6. The Great Experiment That Failed: Alumnus Casey Jones, President Hetzel, and Coach Bob Higgins
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chapter 6 The Great Experiment That Failed Alumnus Casey Jones, President Hetzel, and Coach Bob Higgins “Hitherto, athletics has absorbed the college; it is time for the college to absorb athletics.” —Henry S. Pritchett (1926) There were two prominent “Experiments” in Penn State’s athletic history, the Great Experiment and the Grand Experiment. They should not be confused. The best known is the Grand Experiment articulated by Joe Paterno shortly after becoming head coach of football in 1966. In short, it was an effort in big-time football to produce winning teams while players were integrated into Penn State and received a sound college education. The other, the Great Experiment, was an attempt in the 1930s and 1940s to remain in big-time football with winning teams but not recruiting athletes with the lure of athletic scholarships. Although there remain doubters about the success of the Grand Experiment, especially in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky Scandal, there is little evidence that the Great Experiment in big-time athletics was anything but a dismal failure, however well intentioned as being educationally sound and embracing the ideals of amateur sport. The origin of Penn State’s Great Experiment can be traced at least as far back as the creation of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching investigation into big-time college athletics, meaning principally football. That was in 1926, the year Joe Paterno was born. The Carnegie Foundation was under the presidency of Henry S. Pritchett, former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an educational elitist who opposed allowing nonintellectual activities to garner the interests of college students. The Carnegie Foundation had earlier done a major study of medical education in America, and its study was influential in reforming how future doctors were trained. Pritchett and the foundation believed that an investigation of college athletics would lead to another successful reform of what they considered was a broken system of amateurism infested with professionalism and crass commercialism. Smith_text.indd 53 12/7/15 11:11 AM 54 chapter 6 Pritchett “knew” the solutions to the problems of big-time sports before the study was conducted.1 Before the investigation by the Carnegie Foundation, Pritchett stated, “The paid coach, the professional organization of the college athletics, the demoralization of students by participation in the use of extravagant sums of money, constitute a reproach of American colleges and to those who govern them.”2 Just as the study was underway, Pritchett proclaimed, “Hitherto, athletics has absorbed the college; it is time for the college to absorb athletics.”3 Later, the foundation president wrote in the preface to the Carnegie Report, “A system of recruiting and subsidizing has grown up [that is] demoralizing and corrupt, alike for the boy who takes the money and for the agent who arranges it, and for the whole group of college and secondary school boys who know about it.”4 The Carnegie Report is still quoted by athletic reformers well into the twenty-first century, but it had a major influence on only a few colleges across America. One was Penn State. Only months after the Carnegie Foundation began its research of more than 100 colleges and universities in North America, including Penn State College, the Beaver White Committee began its Alumni Association investigation of the system of athletics at Penn State. The Beaver White group knew full well that the Carnegie Foundation was in strong opposition to athletic scholarships and that Penn State probably had the most college-sponsored athletic scholarships in the nation.5 Believing that Penn State could gain prominence by being in the forefront of a sweeping athletic reform movement to maintain amateurism, the Beaver White Committee recommended eliminating athletic scholarships. The recommendations, along with a method of getting rid of Hugo Bezdek, were soon discussed among students, faculty, members of the Board of Athletic Control , the president, and the Alumni Association. Each group, including the new president Ralph Dorn Hetzel, bought into the drastic move to eliminate athletic scholarships. With the elimination of the payment of athletes to attend Penn State beginning in 1928, and the purging of Hugo Bezdek as coach, many Penn Staters believed a successful era would begin under new coach Bob Higgins, a former Penn State all-American and assistant coach under Bezdek. The Great Experiment began. Higgins was the first two-time all-American lineman at Penn State in the 1910s and came on board as an assistant coach under Bezdek in 1928, just...



Subject Headings

  • Pennsylvania State University -- Sports.
  • Pennsylvania State University -- Football.
  • Paterno, Joe, 1926-2012.
  • Sandusky, Jerry.
  • Pennsylvania State University -- Sports -- Administration.
  • College sports -- Corrupt practices -- Pennsylvania -- University Park.
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