In December of last year the Big Ten made public what had been widely speculated for quite a while—that the conference was looking to expand beyond the current eleven teams.

The arguments for expansion are clear—a lucrative league structure will extend the reach of the Big Ten Network, add a conference championship game and add funds to athletic department coffers.  But as the money flows in many argue that the concept of the student-athlete continues to erode as perhaps does the true role of our universities: to educate.   This is certainly not the last time we’ll be debating the purpose and value of the conference structure and the broader issue of the direction of amateur athletics.

This isn’t a new discussion either, in fact the debate never raged hotter than it did over a century ago, just a few years after Fielding Yost stepped on campus.

When Yost arrived in Ann Arbor in 1901 he boldly predicted that Michigan wouldn’t lose a game.   For a while at least, he was pretty much correct.   His Michigan teams went undefeated from 1901-1904, the only blemish during that stretch a 6-6 tie with Minnesota in a contest that sparked the Little Brown Jug rivalry.  On the final game of the 1905 slate, Michigan finally lost—a 2-0 squeaker to the University of Chicago and coach Amos Alonzo Stagg.

The sport, boosted by Yost’s success and, was more popular than ever suddenly found itself under the microscope of the university brass.   As happens with any activity that generates widespread interest and revenue, certain groups wanted to understand where it was all going.   Beyond that, there’s no doubt a few professors and administrators were jealous of figures like Yost, who’s power, prestige and popularity was now overshadowing them on campus.

On the face, concern about a growing sport on campus seems trivial, but there were a few issues related to the sport worthy of discussion.  First, the football was a brutal sport back then when it wasn’t uncommon for players to die on the field of play.   Beyond this, the role of the student-athlete was only loosely defined, with players migrating from school to school, often after receiving degrees from other institutions.  Finally, while nothing close to today’s standards, the home football games generated large sums of money and at the time this wasn’t aligned with the traditional ideals of a university.

Finally, spearheaded by the request of Michigan’s president James B. Angell, officials from the schools representing the Western Conference (U-M, Chicago, Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana) met in Chicago in January 1906 to discuss these issues and more.  Keep in mind this was far from a gathering of athletic directors—these men were faculty and administrators from each school.

The day after the meeting the headline of the New York Times roared, “FOOTBALL HIT HARD BY WESTERN COLLEGES”.  The changes outlined by the committee were indeed drastic and aimed primarily at the gridiron.   Here’s a breakdown of the recommendations:

  1. Accept or Abolish: The committee started by making one thing clear…one way or another serious changes were going to happen.   While the individual schools of the conference would be able to accept or reject the committee’s recommendations, included was a poisonous provision dictating that if the changes were NOT agreed to by a majority of the schools, football would be suspended in the conference for two years.   They effectively were daring the schools to not ratify the recommendations.  Obviously Michigan, nor most of the other schools, would go along with this so they were really left with a simple choice: either accept the recommendations or leave the conference.
  2. Reduced number of games: The committee dictated that the football season be limited to just five games.   Practice could start only when the college term began in the fall, and the last game of the schedule would be played two weeks before Thanksgiving.   This would be a big change to the direction Michigan was heading as Yost’s squad played 13 games in 1905.
  3. Training Tables: The committee also proposed having “training tables”, that is, structured and planned team-only meals, abolished.  This is an accepted practice today—I remember the team enjoying specialized meals at South Quad when I was on campus.   Back at the turn of the century, this was probably viewed as a very special benefit, even a form of compensation, and Michigan held training tables and even had a team trainer on staff.   Given the results on the field, Yost understandably had no plans in changing their practice regimen.  Michigan argued that this recommendation should be eliminated from the proposal.
  4. Three-year Rule: The conference sought to abolish the practice of having athletes participate for more than three years. Freshman would be required to have residence at the school for one year before participating.   The practice of having players transfer in and out (including those who already had degrees from other schools) would be barred.  Football was to be played by enrolled undergraduates only.    One of Michigan’s finest players was their center Germany Schultz.  Schultz arrived on campus as a 21-year-old, and allegedly played football before he arrived in Ann Arbor.  Whether he was a ringer or just someone who started a bit late was inconsequential as under the proposed changes he would be ineligible.  Michigan countered that this rule not be retroactive, thus allowing players like Schultz to participate until they moved on.
  5. The Money: Another recommendation proposed that all gate revenue from games be controlled by the faculty (not by alumni or by the athletic department) and that ticket prices should be fixed at fifty cents.  Prices ranged quite a bit in those days, but generally the best seats went for about three bucks.   Of U-M’s thirteen games in 1905, a whopping eleven of those were played on the Wolverines home turf of Ferry Field.   This collection of professors and administrators naturally wanted to decide what to do with it.
  6. Professional Coaches: Teams would be managed by members of the faculty, who would receive a small stipend for their efforts as coaches.  This is essence extended the concept of the student-athlete to apply to coaches.  This worked well for the other two ‘Western’ powers in the conference as Stagg and Minnesota’s coach Henry “Doc” Williams were already members of their respective faculties.  Yost was not.   Furthermore, it was deemed that future coaches would be selected by the faculty, not the athletic departments within each school.   There’s little doubt that this sweeping change in the place of the coach within the university was a direct shot at Michigan and Yost.  The New York Times speculated that if it were instituted it would effectively end Yost’s career.

The fact that someone from Michigan prompted the meeting no doubt boiled Yost, and he and Angell would fight for many years over the proper place of athletics on campus.  Consider that twenty years later it was Angell who was a key opponent of Yost’s beloved Michigan Stadium project.

Outside of the faculty and folks like Angell who supported the committee recommendations, the reaction on campus and especially within the athletic department was predictable.    Much of the proposal was clearly aimed squarely at Yost, and even if you didn’t buy that, there’s little doubt the provisions would have the biggest impact on the football program in Ann Arbor.

The proposal to abolish professional coaches was really a sore spot for Wolverine fans, who figured that Stagg and the University of Chicago were behind the recommendation in a not-so-subtle attempt to eliminate Yost.  The Chicago Tribune even declared that “open war” raged between the two schools.  Chicago countered Michigan’s claim by arguing that not only was it U-M’s Angell who prompted the meeting, it was Professor A.H. Pettengill of Michigan who actually proposed that professional coaches be abolished!

Back on campus, four thousand students and alumni assembled in a mass meeting to protest the Committee’s recommendation.  Professor Pettengill was confronted but refused to talk about his role in the controversial provision. 

How it Played Out
The drama actually continued for the next couple years, but in the end Michigan could never get over the provision about Yost, who still had four years left on his coaching contract in 1906.  A few weeks after the Chicago committee published their recommendations Michigan actually voted to accept the proposal with the exception of coaching rule.

Since many games and contracts for the major sports were set through the following season, in 1907 the conference remained mostly intact.  Michigan adhered to the five game schedule (going 4-1), but added a sixth “Alumni Game” near the end of the schedule.   Near the end of the 1906-07 athletic season the conference held to its guns and, depending on your perspective, Michigan either willfully exited or was booted from the Western Conference for not complying with the new rules.

On April 14, 1907 the New York Times headline blazed, “CONFERENCE OUSTS MICHIGAN”.  The opening paragraph read:

Michigan University was to-day ruled out of the Western Conference athletics because of its refusal to observe conference rules, and all relations between the university and the other colleges composing the conference were severed….The representatives of Michigan declined to promise that the university would observe these rules.

The Aftermath
Michigan would become an independent in 1908 and found ways to fill out its schedule, despite a conference rule passed in 1909 prohibiting Western conference teams from scheduling those that left.   John U. Bacon, in the book A Legacy of Champions, noted an interesting twist to the scheduling embargo:

Yost’s decision to leave the conference had an unintended side effect: by doing so, Michigan switched their main rivals.  Michigan didn’t play its first arch-rival, Chicago, for 12 seasons, but filled the free date in the schedule by playing Ohio State, not yet in the Big Ten, for the first six of those years.  The Michigan State Spartans — then called the Michigan Agricultural College Farmers, but for simplicity referred to here only as Michigan State — appeared on Michigan’s schedule for the third time in 1907, but have continued to do so all but four seasons since then.

In the end, Michigan was adrift for ten years, deciding to rejoin the conference in 1917.  In Legacy, Bacon summed it up this way:

Overall…leaving the Big Ten created more problems than it solved.  Michigan scheduled yearly games against Cornell, Penn and Syracuse, but Michigan couldn’t get the upper hand.  Those rivalries were popular both locally and nationally, but to Michigan fans, they never replaced the contests with regional foes like Chicago and Minnesota.  Worse, to fill their schedule Michigan had to play teams like Lawrence, Mt. Union and Marietta.  And even if Michigan’s football team could survive being outcast by the Big Ten, its other varsity teams could not.

Lloyd Carr showered after the game

I’m still blown away by the team’s performance on Tuesday. Looking over the highlights and the media coverage it is just amazing.

When things fell like they did, with Penn State and Wisconsin locking into their bowls prior to the BCS pairings and Michigan just hanging there and then finally drawing Florida of all teams….I thought it was a good break for Michigan to get a New Year’s Day bowl but a bad one given they’d have to play the likely Heisman winner and the defending national champion. The Gators seemed to be a perfect poison for the struggling Wolverines. You had to be thinking bad thoughts or at least braced for a spanking like fellow blogger CC at Autumn Thunder.

The one hope I had coming in was that we’d have a healthy Henne and Hart, and you know good things can happen when those guys are clicking. But still…it was Florida with Tebow and Harvin. Not mention they were playing essentially a home game.

The way those guys played despite the mistakes – it was just incredible. Watch the highlights again and watch how hard Arrington is going and how hard the defensive line comes off the ball. Even when Tebow made a play he ended up on his arse. Finally for MVP Henne, talk about putting it all together in his final game! He was so sharp (save bad decisions on the 2 trick plays) and just raised his NFL stock three-fold.

Then to hear Carr’s words on the field after the game and finally the transcript of his locker room speech. The Big Ten Network provided some video of the speech – MGoBlog embedded the video, and Michigan Sports Center has some great clips as well. But I’ve captured, saved and hosted the audio so it doesn’t get lost. Not the greatest quality but you get the idea. Enjoy:

And to watch the way West Virginia played last night. Those players played a lot like Michigan and I was impressed with the defense. This is going to be a fun off season. I’m so happy for Carr and excited to see what Rodriguez can do. I hope each recruit that is on the fence watched that game and heard Carr’s words after the game. It’s two days later and I’m still giddy over all this.

30. December 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: Archive 2007, Bo Schembechler, Bowls, Coach Rod, Media

Per AA News columnist Jim Carty, the team (save Marquis Slocum) looked noticeably a tad plump at the open practice:

Hart looks to be carrying a few extra pounds and he was far from alone. Right guard Alex Mitchell and a number of other linemen on both sides of the ball are as big as they’ve been all year, and by big, I mean big as in bellies, not big as in ripped.

I question this a little bit, I mean, what’s Carty’s frame of reference? The locker room after the regular season games? He did add that Henne and Hart appeared to be a full strength despite Hart’s portliness.

Elsewhere, the New York Times named Rich Rodriguez one of its 5 individuals who had a major impact on the sports world in 2007. Pete Thamel who does the Times’ The Quad Blog wrote the piece. On the Michigan hire:

By hiring Rodriguez, Michigan, which had clung to its Bo Schembechler-bred power football roots, essentially pulled its head from the proverbial cloud of dust and conceded that gaining 3 yards at a time was no way to win national titles.

Finally, I’m not a doctor but looks like they should have delivered Henne’s cortisone shots in his arse.

27. December 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: Archive 2007, Hockey, Media

The audio from Red Berenson’s interview on the Stoney and Wojo show today discussing the GLI and more. Art Regner filled in for the hosts:

27. December 2007 · Comments Off · Categories: Archive 2007, eBay Watch, Fans, History

The last installment of eBay Watch is this year’s finest: a collection of post cards featuring members of 1907 Michigan football team. Perhaps a one of a kind set, the photos feature legendary players including the great Adolph ‘Germany’ Schulz, coach Yost and even the team trainer Keene Fitzpatrick.

The seller offered up the entire collection and it didn’t go unnoticed by collectors. The winning bid for these beauties was $1,364.60 back in October. I actually used the photo of Joy Miller in ‘The Disgrace of 1909‘ but this is the first time I’m posting the entire set.

Based on the crude way the auction items were photographed and presented on eBay, I doubt the seller was a professional memorabilia collector which makes this pretty cool. The postcard of Yost is different from the rest, not only the pose but also the background. It appears as though the publisher misspelled the surname of fullback Walter Rheinschild [no h on the post card], and it is not clear as to why Eugene Flanagan was included as he doesn’t appear to have played a significant role on this or any team. In fact, the Bentley spells his name “Flanigan” but that’s only on an alternate full roster and he didn’t make the team photo in any season. Maybe he snuck into the shoot hoping people would be talking about him 100 years later? Well done man.

1907 was Fielding Yost’s seventh at the helm of the Wolverines, and it was a fine year. Featuring All-American Schultz, the blue were not scored upon in the first five games of the season while running up 107 points. This set up the showdown with eastern power Penn who visited Ann Arbor on November 16th. The volume of memorabilia available for a game that was played 100 years ago is a good indication of the games’ significance, and there’s quite a bit out there for this one:

1907 Michigan football vs Penn

The hard fought battle ended with Penn escaping with a 6-0 win, after they carried an onside kick into the endzone. You can read an excellent summary of the game from the New York Times here. Both teams had touchdowns that were taken back due to “illegalities”.

It sounds like Yost pulled out all the stops as his Meechigan men even attempted (and completed) a “triangular forward pass”. As described by the Times:

Schultz passed the ball back to Watkins, who threw it over to Magoffin, drawing the Pennsylvania team to that side, and the Michigan Captain then passed it to Hammond, who advanced it 20 yards.

More factoids from the Penn game:
- The 6-0 defeat was Michigan’s first ever loss at home.
- According to Bruce Madej’s book Champions of the West, the Penn game marked the introduction of the Block M formation:

The large block “M” was formed in the cheering sections by 750 yellow and 1250 blue banners, sold to spectators at the cost of 25 cents each. Said the Michigan Daily in its November 17, 1907 edition, “Probably no more beautiful feature was ever seen at a football game than the block “M” section. At a signal from the yellmaster, the black mass of humanity on the bleacher suddenly became transformed, as though by a magic touch, into a gigantic “M” outlined against a background of blue.”

Obviously it was a disappointing finish to the hoops game yesterday, as the UCLA wore down Beilein’s crew and pulled away easily in the second half. The turning point? When they showed the video of coach Carr in the stands. Note the time and the score at the time:

And not to nitpick, but if you are going to put an end date on Carr’s coaching career, technically it’s 2008.

Two interesting links from the Free Press today:
1. Wow, check out the exchange between Les Miles and Rodriguez, as described by Rodriguez’s mother. It kind of validates the cocktail party theory that the WVU/Pitt game basically determined our next coach:

According to her, Miles thanked Rodriguez for losing the game against Pittsburgh. Miles then joked with Rodriguez that the loss cost Miles his dream job. “He told my son that if West Virginia had beaten Pitt, they would’ve been in the championship game, and that would’ve left an opening for him,” she said.

2. Definitely give this is a read. Shawn Windsor of the Free Press put together a special report on the days leading to the Rodriguez hiring.