LIBERAL ARTS FOOTBALL: ATHLETICS, ACADEMICS, and AMERICAN HIGHER EDUCATION
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Liberal Arts Football: Athletics, Academics, and American Higher Education, 1906-1948
This dissertation argues that from 1906-1948, a group of reform-minded educators attempted to reshape intercollegiate athletics by implementing an ideal that I call liberal arts football – a restructured version of the sport that was intracurricular rather than extracurricular, inclusive rather than exclusive, and scholastic rather than ritualistic. Reformers aimed to reposition the sport so that it became part of their physical education department curriculums. With the extracurricular label removed, they promoted intercollegiate football as an inclusive campus sport for all male students, linking it with an “athletics for all” approach that encouraged broad participation. These administrators contended that once football became curricular and inclusive, it could enhance students’ physical and moral development; it would possess scholastic value rather than function as a commercial spectacle. Liberal arts football emerged as a collection of ideas that reformers used to create an academic-minded alternative to bigtime football. Using state and university archives, personal papers, private correspondence, and a vast array of newspapers and published primary sources, I engage with sport, education, and intellectual histories to demonstrate how these educators linked their philosophies about modern liberal arts education with sport. My research reveals viii that when educators engaged with athletic reform, higher education conversations extended well beyond academia to include students, alumni, the broader public, and even W.E.B. Du Bois. My dissertation analyzes five colleges and universities (Oberlin College, Swarthmore College, Sewanee: The University of the South, Fisk University, and the University of Pittsburgh) to demonstrate the long and contested development of liberal arts football ideas. Reform efforts on each campus differed because these institutions were geographically, socially, and racially diverse. Additionally, administrators C.W. Savage, Ernest Hatch Wilkins, Frank Aydelotte, Alexander Guerry, Fayette Avery McKenzie, and John Gabbert Bowman not only competed with the broad public appeal of early-twentieth-century college football, but they had to respect their schools’ distinctive educational traditions and aspirations. By emphasizing each administrator’s successes and failures, my research helps us reconsider current concerns about the role of intercollegiate athletics on college campuses; Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) legislation; the treatment of student-athletes; and the role higher education plays in American life.
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)