College football recruiting non-academic players. When did this start?

Inspired by this thread about college sports and money.

When did college football/basketball become less a college extracurricular activity, and more about building big-time programs? I realize it was probably the first day they saw the ticket receipts and happy generous alumni, but that’s not what I’m asking.

When did colleges start basically recruiting ringers to play sports? Folks who would never normally get into these colleges, but were brought in solely based on athletic talent, where academic talent was all but ignored?

For instance, anyone hearing Vince Young talk would realize he would never get accepted as a student into UT-Austin. Or, not to pick on anyone in particular, look at the grad rates among football/basketball factories. I believe Cincinnati hoops had close to 0% grad rate over a multi-year period.

I’d imagine it went something like this (over many decades):
[li] Who wants to play football after classes, tryouts on Saturday?[/li][li] Lots of people buy tickets to the games, and alumni are happy with wins. Hmm, what can be done to continue winning?[/li][li] Hey, this high school player is pretty good. If he has the ability to go to this college, he should choose here. Offer them scholarships to convince them. [/li][li] Hey, this high school player is very good. He should choose here. We’ll talk to the dean about adjusting admission standards for this person.[/li][/ul]

So, how did #3 get to #4? Not really why ($$$), but how did they come up with “invite out-of-state person with low academic qualifications to (more or less) solely play sports for the U”

I’m sure there’s some motivation to giving disadvantaged people a chance at college, etc. While I’m sure that’s a factor, it’s naive to think it’s all altruistic.

Serious answer: almost from Day One.

Remember Notre Dame’s “the Gipper”? George Gipp went from college to college, playing wherever he could get a good deal.

A LOT of college players used to switch schools and/or play in pro leagues to make money, using different phony names wherever they went.

Hall of Famer Johnny McNally played professionally as “Johnny Blood” to make money while retaining his college eligibility.

College sports have been mighty corrupt for a VERY long time. But at least they’re not so deadly any more! (The NCAA was founded at Teddy Roosevelt’s request because there were so many college football fatalities).

College athletes graduate at a higher rate than the student body in general. Your premise is faulty.

Additionally, what is the problem with colleges recruiting the best athletes? Do you feel the same way about musicians?

But do college football and basketball players at nationally competitive universities?

Yes, when you count the swimmers and fencers and whatnot, the graduation rates are probably higher, but the thread seems to be about the “revenue” sports.

Well, the question is specifically about football, and there are numerous documented incidents of football programs being rife with academic and moral failures.

Dexter Manley graduated college and couldn’t READ.

The “Seminole Discount” was a tradition for a number of years.

Googling “University Miami football crime” generates a whole lot of hits.

Here are the most recent numbers.
The thing about football and basketball is, it’s easy to separate these two sports from the rest because those who are recruited to play are generally of an academic ability class below that of those who are traditionally accepted to the school.

A recruited rower or a fencer or rider is likely to come from an economic background more conducive to learning and meeting academic requirements than a football or basketball player, but very few people donate millions of dollars to the fencing program. Thus more strings have to be pulled to get the “revenue” players into schools; there is a significant element of exploitation of these players going on from the administrative side, the secondary-school side, and the family/assorted hangers-on of the players themselves- although that does not take responsibility away from the individual.

Some of this is racial and some of it is economic. The less-economically-advantaged generally don’t have 2000 meters of rowable water near them, or access to the equipment they need. Besides, rowing isn’t a revenue sport. So prep-school kids are generally recruited, who usually have the grades and scores to get in. A football player has neither the grades nor the scores, but he certainly has the potential to sell tickets, and thus allowances are made for him.

It’s been going on since the first guy bought a ticket to an intercollegiate event.

Bear in mind that college football and college basketball were immensely popular spectator sports long BEFORE there were professional leagues. That makes a huge difference.

You don’t have the same kind of scandals in college baseball or college hockey, for instance. That’s because a not-so-bright kid with a 99 mile an hour fastball never HAD to get into college. As long as he got to wow a scout with his velocity, he could play professionally without going to college. Similarly, a Canadian kid who’s a great skater and shooter, but who doesn’t read very well, doesn’t have to go to college to make it to the NHL. He can play in the minor leagues and work his way up to the NHL.

But in football (and, until recently, basketball), as a practical matter, you HAVE to get into a good college program to have a chance of making it to the pro level. Even if you’re not college material, you almost HAVE to get into a decent college.
And coaches who need talented players are generally quite willin gto overlook players’ academic deficiencies.

Mind you, it’s NOT just because the coaches are heartless bastards who care only about winning. Sure, guys like Jerry Tarkanian and Barry Switzer were cheaters, but I suspect they really loved and cared about the kids they recruited. I think that guys like Switzer and Tarkanian looked at the lives many of their poor, African-American recruits were living and thought, “You know, sports are this kid’s one and only ticket to a better life. I KNOW he doesn’t have the brains to go to college, but if I DON’T take him, he’s liable to be dead or in jail in a few years. If I put him on my team… well, at least I get him out of a bad neighborhood, I get him some remedial reading, I give him a little discipline and a little polish, and maybe I give him a chance to make a good living as a pro some day. That HAS to be better than what awaits him if I don’t take him.”

Indeed, that’s why I brought up football and basketball.

When I think of lacrosse and rowing, I think “students who got accepted into the college (grades, SAT scores, etc) and then play sports”.

When I think of basketball or football, I think of “students who (probably) have lower grades or SAT scores than the average student at this college”. They got in because of the sport they are playing, and wouldn’t have done been in college under normal admission standards.

For instance, Notre Dame and Georgetown are rather difficult to get into, but football and basketball players don’t have the same stringent academic qualifications. Therefore, to be blunt, they are non-students who are brought in to play sports.

I know there are exceptions, players who are smart enough or institutions who insist big-time athletes get accepted into college (like Northwestern or Stanford, I’d imagine).

I’m not trying to play the race/environment card, either. I’m not about to reform college football or basketball.

My University just successfully recruited a kid who was kicked out of high school for academic fraud. He is only coming here (with great fanfare) because he is a master flautist and the music department badly wants him. Ok, he’s a basketball player.

University athletes have significantly lower SATs than the general student body and their performance in school is worse than those scores would predict. See The Game Of Life for details. Furthermore you have to factor in that schools set up extensive athletes-only tutoring programs and athletic department staff puts hard pressure on profs to pass wash out students and schools set up special dummy classes that cater to athletes in order to keep their grades up.

As for when this all started, it was long ago. The University of Chicago was one of the founding members of the Big Ten. They won several football titles and even one national championship. The school dropped out of big time sports in 1939 citing the corrupting influence of sports on the school’s it’s academic integrity as the reason. Somehow the University has not only survived, but thrived in the 70 years since. They have produced 81 Nobel laureates, but no Heisman winners.


Jay Berwanger, U of Chicago, won the first Heisman trophy in 1935.

Ever see Horse Feathers? This sort of thing has been around a long, long time.

[nitpick]Dexter Manley attended Oklahoma State for four years but did not graduate. [/nitpick]

Some good stuff here:

Football displaced crew as the premier college sport in the late Nineteenth Century, and recruiting abuses followed:

In cases where paid ringers were a little too obvious, they could be enrolled as “nominal students”:

It’s really weird to see my alma mater listed as a college guilty of recruiting abuses. Of course, in the almost 100 years between Yost’s enrollment and mine, a mulititude of other changes occurred in the world.

(Lafayette grad, Class of 1997, and not that it’s relevant to this thread, but my kind (females) weren’t admitted until the 1970s).