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Black History Month: Texas Western's 1966 Title Changed the Course of College Sports

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Texas Western sported an all-African-American starting lineup during the 1965-66 season. They received systemic racist vitriol. They were railroaded at every turn. And they still won the national championship, doing so by beating all-white Kentucky. 

That victory was a milestone, but the team wasn't celebrated at the time. Texas Western—now known as the University of Texas at El Paso—didn't receive an invite to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, for instance, as was customary for NCAA winners at that time.

But because of them, the college sports landscape started to shift. Texas Western's winning run spurred dozens of teams, across sports—even those in the segregated South—to begin recruiting African-American players, forever changing the landscape of collegiate athletics.

From Sports Illustrated's Curry Kilpatrick in 1991

Five years after College Park, a 7'1" black player named Tom Payne suited up for Rupp and Kentucky. Seven years after College Park, Alabama-George Wallace, governor—started five black players. In the 1980s, 82 of the 100 starters in the NCAA championship game were black. Indeed, from 1982 through '85, only one first-stringer on a national champion was white, Matt Doherty of North Carolina. Twenty-five years after College Park, 19 of the 20 starters on the four top-seeded teams in the 1991 tournament—UNLV, Ohio State, Arkansas and North Carolina—are black. The lone white player is Pete Chilcutt of North Carolina.

The point of these numbers, the best moral of all, is that after Texas Western rose to the cusp of a revolution, the denouement was so swift and total that it was hardly noticed.

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From the SI Vault:

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," by Curry Kilpatrick (April 1, 1991)

"A Night To Remember," by Gene Menez (Jan. 23, 2006)

"Go-Go With Bobby Joe," by Frank Deford (Mar. 28, 1966)

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