.”
In the 13 paragraphs that followed, Fr. Brooks deftly summarized the extent and causes of this “dementia,” as well as the hard decisions that would be required to ensure that all college athletics programs remain in accord with—and in service to—the educational mission of their sponsoring institutions.
A few years later, Fr. Brooks announced that Holy Cross would be a founding member of the Colonial Athletic League—the precursor to the Patriot League—an association dedicated to three principles: presidential control; genuine academic standards; and need-based scholarships. A league that would serve as a model for ethical athletic competition in a proper context. An antidote for the “dementia” that had come to afflict college sports.
Twenty-five years after Fr. Brooks’ comments in Pennsylvania, the scandals, abuse and big-money corruption that he saw on the horizon appear only to have increased.
Recently, Holy Cross Magazine gathered together representatives of the College’s senior administration, athletic department, admissions office, faculty and student body to discuss the place for athletics within higher education in general—and on Mount St. James in particular. A transcription of the conversation that ensued can be found on Page 14.
The forum would not have been possible without the guidance, insight and support of our moderator, Clark V. Booth ’61—a longtime reporter and commentator on college athletics. His expertise and thoughtfulness were invaluable in guiding our discussion—and the editors wish to thank him for his participation.
We also want to invite our readers to be part of this conversation. To respond to the forum or add your own thoughts, please visit our Web site, at: www.holycross.edu/hcmag-forum.html.
As we come to the end of 2007, the staff of Holy Cross Magazine wishes you a joyful new year!