Expansion and Opposition

Between 1831, when Provost DeLancey made a deal with Mr. Roper’s gym to send students there for one hour of instruction per day, if the cost per year was reduced by twenty dollars each, and 1931, when the university first budgeted for intercollegiate athletics, sports and the facilities for them grew exponentially.  Much of this expansion happened under Provost William Pepper. The 1880s saw the reorganization and expansion of the Athletic Association, purchase of land for athletic fields, the formation of a Department of Physical Education, and the appointment of a Director of Physical Training, who was a member of the faculty.

What happens when there is such a rise in athletic participation?  Naturally, more infrastructure is needed.  When the Physical Education department expanded in 1904, Weightman Hall was built to accommodate this  expansion.  However, the most interesting case of expansion following increased interest comes with Franklin Field.  At first glance, Franklin Field’s various renovations came at seemingly random times.  Perhaps the stands were worn out or outdated.  Perhaps the fans simply needed more space.  The expansions were not random.  Penn’s first national football championships were in 1894 and 1895, the same years that Franklin Field was being built.  Their next championship was in 1904, the year of the first expansion.  Their last championship was in 1924, the year of the final expansion.  Penn has not won a championship since 1924.  Franklin Field has not been revamped since 1925.




Vase with chariot race

This expansion did not come without opposition.  In both the Penn community and the ancient world, athletics were not immediately accepted.  At Penn, there were concerns that athletics were merely a distraction from academics.  This was used to the school’s advantage to combat the claims of overworking the students, but intercollegiate sports still were mostly student run in the beginning.  Eventually, enough of the students and alumni were connected to the intercollegiate competitions that the trustees and faculty joined the cause.  Anyway, it seemed that the good athletes were also good students, substantiating the claim that athletics were good for the mind and discounting the claims that athletics interfered with learning.  Some people in the ancient world also viewed athletics as a possible distraction.  The most common complaints about Greek athletics were that it encouraged brawn over brain, and that it was not useful for war.  In the sixth century B.C., the philosopher and satirist Xenophanes worried that athletics were becoming valued more than intelligence, and complained that is “not right to honor strength above excellent wisdom.”  A far more troubling fear in the ancient world was that athletics would distract youths from military service.  Already, the Greek upper class was seeking glory through athletic excellence and competition rather than bravery in war.  The most popular greek sport was chariot racing, and only the wealthy could afford horses, chariots, and drivers, and the expense of training them.