Victory Pass, by Burgess Leonard
Four out of five stars
The primary plot device in this book is one that has been used many times in stories about intercollegiate athletics. Unfortunately, it is even more true now than it was in 1950 when the book was published.
Melville College is an institution with a football team that struggled the previous year, it is a small school in a big-school conference. Like many colleges, it has many fine traditions, for this story the most important are that academics has always come first and that no athletic scholarships are awarded. The second is that students are on an honor system during exams, the professors hand them out and then leave the room. It is up to students to police the exams, try any cheaters and recommend punishment.
Dan McCloud is the captain of the football team and the leader of the student government. His father is also the Dean of Students, an internationally known mathematician that believes the role of Melville is to educate the next generation.
After struggling on the football field last year, one where Dan McCloud excelled in many losing causes and won great honors, wealthy alumni step in and demand that a new coach named Dutch Ruppert be hired. Ruppert is unscrupulous, using whatever means necessary he brings in a team of what are essentially hired players and promises great victories. Of course, the opportunity to cheer for a successful team is something that excites nearly every follower of Melville College.
However, the battle of ideals and tradition versus winning is not a pretty one that is fought with honor and strict adherence to the truth. Ruppert and his imported players are arrogant with a sense of entitlement and Dan and his fellow lettermen must fight back from being relegated to the scrubs. It is a noble quest and one that the reader can cheer on. Of course, this is fiction and the reality is that the ideals of education are rarely upheld when they clash with the prospect of a winning football team.