Further research is needed to determine if the Universities of Chicago, Wisconsin and Michigan actually stopped charging people to see their athletic contests. One thing that is sure is that Michigan and Wisconsin charge for theirs now and in a big way. What was formerly called Division IA football is big business today with correspondingly high ticket prices. And professionalism among college athletes was almost as big an issue then as it is now. The University of Chicago’s often-taken stance against professionalism was largely something for public consumption rather than an indication of the school’s conduct of its athletic program, so the pronouncement that they wished to stop charging for admission to football games and other contests should be taken with a measure of salt.
Perhaps they had a benefactor waiting in the wings to fund the endowment proposed to support the Maroon athletic department. If they did, it would have had to be a hefty one because the athletic department had gotten used to having money at its disposal to spend as it pleased. For example, as early as 1895, gate receipts were used to pay for a meal for the team at a French restaurant on Clark Street after each game. Gate receipts were also used to buy Thanksgiving dinner for the players and their dates after the annual game with Michigan.
Athletes received other benefits from the University as well, but it isn’t clear where the money came from to pay for them. Gate receipts are the usual suspects. Beginning in 1896, Chicago’s football players ate together at a special training table and live together in two flats in a private apartment building paid for, one concludes, from the proceeds of paid admissions to football games. That living arrangement was not renewed the following year because the landlord claimed the players had “played such havoc” that they were no longer welcome as tenants. So, the University moved them into Hitchcock Hall, the newest and most luxurious residence hall on campus. No, Amos Alonzo Stagg and the University of Chicago did not support professionalism of their athletes.