While I’m not sure it deserves anywhere in the orbit of the $4,000 price tag, nonetheless, there’s an interesting item up on eBay right now. In sum, it’s a 1905 petition asking the athletic department to address a few questions about the idea of withdrawing from the Western Conference–a debate that was burning hot on campus obviously:
The questions translated, as I see it:
1. Is there any meaningful/tangible penalty (if we leave)?
2. Can we still play conference rivals like Minnesota and Chicago?
3. Whoa – does this mean we can play teams like Penn, Harvard and Yale?
4. Will people think we are a-holes if we leave?
Good questions. Answers in hindsight (knowing how this played out once we did indeed leave the Western Conference) IMHO:
1. Not really.
2. Not really. (We did play the occasional conference opponent – see Minnesota in 1909 and 1910).
3. Kind of. Michigan did start to schedule some cool eastern schools (we consistently played Penn, Cornell and Syracuse) but overall filling the schedule with quality opponents was a struggle, as was consistently beating the eastern schools.
4. Kind of.
Note the letter above also makes reference to a student petition specifically asking for Michigan to leave the conference (that would be cool to see as well).
In this old post I broke down what happened, and here’s a summary of the provisions/demands put down by the conference a few months later, and a bit on how that affected Michigan:
..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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Michigan did eventually decide to leave the conference (probably not the best idea as it turned out) and returned in 1917.
P.S. I’m sensitive to anything up on eBay that could have been obtained via dubious means (i.e., swiped from campus archives at the Bentley or wherever), but this appears to be legit, as there are a few items on eBay recently that seems to be owned by Mr. Stevenson (2nd signature down on the right).
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