Biographical / Historical
The Swarthmore College Athletic Association was an organization that served in various administrative roles and functions relating to men's athletics at Swarthmore College from 1877 to circa 1939. Over the course of its existence, it worked with other organizations that shared some of its responsibilities and authority. Chief among these were the Alumni Athletic Advisory Committee, Athletic Advisory Board, Athletic Committee (consisting of two alumni representatives, three faculty members, and the Athletic Association president), and the Societies of KWINK and GWIMP. It predated the establishment in 1888 of the College's own Department of Physical Culture.
The first athletic activities at the College took place during the 1870s in an era in which athletic activities and physical fitness were becoming more popular in American society in general and at colleges in particular. Records indicate that a baseball game was played on campus in 1875 and that the Swarthmore football squad played its first game in 1878, against the University of Pennsylvania.
On November 10, 1877, the first Fall Contests of the Athletic Association of Swarthmore College were held. This competition of mostly track and field events generally took place each semester and, later, on an annual basis each spring. Each of the four classes at the College would compete for the title of most athletic class. Beginning with the spring games of 1887, the winning team was awarded a silver trophy known as the Phoenix Cup, donated by the editorial board of the student newspaper of the same name. The games came to be known as the College Sports, and, by 1906, as the Phoenix Cup Sports.
Along with the organization and administration of these track meets, the Athletic Association. These included: "the mutual assistance and the securing of a greater proficiency in athletics;" managing funds, including the collection and distribution of association membership fees, and the promotion and collection of ticket sales; overseeing the elections of managers and captains of athletic teams; establishing standards for and presiding over the rewarding of letters and laurels; maintaining records of athletic matches and college best performances; overseeing and auditing the expenditures and receipts of the various sports teams; supervising the scheduling of matches and procuring of apparatus and equipment; determining, along with the Athletic Advisory Committee and Athletic Committee, the rules of athletic eligibility.
The Association was governed by an Athletic Council consisting of the officers of the Association and the managers and captains of all of the athletic teams recognized by the Association. It had an official seal and an official motto: "Mens sans in corpore sano." Originally the Association consisted of student and alumni members. Under President Swain, faculty members were also included. Eventually, the alumni and faculty would be organized into groups such as the Alumni Athletic Advisory Committee, the Athletic Advisory Board, and the Athletic Committee, supervising the actions of the student group, and increasingly bringing athletic concerns under the jurisdiction of the College. From the beginning, alumni played an important and active role in the funding and direction of athletics at Swarthmore, especially for football, while the College administration played a much smaller role for a long time. Along with other sports such as baseball and lacrosse, football originally had its own organizational structure with alumni representation. These various athletic associations were combined as the Swarthmore College Athletic Association circa 1889. The Advisory Committee of alumni was formed at this time and was to be consulted for any major changes sought by the Athletic Association.
During the late 19th and early 20th century, the "Little Quakers" teams of Swarthmore College often fared exceptionally well. Swarthmore fielded several squads for intercollegiate competition from a pool of less than 100 male students, yet managed to compete against much larger institutions. These included the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Rutgers, Yale, and Michigan, all members in the Intercollegiate Athletic Association (ICAA) in which Swarthmore competed. The football team also competed against Army, Navy, and the University of North Carolina. Swarthmore was a major contender for many years in the track competition now known as the Penn Relays. The lacrosse team won two national titles and one North American championship in the first decade of the 20th century. A strong rivalry began between Swarthmore and Haverford Colleges as early as the 1870s and matches between the football teams of these two institutions were especially anticipated and well attended. From the beginning, however, the violence and "unfriendly fervor" of this rivalry elicited the indignation of influential Quaker circles at Swarthmore and Haverford. Swarthmore College football was dropped for the 1908 season for these reasons, and meetings between the Haverford and Swarthmore teams were suspended from 1927 to 1941.
The former and latter incidents, however, took place in two very different eras. Under President Frank Aydelotte (1921-1940), the athletic program, like virtually every aspect of the College, underwent a substantial shift in direction. As early as the mid-1910s, during his tenure at Indiana University, Aydelotte published essays addressing what he saw as an unhealthy professional and commercial influence on college athletics. During his presidency at Swarthmore, he strove to establish a thoroughly amateur athletic program. His actions anticipated a growing movement among the presidents of small colleges to resolve the problems of professionalism and to integrate athletics as one facet of a broader liberal arts experience. This was part of an effort to maintain and intensify the new standards of intellectual rigor and academic excellence at the College and to insure the ideal of athletics for all, not just the very best.
In pursuit of these ideals, Aydelotte carried out significant reforms, many of which were designed to reduce the influence of the alumni. The College assumed full financial responsibility for athletics in 1932 which meant that the most important coaches became full-time faculty in the Department of Physical Education and their salaries paid entirely by the College. All male students, rather than just athletes and managers of the intercollegiate teams, were automatically members of the Athletic Association upon matriculation to the College. Admission to athletic competitions was now free for students and faculty, and prices for the general public were reduced to a nominal fee and limited to the most important games. More power was assigned to Dr. Samuel Palmer, who was the Graduate Manager (later Athletic Director) of sports at Swarthmore from 1909 to 1942. The Society of KWINK, a club for the assistant managers of the athletic teams, also took on many responsibilities that the Athletic Association had handled in the past, such as the general promotion of athletics among the student body and relations with teams from other colleges.
All of these changes affected the role of the Association, and its authority and responsibilities were much less extensive and defined. By 1937, it was determined that athletics could financially no longer support themselves. This marked a complete departure from the nature of athletics at the time of the Association's founding, when the administration played a minimal role in the athletics program and when insuring the financial foundation of Swarthmore sports was one of the most important responsibilities of the organization. Although the circumstances of the 1930s may have diminished the importance of the Athletic Association, it was the Second World War which brought the official end to the SCAA. Compared to many other small colleges, men's sports did survive at Swarthmore during the war, but they would emerge in the post-war period with an altered administrative structure that did not include an Athletic Association.*
As a side note, the war years did help to increase the importance of women's athletics on campus and strengthen the role of the Women's Athletic Association, which was first organized as the Girls' Athletic Clubs on October 26, 1898. The Girls' Athletic Clubs became the Young Women's Athletic Association around 1904, adopting a structure mirroring that of the Men's Association. The WAA appears to have played a more defined role for female students as all women were automatically part of the Association and its activities were more closely supervised by the College from very early on in its history. The Society of GWIMP served as a parallel to KWINK.