Harvey H. Jackson: A warning ignored led to Updyke
Sep 27, 2012 | 2791 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I went to Auburn recently to see my son, my money and some football.

I also saw the trees at Toomer’s Corner. They made me sad.

I had resolved not to comment on the Harvey Updyke mess.

Then Gary, my clipping clipper, dropped by for a visit and left a pile of clippings that included an article from the 1944 Tampa Tribune headlined “Alabama Refuses to Meet Auburn on Athletic Field,” and further down added that the “Board of Trustees Turns Down Proposal of Gov. Chauncey Sparks.”

There, right before me, in black and white, was the warning that if it had been taken might have meant obscurity for Updyke and a longer life for the trees.

And the University of Alabama ignored it.

Let me explain.

As rabid fans know, the football contest between Auburn and Alabama was suspended in 1907 when the teams could not agree on the amount of expenses players should be paid and how officials should be chosen.

There was peace in the land.

Then, as rabid fans know, the rivalry resumed when the state Legislature threatened to cut funding to the schools if they didn’t play each other.

What is not known — at least not to me and I bet not to most of you — was that in 1944, the University of Alabama Athletic Committee, headed by Dr. A.B. Moore — dean of the graduate school and a cousin of mine by marriage — got the Legislature involved by voting not to do what Sparks wanted done, which was renew the rivalry.

Why would they do that?

This is where it gets interesting. And prophetic.

The Alabama Athletic Committee voted not to renew the rivalry because (and I quote the report) “we would encounter a damaging situation in that football would tend to become the all-the-year topic at both institutions.”

You think?

Moreover, the committee continued, annual games “would be unduly prejudicial to the institution that lost and unduly favorable to the institution that won.”

You suppose?

Then the committee listed four specific reasons for rejecting the governor’s call for a contest.

It would result in an accelerated over-emphasis of football in the state.

The quest for players world be intensified, and entirely enough pressure is already being put on high school athletes.

Intense rivalry over the proposed game would make it exceedingly difficult for other institutions to hold “outstanding coaches of high character and proven ability.”

Strenuous football contests would inevitably sharpen the spirit of rivalry between the two institutions in all phases of their relationships.

For four more years, the University of Alabama held the line. Would not give in.

Even though Auburn was all for it, the Capstone looked at the downside and said, “no way.”

Then the Legislature stepped in. No game, no money. Legislative priorities can’t get much clearer than that, can they?

So the game resumed, and just as the university committee predicted, the “over-emphasis” on football has accelerated to the point that people complain today about baseball taking up months that might otherwise be devoted to a “real” sport.

Just as the university committee predicted, the quest for players has intensified to the point that recruiting season is second only to football season. I have heard 18-year-old boys called all sorts of names because they picked the “wrong” team or, heaven forbid, changed their 18-year-old minds. To some folks, the year is divided into four seasons — football season, recruiting season, spring scrimmage season and summer speculating season.

As for the intense rivalry making it difficult for other institutions to hold “outstanding coaches of high character and proven ability,” here is some trivia for you: Name the coach who won the SEC championship, was named SEC Coach of the Year and had a 26-10 three-year-record, but was fired because he never beat his cross-state rival.

And the clincher: “Strenuous football contest would inevitably sharpen the spirit of rivalry between the two institutions in all phases of their relationships.”

Who immediately comes to mind?

Harvey Updyke.

After watching a “strenuous football contest” in which his team lost, Updyke’s “spirit of rivalry” was so sharpened that he “allegedly” decided to do what he thought would hurt the other team’s fans the most and leave them with a permanent reminder of what he thought of them.

So he did.

Just think, if the University of Alabama had followed the advice of its Athletic Committee and not renewed the rivalry, Harvey Updyke would be the nonentity he richly deserves to be.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, the university caved in to legislative pressure and all of the committee’s predictions came true.

Unless we end the rivalry once again, now we have to live with the possibility that another Harvey Updyke could pop up and do something just as dastardly as Updyke did.

You reap what you sow.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: hjackson@jsu.edu.
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