September 27, 2013
Where would college football be if games were played only every other year and coaches were unable to recruit enough freshmen to replace graduating seniors? In the last decade, egalitarian college admissions policies have turned into a sort of athletic neutron bomb that leaves stadium sports intact while threatening less popular ones with demographic extinction.
Consider Yale’s century-old polo team. Last year it scheduled a match to continue its long rivalry with Harvard. The event appeared on the calendar of the host field and alumni invitations were duly mailed, but as the date approached, it became increasingly clear that Yale could not muster a foursome to play the game. Its varsity team had, in large part, up and graduated last June. Harvard had to go offshore and invite Holland’s university team.
Great sports programs are built on finding enough freshmen to field a hierarchy of teams of increasingly skilled upperclassmen. Such was the case when the great Ivy rivalries began, but in many sports, today’s coaches are hard-pressed to find one potential player in a whole incoming class.
It isn”t only low-profile sports that are endangered. Connoisseurship, specialized clubs, and esoteric curricula are all but dead. Every Saturday, Princeton’s Nassau Street saw snuff-bottle-collecting alumni teaching the finer points to their undergraduate opposite numbers. Harvard’s Widener Library boasted a ten-thousand-volume collection of antique fishing books intended to encourage wannabe Isaak Waltons, while high above Cayuga’s waters, Cornell’s view of higher education encompassed undergraduates majoring in horticulture. Alongside works on literary theory, university library shelves groaned under the weight of books on big-game hunting.
No longer. Connoisseurship clubs have been decimated and denounced as insensitive to the feelings of the differently cultured and indifferently gendered. Harvard’s vegan Mafiosi rejoice at the fearsomely fishy Fearing Collection’s banishment to a fate worse than burning. Locked in a distant repository, the books will never again tempt stack-browsing undergraduates to get out and experience the innocent pleasures of blood sports.
American academe’s politically correct passion for safety and mediocrity contrasts radically with events elsewhere in the world. China’s latest Cultural Revolution is spearheaded by Great Wall Gatsbys hell-bent to make up for all the time they lost under the dictatorship of the proletariat. At first this merely meant turning Shanghai’s Bund into a luxury-lined clone of Bond Street, but what would Chairman Mao make of this mandarin Mr. Samgrass’s confusion of Ralph Lauren and reality?: