STEVE SIPORIN, UTAH STATE UNIVERSITY
Printed in the November 1999 issue (No. 45) of FOAFTALE NEWS, the
Newsletter of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research.
The folklore of sports fans must be among the most frequently performed but least frequently collected and analyzed of contemporary kinds of folklore. Alan Dundes (1978, 1993, and 1997, and Dundes and Falassi 1975) is the major exception, and even his studies tend to focus on the athletes' point of view rather than that of the spectators--though certainly the spectators are, literally, implicated. The importance of sports in today's world and the powerful emotions sporting events elicit in various contemporary societies suggest fertile ground for the genesis and diffusion of legend and belief. The presence of elements such as anxiety, lack of control over outcomes, issues of identity, sense of place, loyalty, tradition, and rivalry, virtually guarantees a world rich in folk expression.
In this brief note, I want to present one current example of a sports fan belief. My sources are email texts from a fan listserv.
The core of the belief is that the University of Nebraska circumvents NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) limits on football scholarships by awarding additional "county scholarships" to local football players. The belief rationalizes Nebraska's remarkable football success as the result of cheating--a conspiratorial form of cheating involving statewide collusion between Nebraska counties and the University of Nebraska football program.
Like many conspiracy theories, this one is an exoteric belief--i.e., something members of one group believe about members of another group. Some members of the group castigated by the belief (Nebraska football fans and players) are aware of the belief (held by fans of Nebraska's rivals) and try to debunk it regularly. But the belief arises repeatedly, and, as is the way with folk beliefs and legends, no matter how often it is refuted, it seems impossible to put it to rest. It may well be that the annual, recurring nature of the football season helps make the belief itself perennial, giving it life in a nearly organic way, alternating periods of dormancy with periods of flowering.
As background, it is important to know that the NCAA currently (and strictly) limits the number of football scholarship at any Division I school to 85 (National Collegiate Athletic Association 1997, 189). Penalties for exceeding the limit are severe, and football recruiting itself is highly regulated. To find a way to fudge on the number of football players under scholarship would be seen as gaining an enormous advantage on the playing field.
My examples were collected from a popular Nebraska football fan listserv, email@example.com, moderated by Mike Nolan in Lincoln, Nebraska. Here is one typical instance in which the belief surfaced:
Being that this will be my first post to the husker list, I would first like to commend Mike Nolan on the time and effort he has put in. It's nice to have access to Husker information when you're misplaced in Texas where Husker info is usually found in the obituaries.
Anyway this afternoon I was asked a question about walk-on scholarships that I couldn't answer. Do some counties in Nebraska provide scholarships for walk-on players and if so, who decides who is eligible to receive them, the university or the counties involved?
He was told that Nebraska is the only school with that kind of opportunity. (Posted to firstname.lastname@example.org November 14, 1997)
Here is the response, sent within the hour on the same day:
Shawn, this one is a cinch. `Walk-on scholarship' is an oxymoron, that is, a self-canceling term. There ain't no such critter.
The so-called `county scholarship' you're referring to is one of the oldest fabrications on the Internet football bulletin boards. No such thing ever existed.
If your Lone Star buddies believe in the country scholarship canard, they're gullible enough to let you take them snipe hunting. (Posted to email@example.com November 14, 1997)
Two months later, shortly after Nebraska's victory over Tennessee (that earned the team its third football national championship in four years) the belief surfaced again:
It was great listening to the local radio sports talk shows here in Memphis
yesterday. To summarize: Nebraska is the type of team that Tennessee would
like to be. The Huskers have the whole package; players, coaches,
conditioning and recruiting. Which brings up the point of this post. Several
callers were asking about the `county scholarship program' in Nebraska and
pointing out that the NCAA needs to look into this program. I know this has
been put to rest several times on the Huskers List but I would like someone to
refresh my memory.
(Posted to firstname.lastname@example.org January 6, 1998)
And the answer is: IT DOESN'T EXIST--IT NEVER DID!
It's an urban legend. Period.
(Posted to email@example.com January 6, 1998)
Again, on August 18, 1998, as football season was approaching and agitated fans sought signs and omens as they counted down to the opening kickoff, the belief reemerged:
Tony Barnhart (sp?), Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist and ESPN analyst, was on the local radio (Atlanta) today talking about Tom Osborne's [Nebraska head football coach for many years] retirement and mentioned all the `advantages' Nebraska enjoys like county scholarships.
I know this is a bogus claim but can someone give me the facts again so I may contact him? Everyone has biases but reporters are at least supposed to try to hide theirs--he does an extremely poor job of that. (Posted to firstname.lastname@example.org August 18, 1998)
There were several responses:
Just once I'd like to ask these so called columnists who think Nebraska gets county scholarships what a county scholarship is. If/when you get a hold of him, could you ask him so we could all get the correct definition of a `county' scholarship. I'm sure we'd all like to know. (Posted to email@example.com August 18, 1998)
As others have said, this is a legend that has been debunked many many times over the past 3 decades, and seems to pop up once or twice every season... (Posted to firstname.lastname@example.org August 18, 1998)
One of these days I'm going to add this to the FAQ. :-)
There has never been a `county' scholarship program for Nebraska athletes,
purportedly for walkons. There are numerous academic scholarships available
to incoming students, plus Pell grants, but these are awarded on the basis of
grades and test scores and are available to any qualifying student...
If such a program did exist, and the NCAA found out about it, it would be an
`extra benefit', which is illegal under NCAA rules. Like all other schools,
Nebraska undergoes regular audits by the NCAA, and has been put under the
microscope more than a few times in the past 30 years, and nothing significant
has EVER turned up, Nebraska has never been cited for a major rules violation
or been placed on NCAA probation.
(Posted to email@example.com August 18, 1998)
I could provide more examples since the belief and its rebuttal form an unending pair--a combination likely to continue into the future, at least as long as Nebraska possesses an overpowering football team. But the above examples should suffice to identify an exoteric sports fan belief. It might be interesting, though--if readers would like to respond--whether the same "county scholarship" accusation is made against other leading football programs, like Alabama, Ohio State, or Florida and Florida State.
I think, as I suggested above, that the belief persists because it provides a way for rival sports fans to rationalize Nebraska's consistent football dominance as due to underhandedness. Other major football programs, such as those of Notre Dame, Alabama, and Oklahoma, experience cycles of good years and bad years--but Nebraska has not had anything that could be called a bad year since 1961, the last time Nebraska lost more games than it won. Many of Nebraska's records (such as "most consecutive winning seasons," "most touchdowns scored in a season," "most consecutive sellouts" [1998 Football Media and Recruiting Guide 1998, 228]) underscore the Nebraska phenomenon of consistently top teams winning all but a handful of games over a long period of time--now nearly forty years and counting.
How can this anomaly among football teams persist? The belief provides an
answer--but one we know is false. Or is it?
Legends and beliefs that are apparently, or even obviously, false on a literal level often contain an underlying truth if understood metaphorically. Thus, while Nebraska's counties cannot and do not provide extra scholarships for football players, fan support for the team is widespread and local throughout the state. One of the records referred to above is "most consecutive sellouts," meaning Nebraska's Memorial Stadium has been filled to capacity for every game since 1962. No other stadium comes near this record. Nebraska fans also "travel well" (the phrase of bowl game promoters) meaning that many of them are willing to travel far beyond the state's borders to attend games. Sometimes the visiting Nebraska fans overwhelm the local, home-team audience by their numbers, red and white clothing, and enthusiasm. At a recent game at UC Berkeley in California (September 1998), for instance, the number of Nebraska fans in the stadium was estimated at 25,000--roughly half the crowd.
The intangible but not illegal "extra benefit" of single-minded (some would
say monomaniacal) fan support may in fact give Nebraska football teams an
advantage. The so- called "county scholarship" makes a fitting symbol for the
grass roots interest and energy that people all over the state focus on their
one outstanding (college or professional) sports team. Notice that the belief
does not speak of a secret state scholarship or a conspiracy of private
donors; money comes from the counties, the governmental unit most closely
identified with the local, the grass roots, the average (or perhaps idealized)
citizen in a rural state. A belief that is a demonstrably false
rationalization disguises within itself an even more disturbing realization--
disturbing, at least, for those who would unseat the champion. One reason for
Nebraska's success may come not from an underhanded way of getting more,
talented players onto the team but from a remarkably enduring commitment of
the local fans.
And, by the way, GO BIG RED!!!
Dundes, Alan. 1978. Into the Endzone for a Touchdown: A Psychoanalytic
Consideration of American Football. Western Folklore 37:75-83.
. 1993. Gallus as Phallus: A Psychoanalytic Cross-Cultural
Consideration of the Cockfight as
Fowl Play. The Psychoanalytic Study of Society 18:23-65.
. 1997. Traditional Male Combat: From Game to War. In From Game to War and Other Psychoanalytic Essays on Folklore, Alan Dundes, 25-45. Lexington: University Press ofKentucky.
Dundes, Alan and Alessandro Falassi. 1975. La Terra in Piazza: An Interpretation of the Palio of Siena. Berkeley: University of California Press.
National Collegiate Athletic Association. 1997. 1997-98 NCAA Division I Manual. Overland Park, Kansas: National Collegiate Athletic Association.
1998 Football Media and Recruiting Guide. 1998. Lincoln: Nebraska Sports
[Note: Below I have added an additional post on the issue which is not part of Mr. Siporin's compilation, but which also addresses the issue in an eloquent and convincing manner. Unfortunately, I am not 100% sure of the original author, but I believe it is a person who posts under Metallicorn. The following was in response to another poster.]
Much of what you have said here is completely untrue. I have addressed the enrollment criterion on this board before, but will do so again.
First-time freshman applicants who graduated from an accredited high school in 1997 or after will need to successfully complete the core course requirements and have either a composite ACT of 20 or higher, or a combined SAT of 950 or higher, or rank in the upper half of their graduating class to be assured admission to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Students who meet the requirements for Assured Admission are also qualified for admission to seven of the nine undergraduate colleges at the University.
Additional admission requirements apply to students wishing to be admitted to the College of Architecture, the College of Engineering and Technology, or the College of Fine and Performing Arts.
Longhorn Bob, there is no such first year scholarship program. You may want to be more careful to have documentation when you repeat things in the future as it damages your credibility when you post lies like this. The state's scholarships are the Regents and the Davids scholarships.
Both are awarded on the basis of GPA, standardized test scores, and activities. The level to reach these awards is much higher than merely a 3.0 GPA. Finally, to the subject of "county scholarships. From the office of NCAA compliance at NU:
Your e-mail letter to the Huskerweb cast staff on Sunday, July 25, 1999 was forwarded to my office. You indicated that some alumni and fans of other universities generally believe that the University of Nebraska is able to provide scholarships to walk-on football players that would exceed the NCAA scholarship limit of eighty-five. The following explanation to your question is based on NCAA rules concerning countable financial aid as discussed and interpreted by Linda Olson, UNL Athletic Certification Coordinator for Registration and Records, Al Papik, UNL Senior Associate Athletic Director and myself.
The question asked about football countable scholarships is very general, but the NCAA rules that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) follows in determining "countable" student-athletes in the sport of football can be used to address the question. These NCAA rules are NOT DIFFERENT for UNL, they are the same rules for all Division I schools.
Question: Do all scholarships count against the 85- man limit, or can a player walk-on to the football team while receiving a scholarship (state or private) and not have it count against the NCAA limit?
Answer: Yes, there are walk-on students in the sport of football that receive institutional aid, state aid (institutionally administered), and outside scholarships that are not required by NCAA rules to be included in the 85-man limit. See the following examples:
If a walk-on football student-athlete is considered "recruited" per NCAA rules, then any institutional aid, including UNL academic scholarships such as "Regents Scholarship", 'David Scholarship", or "The Scholarship for New Nebraskans", would cause this student to be counted in the 85 maximum head-count for Football if the student competes in Varsity competition. (refer to Bylaws 15.02.41.(a) and 220.127.116.11.1). If this potential counter does NOT compete in Division I Varsity Football, and the UNL institutional scholarship is certified as unrelated to athletics ability, then the student may receive the UNL institutional scholarship and NOT be counted toward the 85-man limit.
If a walk-on football student-athlete is considered "not recruited" per NCAA rules, then institutional aid (such as the scholarships listed above) that is certified as unrelated to athletics ability may be received, and the non-recruited walk-on student would not count toward the 85-man limit. This student may compete and still would not be considered countable. (Refer Bylaw 18.104.22.168.2)
"*Need-based state or government grants such as the "State Scholarship Assistance Program" (SSAP), or the "Student Educational Opportunity Grant" (SEOG) that are "administered by UNL" fall under the same NCAA rules that are listed above for institutional scholarships. That is, these grants are considered "countable" for recruited walk-on students in the sport of football if the student competes in Varsity competition. If the walk-on student does not compete in varsity competition, or if the student is considered "non-recruited", and the grants are certified as unrelated to athletics ability, then these walk-on football student-athletes may receive the need based grants and not be considered countable toward the 85 maximum football counters.
NCAA rules on the "countability" of outside scholarships (educational awards from sources outside the institution, such as high school or local awards) are listed in Bylaw 15.2.5. Depending on criteria, outside scholarships may count toward the maximums. Some "recruited" walk-on students choose to not accept countable outside awards as walk-ons to the football program.
**The state of Nebraska does have legislation, effective June 1, 1992, that specifically addresses need-based educational aid. This law provides that State Universities cannot require a financially needy student to forego, relinquish, waiver or surrender any student financial aid that they are eligible to receive as a condition of their participation in the University's varsity football program. Under this law the University cannot keep a student from participating in intercollegiate varsity football competition because they are eligible for and receive student financial aid, even if such aid is in violation of NCAA rules. This state law is followed by UNL, and could potentially cause UNL to be in violation of NCAA rules if a "recruited" student chooses to keep the need-based aid and competes in varsity competition. UNL monitors this situation each year, and is prepared to self-report such a violation should one ever occur.
I hope this information is helpful to you. If you have further questions,
please contact me at 402-472-7002.
Assistant Compliance Coordinator
Now, I have provided you the facts. I did so in the hope that your misunderstandings were sincere and you were not simply trying to hurl popular insults to belittle UNL and its achievements. There are numerous UT fan sites that do engage in that and I would hope that this site would be above that. Indeed, if these perceptions are widespread among the UT fan community, you may want to save my post and put an end to the ignorance on these issues when they rear their head again on this board. There certainly is no reason you're required to like the Huskers, but do so for legitimate reasons rather than urban legends you could use to discount their success.
We all play by the same rules in the NCAA. UT, though, is unable to implement a massive walk on program due to a Title IX suit's settlement earlier this decade.