The Origins of the Big Ten: Part II of IV

The Big 10 Conference has maintained a lofty place in the minds of collegiate sports fans for many years. Illinisports discusses the infamous nature of college sports in their infancy and the steps taken by Midwestern universities to unite for a common purpose in this article. Part II of IV.

These simple rules were a major beginning for a group of rapidly-growing midwest institutions, but they needed almost immediate modification, improvement, and expansion. As with all rules, loopholes needed to be closed without creating new ones, and some rules had to wait until a time when abuses required them.

Rules added by 1898, besides deciding to have twice yearly meetings, included the following:

1. Methods for evaluating eligibility HAD to be addressed to eliminate numerous abuses regarding age, academic standing, etc.

2. Prohibited competition where cash prizes were awarded.

3. All athletic associations had to be audited by committees of their respective universities.

4. Tolerated expenses included: training table expenses beyond ordinary expenses, traveling expenses, expenses for uniforms (clothing), medical expenses incurred in practices or games, inexpensive souvenirs (medals, photos, sweaters, watch-charms) so long as they are not a reward for services rendered.

5. Athletic committees were required to keep intercollegiate athletics "within their proper bounds, making them the incidental and not the principal features of university and intercollegiate life. All that is dishonorable, unsportsmanlike, ungentlemanly or unnecessarily rough in any branch of athletics is particularly and expressly condemned."

Attitudes within the fledgling conference toward football were reflected by President J. B. Angell of Michigan in a letter to the conference:

"...The general complaint in the public press is of the roughness and dangerous character of the game. Now while it is desirable and I hope practicable to remove some of the objections to the present style of playing, I think that we who administer universities will agree that there are other objections to the present mode of carrying on the game quite as serious as the roughness of the play. Let us notice some of them.

"1. Under the actual organization the absorbing interest and excitement of the students--not to speak of the public--in the preparation for the intercollegiate games make a damaging invasion into the proper work of the university for the first ten or twelve weeks of the academic year. This is not true of the players alone, but of the main body of students, who think and talk of little else but the game. The season given up to this excitement is too long. The games are too many. The number should be reduced. It is a fair question whether without resorting to intercollegiate games the competition of classes and departments in any university would not furnish games enough for healthy rivalry. It would probably spare us the presence of thousands of spectators from outside.

"2. The present conditions constantly hold before the students and before the world false ideals of college life. Not only in the college journals, but in the newspaper press of the whole country, the students who by daily descriptions and by portraits are held up as the great men of the university are the men of brawn rather than the men of brains. Their slight ailments are chronicled with as much promptness as are those of King in his Court Gazette. Their names are daily carried by the Associated Press from ocean to ocean. Not only undergraduates but schoolboys are filled with aspirations to follow in the footsteps not of the best scholars, but of the best players.

"3. The university is necessarily viewed in a wrong perspective. It is looked on as training men for a public spectacle, to which people come by thousands, instead of quietly training men for useful intellectual and moral service while securing ample opportunity for reasonable athletic sports. Indeed the intellectual trainers are made to appear as of small consequence compared with the football coach and trainer.

"4. The expenditure of money in the preparation for the game is out of all proportion to what a rational provision for exercise and games for students ought to call for. I need not go into detail. I will only add that where so much money is handled for such purpose, the temptations to misuse are not wanting."

At Angell's suggestion, faculty representatives of the Conference met in Chicago on January 19, 1906. They agreed that the rough play and danger of injuries was bad, but overemphasis of the game is a worse evil, causing subsidizing of athletes, intense rivalries, commercialism, and wrong ideals of college life. If they couldn't correct abuses, they wanted to abolish intercollegiate football.

At a second meeting in March of 1906, the following rules were adopted:

1. One year of residence necessary for eligibility (including meeting all entrance requirements and completing one year's college work).

2. Only 3 years competition allowed and no grad students allowed.

3. The season was limited to 5 games, and some heated rivalries were eliminated temporarily to allow a cooling down of the adversaries. (This was raised to 7 games in 1908.)

4. No training table or training quarters were permitted. (This factor was more prolific in causing graft and professionalism than anything else...students were supposed to pay for this, but efforts to secure those payments were variable and often ineffective).

5. Student and faculty tickets were not to cost over fifty cents.

6. Freshman and reserve teams were not allowed to play outside games.

7. Coaches were to be appointed only by university bodies in a regular way and at MODERATE SALARES (some wanted to eliminate paid coaches entirely).

8. "That steps be taken to reduce receipts and expenses of athletic contests."

Today, that last rule would be called communistic or anticapitalistic and ridiculed by profit-mongers. This desire to reduce profit was a rare event if not the only example of its kind. Considering how much money is involved in the major college sports of football and basketball in the 21st century, and subsequently how much corruption is possible, perhaps there were some real visionaries among conference leadership in its infancy.

Creating these rules, being more restrictive than their national counterparts, was the first of several conference decisions over the last century that put their schools on an island apart from others. Michigan often played schools from the East who did not have these restrictions and objected strenuously. When they were told they had to follow every rule to the letter, they withdrew from the Conference in January, 1908.

Ohio State was not added to the conference until 1912, when they broke away from their close association with Michigan and their Ohio conference affiliation to join the conference. Michigan was not invited to rejoin the conference until 1917. The Western Intercollegiate Conference subsequently became nicknamed "Big 10" as Michigan became the tenth team.

The admission charge rule was designed to prevent professionalism and was in effect from 1904 to 1910 (it was passed in 1901 and quickly rescinded before repassing in 1904). This was thought to be a better way of controlling professionalism than trying to prevent a player from receiving pay. Of course, it was an extremely unpopular concept, with student polls showing a big majority favoring baseball players receiving pay in the summers. People ignored the rule or played under assumed names. The admission fee rule was reenacted again in 1912 and was the rule at least through 1935. After all, other conferences were permitting professional pay for baseball, so this evened the competition.

To be continued ...

To read Part I of this series, click here.

Go Illini!


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