Michigan returns to the Big Ten Conference (1917)

“Fine you guys, we’ll come back. No hard feelings?”

Readers of this site probably know at least the basics of the drama that led Michigan’s departure from the Big Ten between 1906-1908 and its subsequent return in 1917.   As a refresher check out my posts and naturally Papa John U. Bacon has a wonderful discussion of the drama here.

Given the history and deep ties between U-M and the B1G conference since those days astray, it seems hard to comprehend an alternate reality where your beloved Wolverines are not part of the conference.  I really never have put much thought into the notion of U-M going it alone.

Enter SB Nation’s Matt Brown.  He’s working on a book around a series of college football ‘what if’ scenarios.  He reached out to ask me a few beauties, leading off with a hypothetical gem:

Brown:  In your personal opinion, do you think Michigan could have sustained playing as an independent outside of the Big Ten? How do you think that would have impacted Big Ten history?

Me: The most likely outcome is that interest in Michigan football wanes, Yost loses influence and the anti-football academic forces at U-M gain power. If Yost is even still around in the early 1920s, he definitely doesn’t get the support [from the university or from boosters financially] to build Michigan Stadium.  Then you have the stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression, and you have to wonder if Michigan football slowly fades away like Chicago.  So Michigan doesn’t win the national titles in the early 1930s or the late 1940s – there’s no Fritz Crisler or winged helmet.  Cats and dogs start living together.

If Michigan does survive outside the B1G, it would have taken a stroke of luck and possibly an iconic Rockne-like coach to build a strong independent following like Notre Dame.  And speaking of the Irish, the bitterness following the 1910 game cancellation would be put aside in the early 1920s and Michigan would have to try schedule regular games with the Irish and hopefully do the same with a few Big Ten teams as well.

Of course we’re talking about football, but think of the impact on all of the other sports.  Travel wasn’t as easy back then, and moving back and forth from the east coast for meets and matches would have been a major drain. Maybe a few rivalries emerge but nothing like the broad set of historic rivalries that Michigan enjoyed in conference.  Michigan athletics would suffer big time.

I’m sure the Big Ten survives and thrives, but removing an original member and a crown jewel (with a national reputation) it just isn’t as strong.

How much of the Big Ten’s decision to push for rules that appeared to disadvantage Michigan the most, in your opinion, was motivated by jealousy, or a specific desire to get at Yost, and how much do you think was a reaction to say, anti-football panic nationally? It’s a bit unclear, to me. Certainly a desire to take a hard stand on reform, while eastern schools dithered, would have been attractive for midwestern leaders. 

Of course Michigan fans still view the rules as a direct shot at Michigan – I think primarily to take Yost down a couple pegs.   The truth is probably more in between a desire to control the sport (including for safety) and its place within academic institutions.  But as chronicled  in John Kryk’s excellent book, Stagg vs. Yost, the Chicago coach was very manipulative and had a lot of power in the conference and in the media, and would do just about anything to cut out Yost’s legs.

Why did the Big Ten change its mind ?

It doesn’t seem like the Big Ten pushed back on Michigan’s return.  Admittedly my perspective and my sources are heavily shaped by a Michigan’s view of the situation, but I don’t find much evidence of resistance  in any form, from the conference when U-M decided it wanted back in.   The various groups (alumni, students, Yost, regents) within Michigan brought the topic to a head early in 1917 and overwhelmingly supported a return.   The conference immediately allowed the Wolverines to complete in a conference track meet that spring.   The other schools welcomed the decision Michigan made to return – not the other way around.  Once it was official on U-M’s side, it seemed football schedules were immediately updated.  Only Northwestern had an open date available in the fall of 1917 so a game was scheduled, and others had to wait for openings.

The fact is the conference was stronger with Michigan in it (competitively and financially) – so it’s not hard to understand why U-M was welcomed back.  And for what it’s worth, the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917 – precisely the time all this was going down – so  you have to wonder if people were more inclined to set aside gridiron-infused grudges.

If the Big Ten banned conference members from playing Michigan during this era, how were they able to schedule games against Minnesota in 1909 and 1910?

Michigan AD Charles Baird found that early on, the new conference rules didn’t absolutely prohibit conference teams from scheduling competition with Michigan–they just required that Michigan comply with the conference rules (specifically around player eligibility).   So Baird agreed to comply with the eligibility rules for these 2 games with Minnesota and the schools signed a contract.  Both games were pretty major events [Ed. and umm, without the 1909 game we probably don’t have a Little Brown Jug rivalry and thus the world is a horrible place], and caused some Gopher faithful to consider the benefits of leaving the conference.  The conference reacted by enacting the “boycott rule–finally officially blocking any conference team from scheduling a foe that previously was a member of the conference (meaning Michigan and anyone else who dared join them).
[Ed. Good luck to Matt on the book.  Here’s another potential topic for Brown: what if Michigan didn’t get screwed by the refs over and over again? :)  When I get more details (title, timing, where to buy) on the book I’ll be sure to let you know.  -G]
15. January 2017 · Comments Off on The Old Man Himself · Categories: 2016

Check out this gem, from February 1946 via the Michigan Daily digital archives.  Bill Mullendorf, an outgoing senior and Daily sport editor, composed what appears to be a farewell column.

Instead of dropping a retrospective of the great sports triumphs during his days at the Daily, he chose instead to discuss an unplanned encounter a Michigan legend at practice in the fall of 1944.  Give it a read – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed:

Yost passed away few months after this was published.


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12. January 2017 · Comments Off on Willis Ward and the Track Captaincy · Categories: 2016

Yes M’am!  It happened.  Thank you to the U-M Library, the U-M Bentley Historical Library, The Michigan Daily, and support from “The Kemp Family Foundation, who finally did what I’ve been anxious hoping would happen: an searchable digitized archive of the Daily.  Feel free to give it a test run:

Dude. Sweet.  The search works great, and you can download and save pages and links as you go along.  Well done.  The only drawback?  Like with any text-based scanning software, sometimes the text search is spotty if the quality of the scanned page is in rough shape, as of course can happen as the pages have aged.

Within seconds I was able to search for and find a few never-before-seen nuggets on a few of my favorite topics like The Little Brown Jug and Willis Ward.

Speaking of Ward, you may know a lot about the 1934 Willis Ward controversy that played out before the Georgia Tech game that year, either from this site or on mgoblue.com, or via the kickass and Emmy-nominated documentary Black and Blue.   I don’t think I had heard about this, tough.

It turns more than a few folks raised a suspicious eye when, in May 1934 (yes, months before the Georgia Tech game mess heated up) the U-M track team failed to elect Ward captain of the 1935 squad.   Here’s one of the letters to the Daily in the May 25, 1934 edition:

So nicely done, C.A. Blue.

Thanks to a quick search in the new digital archive, I know that “Murmuring Michigan” is a reference to a piece that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, where the author described a few days on campus in Ann Arbor. As I understand it, he observed a movement of students on campus beginning to rebel against the established norms/biases of the day.  Like racism.

He was right.  In a few months later, the campus exploded before the Georgia Tech game.

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01. December 2016 · Comments Off on Butting against Head-to-Head · Categories: 2016

While the committee chairman’s words Tuesday night were promising, I still struggle seeing this happen for Michigan.  I think people agree the best scenario is Colorado winning on Friday night, opening the #4 slot in the playoff.

First, via CFN here is how the committee selection process works:

2. Each member will list the best six teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first ranking step. This is known as the “listing step.”

3. In the first ranking step, each member will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The best team in each member’s ranking will receive one point; second-best, two points, etc. The members’ rankings will be added together and the three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next ranking step.

4. Each member will list the six best remaining teams, in no particular order. The three teams receiving the most votes will be added to the three teams held over to comprise the next ranking step.

We also know the committee values head-to-head and conference championships, but not necessarily more than the other.  And they only really look at these metrics when the teams are comparable.   But the other thing Hocutt noted was that they don’t look ahead.  To me, this implies is that they can’t (yet) place value on a potential conference championship, but they could once the conference championship is actually earned.

So back to the selection process.  If Colorado drops Washington and Clemson beats Va Tech, let’s assume a few things:

  • Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson will be the first 3 teams seeded.  (Any final comparisons of Penn State against Ohio State will be handled and likely snuffed at this time.)  That leaves a second group of six including the B1G champ, Michigan and Colorado.
  • Given that, Michigan, the B1G Champ, and Colorado will be the top 3 teams on every ballot in that 2nd group of six.  Yes, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State could crack that top 3 of the next group of six but it doesn’t seem likely barring a ridiculous blowout in that game.
  • In this second group of 6, it’s unlikely that a voter will put Colorado over the B1G champ.  I understand this is possible, but it’s unlikely given the weight the committee has clearly given to the B1G conference in general.
  • This is important –>  Given 2 of these teams will hold a conference championship this weekend, there will indeed be some voters who view Michigan, Colorado, and the B1G champ as comparable and some voters will now add tangible value to the teams with a conference championship on their resumes.  And of course the result of these games is only new piece of information the committee has this weekend.  Head to head has already been factored in.
  • For simplicity I’m valuing the B1G champion equally.  Clearly Michigan has the stronger head-to-head argument against Penn State (in many ways, you weird people), especially given the 39-point beatdown.
  • FWIW, note that Barry Alvarez is recused if Wisconsin is in this next group of 6, which is likely.  This leaves 11 voters.

A couple scenarios of how this could go:

Scenario #1Mild emphasis on conference championships.

  • Michigan
    • Six (6) first place votes (meaning most of the 11 voters put U-M ahead of Colorado and B1G champ for the final playoff spot)
    • Three (3) 2nd place votes (a few voters put the B1G champ ahead of Michigan)
    • Two (2) 3rd place votes (meaning 2 voters move B1G and Colorado ahead of Michigan, given their conference titles)
  • B1G Champ (Wisconsin or Penn State)
    • Five (5) first place votes
    • Six (6) 2nd place votes

Under this scenario, Michigan would get the 4th playoff spot by a hair.

Scenario #2Medium emphasis on conference championships.

  • Michigan
    • Seven (7) first place votes
    • Four (4) 3rd place votes (meaning 4 voters put B1G champ and Colorado ahead of Michigan)
  • B1G Champ
    • Four (4) first place votes
    • Seven (7) 2nd place votes

Under this scenario, despite Michigan easily earning the most votes from the committee for that 4th spot, the B1G champ would get the 4th playoff spot by a hair.  The Rose Bowl would likely select Michigan.

And you can see where it goes from there, depending on what the voters (or some of the voters) place on the conference championship.   The point is that a slight shift from Michigan to the conference champions can swing this.

Oh, and god forbid we get full on Fulmer’ed – with one of these guys putting Michigan 4th or 5th or worse – because then we are truly screwed.


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29. November 2016 · 4 comments · Categories: 2016

I don’t see Michigan in play for a playoff spot no matter what happens.   If Washington and/or Clemson lose, I see the committee going for the B1G champ over Michigan and they aren’t putting three B1G teams in the playoff.

The committee understands that if it takes Ohio State alone from the B1G, it will obviously ignore the conference champion.  The idealistic view is that the major conference champions more or less feed into the playoff.  They will debate taking solely Ohio State over Penn State should the Lions win Saturday – so much so that I could see Ohio State getting dropped out if Penn State wins.  The “only Ohio” scenario is less of a concern if Wisconsin wins for sure, but still a concern.

Given the opportunity of a slot opening up, they will thankfully take the B1G champ. I think they signal this tonight by putting Michigan at #6, but even if they have them at #5, they will justify the B1G champ jumping them in the final rankings based on the championship win.

So that leaves Michigan out.  But to me the consolation prize is pretty agreeable.  With the B1G champ in the playoff, the Rose Bowl has discretion and will take Michigan.  Under the scenario that Washington loses to Colorado to free up the B1G champ to be in the playoff, this would set-up a rematch with the Buffaloes.   Some might argue that they wouldn’t want a U-M vs. CU rematch.  What they really don’t want is Colorado–but they won’t have that choice (they must take the PAC 10 champ).  So given the best option to make the game special, they will go for Michigan and Harbaugh of course – rematch be damned.  It’s been a decade, you know you want to go back and Michigan just participated in a 10.4 rating for a noon game.

If things go according to script, with Clemson and Washington winning, I still see debate of Ohio State vs. Penn State/Wisconsin for the playoff spot but only one B1G team will end up in the final four.  In this case, yes, Michigan heads to Miami and the Orange Bowl as widely projected.

Cheers to the Rose Bowl:


29. November 2016 · Comments Off on The B1G’s Unmitigated Gall! · Categories: 2016

Great idea from my pals at SupportUofM, Hoover Street and Maize and Blue Nation.  Co-sign.  Via Craig @ Hoover Street Rag:

I’m moving forward because there’s only two choices: wallow in bitterness or accept the whims of cruel fate and hope the universe sees fit to balance them out in the long run.

But it is better to take action than just to say you’re moving forward.  Thankfully, our friends at the Big Ten office have decided that, in addition to a “public reprimand” for Coach Harbaugh for his postgame comments, they have fined Michigan $10,000 for violations of the Big Ten’s sportsmanship policy.

Now, we’re not worried about Michigan’s ability to pay the fine.  In fact, I’m pretty sure Warde Manuel has a small piggy bank in Weidenbach Hall labeled “Harbaugh Says Something Fund” filled with the petty cash overflow from Michigan Stadium popcorn sales that will cover it no sweat.  But, it gave our blog friend Justin at MaizeandGoBlue an idea, one supported by Kerri from SupportUofM and Brad from Maize & Blue Nation as well as us here at the HSR, to launch a fundraiser benefiting The ChadTough Foundation.

This is a chance for all of us to turn a negative into a positive, to turn disappointment into hope, and to prove that the power of the Ann Arbor money cannon is a force for good.
The plan is as such:
Step 1: Raise $10k for The ChadTough Foundation by kickoff of this Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game
Step 2: Once we raise $10k, let’s challenge the Big Ten to match the donation
Step 3: Let’s make this a conversation piece during the Big Ten Championship Game
We’re all part of a big Michigan family, so let’s show that when a family faces disappointment it can come together and make big things happen.  Spread the word on your social media channels, get the snowball rolling.

Visit the fundraiser to donate now.

No amount is too large or too small.  (We personally like $27.00 for what the winning score would have been had the spot been adjudicated in Michigan’s favor or $17.00 if you’re old school and think the tie would have been perhaps more fitting an outcome for a battle of this magnitude.)

Then, once you donate, please share via social media to help generate awareness. Full details on the fundraiser page.

28. November 2016 · Comments Off on Danielson on Mad Dog Radio, Buckeyes “lost the wrong game” · Categories: 2016


From his Sirius interview with Chris Russo, interesting stuff from Gary Danielson on the Michigan-Ohio State game, the strategery of Harbaugh’s postgame rant, the spot, and a lot on the playoff scenarios.

If things fall like they should, he wouldn’t put Ohio State in the playoff (“they lost the wrong game”) and discussed the odd situation we’re in with the committee and the conference championships.



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27. November 2016 · Comments Off on Why You’re Michigan! | Dr. Sap’s Decals · Categories: 2016
[Ed. No official decals are being doled out this week from Dr. Sap, just a few words.]

Guest post by Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis

25. November 2016 · Comments Off on Going Indoors (1896) | This Week in Michigan Football History · Categories: 2016


These days there’s no question about the identity of Michigan’s biggest rival—that’s that team from Ohio —but back in the late 1800s and well into the Fielding Yost era, public enemy number one was Chicago and Coach Stagg.


While today we play the Buckeyes after the Thanksgiving holiday each season, did you know that Michigan actually used to play ON Thanksgiving day?
Indeed and On this day exactly 120 years ago, Michigan and Chicago squared off on Thanksgiving Thursday in Chicago and they did this a few times starting in the 1890s. 


As always, this segment appears on 1050AM WTKA and 1330AM WTRX’s epic KeyBank Countdown to Kickoff prior to each game.  Go Blue!

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script after the jump:

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