In 1937, Dartmouth was a major college football powerhouse and was invited to play Cal in the Rose Bowl on January 1st–and Dartmouth turned it down. It is hard to imagine both sides of that sentence: Dartmouth invited to the Rose Bowl? A major college football program turning down “the granddaddy of them all”? Presumably the payout wasn’t quite the equivalent of the $22.3 million that Wisconsin and Stanford will reportedly each collect for participating this year.
Dartmouth went undefeated in 1937 with six wins and two ties. According to the 1938 Aegis, “pre-season predictions of the gridsters went no further than the term ‘dark-horse,'” but the team made up for scant experience with speed and strength.
President Ernest Hopkins response to the Rose Bowl invitation is a testament to his view of student athletes:
To carry our football season over until the first of the year and end it up with the distractions of a jaunt across the continent and return, would force us into the position where all members of the team would be penalized in lower grades, which they inevitably would get and which might endanger the academic standing of some of them, or else put us into the position of having to extend special privilege to members of the team in the consideration which should be given to them.
In other words, it might hurt the young men’s studies. The same year, Hopkins declined an offer by the Chicago Bears to play a benefit game for Chicago’s Hull House at Wrigley or Soldier Field.
Interestingly, the school’s worry about the disruptive nature of post season athletics did not carry over to other sports: in 1942, Dartmouth reached the finals of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
To see the letters, ask for the “Athletics” file from DP-11, Box 6980.