New York Times – December 24, 1909
Michigan is set to release their self-imposed sanctions in about 30 minutes. File this under FWIW, but despite what some maintain it’s not the first time Michigan has been mixed up with serious off-the-field issues. I’ve covered a couple of these incidents on these pages and beyond, but thought it’d be a good time to review.
These events happened years back and of course times were different. There was no governing structure like the NCAA in place when this stuff went down, and much of the enforcement was placed on the leagues and on the schools themselves.
Joy Miller Scandal (1909)
[Ed. This originally appeared in Brian Cook’s Hail to the Victors 1909]
In early December 1909 the Michigan Daily reported concerns over whether newly elected team captain James ‘Joy’ Miller was properly registered as a U-M and if he actually attended enough classes during the fall 1909 to be eligible for the football team. Miller responded to the charges claiming he had switched majors and was confused over the registration process. He actually attempted to enroll back in school on December 8, filling out a card and paying his $45 dues.
While an official decision had yet to come down on the incident, Chairman of the Board in Control of Outdoor Athletics Geo. W. Patterson had heard enough and started firing off letters of apology to Michigan’s 1909 opponents. The U-M Bentley Library holds a copy of the apology sent to Minnesota in its archives. The one page missive, dated December 22, 1909, explained the situation:
The facts of the case are that Mr. Miller returned to college late this fall, registered in the Engineering Department but neglected to enroll in his classes, although he did attend some of them.
The letter closed by offering the University’s “sincere regret for this unfortunate error”, but notably, no where did Patterson suggest the result of the game should be reversed or reconsidered.
On Christmas Eve 1909 the New York Times broke the news to the world with a headline that howled “FOOTBALL SCANDAL IN MICHIGAN TEAM”. In the article Patterson addressed the question of potential penalties declaring, “As the matter stands any of the teams Michigan defeated during the year now has the right of protest, and may ask that the game be declared ‘no game’ or its result reversed. We are expecting such action.” He added, “The whole university is sick about the business.”
In early January Miller’s colleagues in the School of Engineering recommended that he be kick out of school. After ignoring several requests to return to campus to face the charges, Miller was officially expelled on January 14, 1910.
Despite Patterson’s suggestion that Michigan’s opponents could claim the results of the season invalid or even reversed, no such measures were taken. Given that the apology letters (at least the Minnesota note) were dated prior to when the major newspapers ran the full story, it’s possible that Michigan’s quick and obsequious admission of the embarrassing issue was enough to pacify its football foes. Author John Kryk in his wonderful book Natural Enemies, agrees writing, “Michigan officials were able to save face, to a large degree, by the swift, open and decisive manner in which they tackled these scandals.”
Cloud over Kipke (1937)
Thirty years after the Joy Miller mess, Michigan was dealing with far more serious allegations. Despite a coaching stint that featured four straight conference titles and a pair of national championships (‘32-‘33), head coach Harry Kipke was in trouble. Yes, his teams had major struggles on the field in the mid-1930s but there were darker clouds afoot and U-M decided to let him go. The Board in Control of Athletics issued to Kipke the following five reasons for his dismissal, and they were published in the December 12, 1937 Chicago Tribune:
Here’s a brief look at a few of the spiciest of the charges:
- Subsidizing players. Yes, it appears as though Michigan promised the classic nice “jobs” to incoming freshman. According to a university report players were basically guaranteed a wage at certain jobs whether they showed up or not. The local employer was “instructed to bill another Ann Arbor firm for the time the freshman collected for not working” [Chicago Tribune, 11/11/37]. The whole thing unraveled when a bogus “employer” wasn’t reimbursed in a timely manner and complained.
- Those “Private Associates”. This was aimed squarely at Kipke’s relationship with Mr. Harry Bennett, henchman/muscle/head of security at Ford. (Henry Ford sent his problems to Bennett and they disappeared – Or were buried up north.) The university brass found Bennett to be a distasteful character and made that clear here.
- Summer Practice. Not sure if Kipke employed quality control coaches, but it was alleged that most of the team held cushy summer jobs at Ford and whilst there, even worked on their football skills, from the Tribune 12/12/1937:
Kipke allowed fifteen Michigan football players to practice three and four times a week throughout the last summer while employed at the Ford Motor company. The players were said to have worked in the service department under Harry Bennett, Ford personnel director. On practice afternoons, it was reported, they were driven in a truck from their posts about the plant to a remote place on Ford property along the Detroit river shore for practice.
Shortly after the dismissal Michigan hired legendary coach and athletic director Fritz Crisler.