Hugo Bezdek (far right) opens training camp with the 1937 Cleveland Rams in Painesville, Ohio. (Photo courtesy the Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Stockily built, Bezdek was at heart an academician, a pedagogical purist, and a creative thinker. (Photo courtesy National Football Foundation)
Like sex, outrage over the high financial stakes of college football is something every generation seems to think it invented.
The latest example comes from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, whose football program has been deemed not financially unsustainable and so will be dismantled. Public reaction to this news has been predictable: university president Dr. Ray Watts is persona non grata in Birmingham.
But it always has been thus. Concern that college football has become too money-soaked and untethered from a university’s academic mission dates at least to the 1920s. So do attempts to reform it.
Among the most notable and earliest would-be reformers of college football was Hugo Bezdek, the NFL Rams franchise’s first-ever head coach. As a college athletic director and coach, Bezdek nearly single-handedly attempted to “de-emphasize” football at powerhouse Penn State University in the late 1920s and 1930s by eliminating player scholarships, returning to the university an athletic building that had been built by and for the football team, and drawing his player roster from the general student population.