In a move that made financial and academic sense, with little student support, two years ago Hofstra University canceled its football program and it has been barely missed. Nearly a century ago, Tennessee’s Cumberland College did the same thing, in 1916, and became enshrined in athletic history.
Cumberland closed down its football program but not before the season’s schedule had been put together. Georgia Tech, perhaps to get back at a humiliating defeat of its baseball team by Cumberland the previous spring, insisted that the game be played anyway. Facing a possible fine if it defaulted, Cumberland put together a rag-tag team in order to avoid a fine if they didn’t show up. On the way to the game, the team stopped in Nashville and attempted to recruit ringers from Vanderbilt to augment its woefully understaffed team. To the chagrin of its student manager, three of Cumberland’ players got stranded when they missed the train in Nashville and never made it to Atlanta. You might say they were the lucky ones.
Cumberland, with only 16 players on its roster, received the kick-off and soon fumbled. Georgia Tech took possession, scored, and never looked back. After the first quarter, it led 63-0. The first half score stood Georgia Tech 126, Cumberland 0.
John Heisman, the Georgia Tech coach, not one to become complacent about the competition, gave his team a pep talk in the locker room during half-time. “Men,” he said, “we might be out front, but you never know what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves.”
With renewed determination, Tech continued its rampage, scoring 54 more points in the third quarter and 42 in the last. The final score, which stands to this day as the most lopsided score in sport’s history: 222-0.
Sportswriters weren’t kind to Heisman, labeling him Ole Shut the Gates of Mercy. Running up the score then, as it is now, was considered poor sportsmanship. It is one thing to win; it is another to rub your opponents faces in it.
Is running up the score a problem? ESPN asked a number of its columnists. Jeff MacGregor widens the notion beyond that of sports when he answers, “History can be hard on those who run up the score without thought to mercy or love or human sympathy. Look at Ghengis Khan or Josef Stalin. Mao Tse Tung. Martha Stewart. But running up the score is also the ‘greed is good’ promise of the American economy.”
MacGregor then makes the comparison to Wall Street’s culture, where the pursuit of ever-larger profits led to the recent economic meltdown. The comparison that came to my mind is the salaries of Nassau County’s police officers, as reported this week in Newsday. “Sixty-six Nassau police and sheriff’s deputies, who along with other union workers were offered an incentive of $1,500 per year of service to retire last year, received more than $500,000 each in total compensation,” the newspaper reports. A Nassau captain earns a base pay as much as $219,000, while a Suffolk sheriff’s officer earned $120,000 in overtime. A retirement package for one Nassau captain’s pay was $876,000. Eight Long Island law enforcers earned more than overtime than in salary. In total, 2,520 made more than $100,000 in salary and overtime.
Do Long Island police officers deserve this pay? While it is essential to have a well-trained police force, it is instructive to make comparisons and one that is most pertinent is to that of New York City, Long Island’s western neighbor. Here are two: The combined police payroll for Long Island’s two counties exceeds that of New York City’s, while LI’s population is considerably smaller; LI’s crime rate and the nature of crimes committed is less serious. Since Long Island’s police enforcement work isn’t more onerous than NYC’s (some would say it is far less so), I think that it is reasonable to conclude that compared to the city, Nassau and Suffolk’s police are overpaid.
Even before the present fiscal crisis, it was clear that contracts with Long Island’s law enforcement officers was unsustainable. As far back as 2006, former Nassau County Executive Tom Suouzzi challenged the police union. He wasn’t successful. Now his Republic successor has taken it on, saying, “This situation cannot be maintained. These are tough economic times and we are seeking additional concessions.”
Under other financial circumstances, perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue. And if the governor doesn’t let the millionaire’s tax lapse, perhaps the situation wouldn’t be as dramatic. Still, there is a sense that LI’s cops are a bit like Georgia Tech, running up the score because they can.
Hofstra and Cumberland dropped their football teams and could get away with it because football, despite what many may think, isn’t critical to a college campus. No one can do away with the police. But the police aren’t the only essential service. There is garbage to be collected and children to be taught; there are sick to be tended to and sewers to be maintained and fires to be put out. However, presently, on LI, the total compensation for police and sheriff department workers is two-thirds of each county’s payroll.
The police, like many other public employees, have been gaming the system around retirement and sick benefits. Ole Shut the Gates of Mercy would understand, but given the ugly sobriquet that he lived with throughout the rest of his illustrious career, I don’t think he would approve.