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Monday, Aug. 5, 2013 12:00 am

Life after football

In "Throwing in the towel," I discussed recent proposals to reform big-money collegiate sports. Good sense reforms are unlikely to ever be adopted to the extent that are good sense reforms. So interwined are sports and the American college experience, most alums university leaders believe, that curtailing them in any way would cripple fund-raising and student recruitment, turning their beloved campuses into ghost towns.

As is so often true, a little history will disabuse them of that notion. One of the founding schools of the Big Ten, remember, was the University of Chicago. The Maroons were a dominant national power from 1892 to 1939, a Michigan or Oklahoma of its day. Nevertheless, the university in 1939 abolished its football program and withdrew from the Big Ten altogether in 1946 because, administrators believed, the demands of competition at that level were corrupting the institution.

Hard to believe, I know. I once visited the U of C campus just to make that a school that tore down a 50,000-seat football stadium actually existed. Varsity football returned to the U of C in 1969, and today the Maroons are happily splashing in the shallow waters of the NCAA’s Division III, along with the nation’s Illinois Colleges and Millikin Universities.

Has Chicago’s reputation as a school withered as a result? Not so’s you could tell; it stands in the top ten in the [London] Times Higher Education World University Ratings with score of 90.4. The U of I’s flagship campus was 33rd, with a 75.8. But course, a world-class university is not what most Illinoisans want. If they did, they might have one like Cal or Harvard instead of the world-class research institute attached to a state-class university doing business as the University of Illinois.

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