Reform or abolition.
That was the choice facing football playing schools in 1905. The ultimatum came from President Theodore Roosevelt in response to the high level of violence in the game at the time. In that season alone, 18 student-athletes died and another 149 were seriously injured. As much as the public enjoyed the game -- the 1905 contest between Harvard and Yale Universities drew 45,000 -- fans clearly had seen enough brutality.
Perhaps time has dulled the memory of the names of the 39 institutions that banded together and accepted the challenge to reform football and ultimately change the course of intercollegiate athletics in the United States. However, as the NCAA, now more than 1,200 members strong, prepares to celebrate its Centennial, it is worth reflecting on the original group that composed the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS), which became known as the NCAA in 1910.
A roll call of those members ranges from now-Division I members University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Syracuse University; and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, to Division III schools Oberlin College, Amherst College and Dickinson College. Most have maintained continuous membership within the Association.
Interestingly, as profound a mark as they made on the history of sport, not many, if any, of the founding schools celebrate that particular part of their heritage. Four of the original schools -- Dickinson, Swarthmore College, Franklin & Marshall College, and Haverford College -- currently compete in the Centennial Conference. However, conference Commissioner Steve Ulrich is not aware of any recognition those schools give to being among the founding 39. In fact, Ulrich said it did not come to the league's attention that founding members were among its ranks until earlier this year.
That doesn't mean they aren't proud of the fact, though.
"I think our members are very proud of it," said Dennis Collins, executive director of the North Coast Athletic Conference. Six of that league's members -- Allegheny College, Denison University, Oberlin, Wittenberg College, College of Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan University -- are among the founding schools. In fact, Ohio Wesleyan was affiliated with the Ohio Athletic Conference, which predates the formation of the IAAUS.
"The NCAA has gone on to be a great success and I think everybody who was a part of the success, naturally, is proud of it, like a parent being proud of a child," said Collins.
Roger Ingles, director of athletics at Ohio Wesleyan, said the school's standing as a founding member is common knowledge in his athletics department, which he said has generated not only a sense of pride, but also of amazement in how the Association has expanded and thrived over the years.
Three former Ohio Wesleyan presidents have held high-ranking positions in NCAA governance, including Herbert Welch, who served as one of five members of the 1905-06 IAAUS Executive Committee.
"I think our pride in being a founding member is reflected in the way the university embraces athletics. That background and history obviously has played a part in what we feel is the role of athletics at a small liberal arts college," said Ingles. He also noted that the school's history in the NCAA has pushed institutional personnel to be more active in NCAA governance.
Many of the founding schools have grown into large institutions with household names that compete at the highest levels of Division I. But just as many or more have remained small, regional colleges thriving at the Division III level, a fact that Collins said remains relatively unknown.
Ingles agrees with that assessment. "I think the majority of people now view the NCAA as this huge organization that was formed by all the large schools. In reality, it wasn't," he said.
Twenty of the 39 institutions currently are Division III members. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, as football was growing in popularity, many institutions were on fairly even footing competitively.
According to Richard Gordin, retired director of athletics and former longtime coach at Ohio Wesleyan, traveling wasn't easy in those days, so teams played schools located nearby. For Ohio Wesleyan, a football powerhouse program from the 1890s into the 1930s, that meant taking on -- and frequently beating -- the likes of Ohio State University and the University of Michigan. In fact, the Battling Bishops were the first to play the Buckeyes and Wolverines in their storied stadiums.
"Schools like Ohio State, Miami of Ohio and Ohio have become much larger, but it was all the same in those days," said Gordin, who believes a combination of financial and/or philosophical reasons explain why some of the original schools have grown so large and others have remained smaller and more regional in focus.
The NCAC's Collins said that another contributing factor was that as large land-grant institutions began to grow, resources were available to direct more money toward their athletics programs. In addition, as the Association moved to allow members to offer scholarships to student-athletes, smaller schools were unable to keep pace.
For some, though, it was simply a matter of choice. Ohio Wesleyan's Ingles points to his own institution as an example of a school that made a deliberate decision to remain small.
"We like that small-town, small-college atmosphere and what it brings from an academic and athletics standpoint," he said.
Even as the Association has changed and individual institutions have evolved over the past 100 years, Ulrich believes that beyond President Roosevelt's edict, many of the founding schools shared a similar motivation of seeking a sense of order in college athletics that remains in place today.
"I think that what we still, in some respects, look to the NCAA to do, is to establish that sense of order," he said. "We've been able to come together in smaller units we call conferences, but to have a national association that can bring us all together and take care of our rules, championships and provide the type of educational services the Association has provided is extremely valuable to everybody. It has served its purpose well over the last 100 years."
University of Colorado, Boulder
Franklin & Marshall College
George Washington University
Grove City College
Miami University (Ohio)
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
University of Missouri, Columbia
University of Nebraska, Lincoln
New York University
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Ohio Wesleyan University
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of Rochester
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick
Seton Hall University
Union College (New York)
U.S. Military Academy
Washington and Jefferson College
Wesleyan University (Connecticut)
Westminster College (Pennsylvania)
College of Wooster