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Theodore Roosevelt's Role in Founding the NCAA

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  • Keith Simon
    From: The NCAA s First Century - In the Arena by Joseph N. Crowley [In the Arena Book Cover]
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 14 11:31 AM

      From:  "The NCAA's First Century - In the Arena" by Joseph N. Crowley

      In the Arena Book Cover

      October 1905 -

      Theodore Roosevelt's challenge to American universities, "REFORM COLLEGE FOOTBALL or ABOLISH IT"

      "Many reforms were offered, and some implemented, to try to make the union work. Reformers made some progress in curbing recruiting and subsidization abuses. Modest but important advances were made in standardizing the rules of football. The chaos and financial irregularities so often a part of student control of athletics abated considerably as faculty committees assumed stronger oversight. Institutional presidents were more involved in seeking solutions to the dilemmas of college sport. But, despite improvements made to protect players through rules changes and the prohibition of certain behaviors, the specter of violence still haunted the game as the 20th century arrived. Mass play was still popular. Injuries were still common. Death was becoming a factor.

      The 18 fatalities and 149 serious injuries of the 1905 season brought critics out in force. C

      ondemnations from the press were plentiful. Outrage grew among the American people. Something had to give.

      In October 1905, Theodore Roosevelt invited representatives from Harvard, Yale and Princeton (known then as "the Big Three") to the White House. A month earlier, he had been the key person in ending the Russo-Japanese War, winning the Nobel Peace Prize for this accomplishment.

      Now, he faced the challenge of bringing some peace to football. He was a fan, but he knew the

      need for change. Roosevelt gave his visitors a hard charge:  Reform the game (or, he implied, it could be abolished!).   The Big Three accepted the challenge, but the American Football Rules Committee, with Camp in command, was not so sure.  On November 25, during a game between New York University and Union College, a football player was killed in an effort to stop a mass play. NYU's chancellor, Henry MacCracken, sent a telegram that evening to Harvard's Eliot, urging him to call a meeting of college presidents to address the football problem. On November 26, (Harvard's President) Eliot declined.  Undaunted, MacCracken moved ahead, gathering the ext day with NYU faculty and students to call for either the abolition of football or major rules changes because of the game's "homicidal" nature. Having failed with Eliot, he invited representatives of institutions NYU had played recently to attend a conference and, in effect, make the choice Roosevelt had presented. Thirteen colleges and universities sent delegates. They voted to get back together with a larger group later that month.

      This meeting was held December 28, with 62 institutions represented by faculty members. Others expressed interest but did not attend. Some simply declined, including the Big Three. President Wilson of Princeton declared his support for major reforms (and listed several) but also noted a reluctance to work with a large number of institutions to achieve them. Yale indicated that since alumni rather than faculty controlled athletics in New Haven, it would be inappropriate to send a representative. Eliot, then in the 36th year of his Harvard presidency, wrote to say he favored "separate action by individual colleges" and abandonment of football for one year to develop these actions. His institution, he said, would work on its own solutions.

        Nevertheless, the National Football Conference of Universities and Colleges met, elected its own rules committee (with individuals from Dartmouth, Haverford, Minnesota, Nebraska,  Oberlin, Vanderbilt and Army) and instructed it to seek amalgamation with Camp's committee.

      The latter group (Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Pennsylvania, Navy and Chicago), as noted, was concerned about making major rules changes. But Roosevelt once more entered the picture, promoting the formation of a joint committee, which his influence helped bring about. The conference also appointed an executive committee to draft a constitution and bylaws for a new entity and later changed its name, in part to assure that this body would deal with more than one sport.

      The drafts were approved in March 1906, and the first Convention of the organization was held at the Murray Hill Hotel in New York City in December of that year. The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States was the new name, one that would be changed again four years later.  The National Collegiate Athletic Association was born."


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