clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NC State officials struggle in 1951 with role of athletics, foreshadowing everything to follow

New, 14 comments
Getty Images/Getty Images

College athletics are a huge business, and if you're here reading this, I probably don't need to tell you that. The biggest athletics departments in the country are earning well over $100 million annually; NC State is generating nearly $80 million in revenue.

It's a huge industry, there's a ton of money involved, and there is an inherent existential struggle with fitting all of it into the larger framework of a university's mission. That's not new. In fact, that's really really old. This Technician article from 1951centered on the issue of athletics costs, which were significant at the time for a school with an enrollment under 4,000.

Collegiate sport had become a hot-button topic that year. NC State Chancellor John Harrelson said athletics were "out of control," which Technician printed in a big and bold headline in November of 1951. As teams offered more scholarships, the costs naturally went up.

More from the Technician's Nov. 26, 1951 edition:

Haha, $19 football shoes! Also, there were only 20 guys on the football team at one point? And also there were 35 guys on the basketball team at one point? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS. (If you are not familiar, current NCAA rules allow for 86 football scholarships and a dozen basketball scholarships.)

A lot happened in a hurry in college sports, and this is a snapshot of folks trying to come to terms with it. Here is a faculty member in October of 1951 expressing his concerns over recruiting:

It feels like a quaint thing to read opinions like that, given what we know and have grown up with in college athletics. But this was all foreign to these folks 65 years ago. There was a sort of romantic idea where you simply drew from the student body to fill your school's athletics rosters, with no outside recruiting efforts involved. You just worked with the hand you were dealt. I still like that idea, even if it's always been nonsense.

If it ever were an honest approach, the fact remains that it's not even a reality in high school anymore, and hasn't been for years. It's a little bit jarring to think about it with this perspective. Nationwide recruiting by major colleges has been a standard and a necessity for athletics success for decades. Spending tens of millions of dollars has been a standard and a necessity.

When all of this was just getting rolling, it freaked some people out. There weren't large television contracts to provide any financial consistency or stability. State was still a really small school bearing a significant financial burden. What was $400,000 then is north of $3 million today. It's a lot to toss out there with no understanding of the returns.

That particular uncertainty has changed, but the overall weirdness of college sports hasn't. Maybe the whole deal should bother us a lot more than it does.