The document, “Replies to a Questionnaire on College Athletic Administration” tabulated in 1912 by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or the N.C.A.A., offers insight into the state of collegiate athletics in the early twentieth century. By 1912, the NCAA was in its infancy stage, as it had recently been renamed to the NCAA from the IAAUS, or the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, in 1910. The questionnaire is divided up into four parts, focusing on issues of student-athlete “eligibility, training, physical condition, and finances.” NCAA affiliated schools are divvied up into eight regional districts, District 1 including the most northeastern colleges in states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut, while District 8 includes states of western United States, California among others. This is a similar format to regional athletic conferences seen in today’s NCAA. Secretary of the NCAA Frank Nicolson utilizes tables to present the colleges’ feedback very straightforwardly, without bias, allowing for inferences to be made that have relevance to the path collegiate athletics and the NCAA take post-1912.
The “Eligibility” section makes apparent the lack of universal standards for all schools. In District 1, Harvard’s high eligibility standards, including its strict “probation disqualification,” where students need only be on probation to forfeit their eligibility, is contrasted to the Connecticut Agricultural College, or modern day University of Connecticut, where there are “no (academic) requirements” necessary for participation. (1) Generally, most colleges hold that students must hold a seventy percent, the current “C” average consistent with contemporary academic qualifications the NCAA adopts. Not surprisingly, District 4, including states Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina, that make up the modern-day South-Eastern Conference, or SEC, have the lowest academic standards, including the state schools of University of Mississippi which asserts that students must hold a “passing grade in 60% of (their) work.” (3)
The article delves into the dynamic of prestige in student-athletes representing one’s college, and the differing degrees to which each college places upon it value. In District 1, we can infer that colleges that do not permit one-year transfer students to participate on their athletic teams, including Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, and Yale among others, have vested interest in keeping their school’s academic and social reputation intact, less so than their athletic reputation. (5) Southern, liberal-arts colleges seem to have less concern for enforcing the “one-year rule,” whereas Ivy League schools and large state-schools tend to be associated with keeping their student bodies loyal to the school, possibly to dissuade transferring.
A similar eligibility topic reinforces this notion. The questionnaire illustrates how, what now are considered Ivy-League colleges had elected to “debar” freshmen from athletic participation. (8) This can be linked to a current facet of men’s collegiate rowing, a non-NCAA affiliated sport, predominantly Ivy-League affiliated, where freshmen are forbidden to participate with upperclassmen. Since this questionnaire, NCAA affiliated sports grant all freshmen full participation, unless they elect to “redshirt” or voluntarily delay their participation and thus extend their eligibility. What now constitute the NCAA-affiliated SEC schools, i.e. Universities of Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina, who today generate large revenues from their television contracts and ticket sales, not surprisingly allowed freshmen to fully participate.
In regards to graduate student athletic participation, the NCAA cites three, District 1 colleges that permit graduate students to compete on their athletic teams. (11) Though the questionnaire omits the specified names of those colleges, I would hazard a guess that of the three District 1 schools that debar freshmen from full participation, including Dartmouth, Yale, and Harvard, those three would permit graduate student participation. Especially in men’s collegiate rowing today, graduate student participation is especially common, particularly from foreigners. The responses from the questionnaire also highlight the values each school places on particular sports over others. Of the “forty-two colleges out of 155 (about 27 per cent) that enforce the freshmen rule,” excluding the “11 that enforce the rule for half year only, one for 9 weeks, the one for one month, and the two in the case of conditioned freshmen,” seven of the remaining twenty-seven freshmen prohibiting schools are contemporary rowing schools, that is 7 of 155 schools. Of the six total schools cited for offering “training tables,” or structured meal plans, for rowing teams, all lie in Districts 1 through 3, five of the six in Districts 1 and 2. (12) In other words, the statistics allow us to infer that rowing is relevant only in a small number of schools in the New England region, and is supported by Ivy League institutions, all consistent with the status of rowing in contemporary collegiate athletics.
What is interesting, however, is the importance placed upon college football and collegiate athletics in 1912, especially in the modern day Ivy League and NESCAC institutions. Districts 1 and 2 offer roughly half of their total training tables to their football teams. Both offer thirty-one and thirty training tables respectively, compared to roughly ten in each other district. (12) Of those other districts, the majority of the training tables go toward their football teams, highlighting the popularity of football in 1912, a trend that resonates today. Harvard is cited to have accumulated “$10,000-$20,000” in revenue, with Williams finishing in second with a reported $10,000, which is surprising considering the status of Ivy League athletics today in comparison to Division I college football.