"In the old days of recruiting, you could gamble on a poor student, as long as he had ability and size. Now, you got to find yourself a youngster with a lot of bookshelves in his home and hope he knows what a forward pass is."—Coach Abe Martin, Texas Christian University
This is an article from the Sept. 18, 1961 issue
"It used to be that everybody said, 'What kind of athlete is he?' Now the first thing we say is 'Let's see his transcript.' "—Coach Jim Owens, University of Washington
"If he's smart enough to get in here, he's smart enough to play football."—Coach Johnny McKay, University of Southern California
The little man above, blithely leap-frogging over a huge, charging lineman, symbolizes the kind of player who will help bring about in 1961 what Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes claims will be the greatest changes seen in college football in years. Like Abe Martin's recruit, he probably does have some books at home; on the field he is guileful, tenacious and, above all, fast. He represents a fundamental transformation in the game that will keep coaches and college professors happy, the slower of the big "75s" on the bench and large crowds enthralled.
The little man, of course, is small only by comparison with the one or two giants who still roam the lines these days of almost every team in the country. He weighs from 185 to around 210 pounds, goes to school in the state he grew up in, is a better than average student and, what pleases his coach the most, is agile enough to make a monkey out of a man a quarter again his size.
These are not, however, the reasons why he is in a college lineup. He got there because of the population boom and some bright and fairly new twists in football thinking.
The big universities, as everybody knows in this post-sputnik era, are being deluged by applicants. Since they cannot admit all the students who want to enter, they have become choosy and are taking only the best, which simultaneously enables them to raise their academic sights. For the James Thurber type of male animal, whose only credentials for admittance are 17-inch biceps and shoulders that have to be edged sideways through the gym doors, this latest development in American education has proved disastrous: he isn't getting in. "In my 22 years in football," says Wally Butts, who retired at the end of last season as coach at Georgia, "the most dramatic change in college football has been the rise in academic standards. This has been increasingly evident during the last four years."
Coaches in every other section of the country report the same story. At Washington State, for instance, six years ago a state high school diploma was all that was required for admittance. Today an instate applicant needs a 2-point average (C), an out-of-stater 2.5 (C+). At Washington the standards are higher: 2.5 and 3. In the Big Eight, athletes, to qualify for scholarships, must be in the upper two-thirds of their high school class. The University of Southern California now requires college board entrance examinations, Texas Christian University will begin using them next year, and six of the eight Southwest schools will have their own entrance tests before the end of 1962. And in the Big Ten, the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences and in most eastern schools, including Syracuse and Penn State, standards have similarly been raised.
The pressure to find qualified boys to play football has inspired an entirely new approach to recruiting. Probably nobody knows or understands this better than Bear Bryant of Alabama, one of the master recruiters of all time.
"This is the way we operate," says Bryant. "One, we become interested in a high school boy. Two, we go to the principal's office at his high school and check his grades. Three, we talk to his family and his coach to determine what kind of boy he really is. Fourth and finally, we determine his football ability."
Coach Bill Barnes of UCLA says that his scouts are looking only at players who are in the upper 10% to 12% of their graduating high school classes. At California, where Coach Marv Levy has had excellent success this last year in attracting some of his region's top prospects, his best-selling argument has been the advantages of a California education. Coach Dan Devine of Missouri a few weeks ago pulled two sheets of paper out of a desk drawer. Typewritten on them were the high school academic rankings of 23 boys who had been awarded football scholarships in 1961. They ranked as follows: 62 in a class of 142 students, 18 in 134, 124 in 400, 106 in 110, 49 in 122, 8 in 101, 23 in 93, 2 in 117, 203 in 608, 3 in 317, 105 in 174, 10 in 174, 1 in 154, 54 in 608, 61 in 430, 15 in 141, 10 in 134, 4 in 115, 1 in 434, 57 in 113, 53 in 116, 86 in 280 and 10 in 41.
Getting them early
A good prospect's studies, in fact, have become so important to many coaches that they are visiting the high-schoolers in their junior year and advising them to get to work. With almost a touch of awe in his voice, Coach Murray Warmath of the University of Minnesota concluded recently: "It seems there's a strong tendency to want everyone on campus to be a student."
There has, in short, been a social revolution around campuses, or at least around the stadium part of them. As Joe Kuharich of Notre Dame reports: "Twenty-five years ago all you had to do was throw a football, and you'd be a big man on campus. Today, the student body is more analytical. They look at the football player from all angles. He's got to be a solid citizen in every area."
Back in the days when the most solid thing about more than one star player was his head, these stiffer requirements would have worked a real hardship on coaches. Today, most of them don't mind because they are playing an exciting and wide-open game in which there is no room for the ponderous brute, even if he could be eased in past a stern admissions board. A premium instead is being placed on intelligence and speed. In fact, since the trend toward open, brainy football began a few years back, a very good argument can be made that coaches were raising their standards before admissions officers were.
The development of the present game followed an era of unimaginative play which, in turn, had followed the death of two-platoon football. Seeking more deception in their attacks, coaches split their ends and flanker backs wide from the rest of the team, developed pass-run option plays and generally dressed their team in so many different formations that only a TV expert would say exactly what they were doing. In 1959 the coaches adopted the "wild card," or all-but-unlimited substitution, rule, and they liberalized it further this year. In effect, this means that the colleges are almost back to two-platoon football. The coaches can get specialists into the game almost any time they want, and they can spring all the surprises their fertile minds can dream up, because they will have the men who can carry them out.
To play the speedier and more diversified game, all of the coaches would prefer to have big men in the lineup who can run the hundred in less than 10 flat and diagnose a play as fast as radar can compute the azimuth on an enemy missile. The trouble is, there aren't many of those to go around. The Midwest probably gets the most because of the density of its populations and the size of its universities, which graduate thousands of dedicated followers who tip the coaches off every time they spot a mountain of a youth sprinting home with half the Harvard five-foot shelf under his arm. Few alumni, incidentally, do any direct recruiting any more. The business has become so complicated that some coaches now feel much safer feeding data into an IBM machine and trusting the statistics of probability to provide the right, grade-A recruit. Alumni have caused so much trouble with under-the-table violations that coaches like Texas' Darrell Royal have benched them permanently. "We have a hard enough time keeping the rules straight ourselves," he says. "We don't have time to teach them to anybody else."
Speed over size
Since 1900, the average weight of college players has risen 30 pounds, to more than 200. Obviously, there are many huge players available. But unless they are fast and smart, they are being passed over in favor of smaller men. "We're looking for speed at all positions," says Len Casanova, coach at Oregon. "We'll sacrifice 10 to 15 pounds for that. Not straight-ahead speed, but maneuverability and agility."
The testimony to the value of fast men in college football today, regardless of size, is almost endless and fast becoming trite, but Darrell Royal can get almost emotional on the subject.
"You know," he said not long ago, "the oldtimers can't understand why boys can't go 60 minutes these days. They'll sit back and tell you they used to play 60 minutes every week. But if you study the movies of football of even 10 or 15 years ago, you'll find that what they actually did was play about 30 minutes and stand around on the field the other 30 minutes. Football has progressed so much on all levels—from junior high school to professional—that it's a lot faster game than it used to be. Today, with the wide variety of defenses they throw at you, it requires boys who can think for themselves and adjust to meet various situations.
"It's impossible to anticipate all of the situations the boys are likely to encounter. And you can get whipped with confusion just as fast as with physical strength. The boys must understand your theory and what you're trying to do so they can adjust. That's why experience is so important.
"People aren't generally aware of it, but football players have improved as much in recent years as trackmen have—only you don't have as clear a yardstick to measure football players by. There's no telling where it will stop."
It certainly won't stop at Ohio State, where Woody Hayes, the father, teacher, prophet and I-told-you-so of rock-ribbed conservative tactics, is cooking up so many offensive shenanigans that he makes the upcoming season sound positively giddy. "Freer substitution," he says, "is the reason. You'll see us pass from the pocket for the first time in eight years. You'll see more passing generally because the quarterbacks will be better trained. You can take the time now with offense that you formerly had to devote to defense."
Nor will it stop at Syracuse, where Coach Ben Schwartzwalder is brewing what he describes as "a sensible mixture of cutie-pie stuff to throw the defense's keys off and give us the power we want. This is the year for deployment to bloom."
Syracuse, at any rate, will certainly bloom this year. So will Ohio State, and Kansas, Iowa, Baylor, Texas, Penn State, Mississippi and Alabama, all fine teams which, not necessarily in the order named, will be contending for national honors by late fall.
The game itself will continue to thrive on the imagination of its coaches. Again this year they will develop a wealth of offenses, from the sprightly I formation of Tom Nugent at Maryland to Jim Owens' "red eye" at Washington, the same formation that shocked Minnesota into early submission last January 2 in the Rose Bowl. Miami's Andy Gustafson has added the lonely end to his extensive wing-T repertoire; Michigan State's Duffy Daugherty a bi-line series in which every play can go right or left from a balanced or unbalanced line; and Tommy Prothro at Oregon State a wing T to go with his single wing.
To stop the wide-open offenses, one of the favorite defenses this fall will be the wide-tackle six, a spreading line and backfield arrangement which provides greater protection at the flanks and depends upon an alert secondary to guard against the sudden pass from the back who starts wide, stops suddenly and throws the ball. But there is danger here, too. If the closeup linebackers either drift or red-dog, the line becomes vulnerable to dive plays and inside traps.
Clemson's Frank Howard, superb at building lines, favors an eight-man front with his linebackers in tight behind the six-man line, two halfbacks set wide and the safety man deep. "It keeps you from getting killed by flankers and men in motion," Howard says. "But you've got weak spots for the quick pass in the flat and down the center. You don't cover any one thing as well, but you cover anything better."
For all the bright promise of the 1961 season, there is, unfortunately, a dark cloud sitting just over the horizon which could dampen spirits for years to come. Until last week, when Senator McClellan subpoenaed a raft of shady characters to testify in Washington, football gambling was a subject that college administrators avoided like the plague. It was no secret, however, that many of them were concerned that the point fixing and worse that disgraced so many people in college basketball last spring may have spread to football. During 1960 two known attempts were made to reach college players, at the University of Florida and the University of Oregon, just before the latter's game in Ann Arbor. In both cases a player told the authorities, and the gamblers were arrested. What is worrisome, however, is that both bribers showed up later in the basketball fixes—Aaron Wagman, the briber at Florida, as a central figure and David Budin, the Oregon briber, as a minor figure. Both were part of a national syndicate. Was the syndicate as deeply involved in football as it was in basketball?
For the time being, the answer seems to be no. New York District Attorney Frank Hogan, whose office broke the basketball story, has tracked down numerous sinister rumors, some naming star players, but so far he has found nothing to substantiate any of them. Pete Rozelle, commissioner of the National Football League, has done his own checking, determined that no involved player would ever perform with the pros. He has found nothing either.
Some sinners remain
There are still serious abuses in college football recruiting and, one must assume, these are also the first steps toward corruption. One southern coach, it is reported, is a strong believer in his own rules. A good football player, he argues, should get more for playing than an average one. He used to follow the philosophy openly, but lately he has become cautious. So have others who doubtless have been frightened into some semblance of lawfulness by the stiff penalties imposed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association on such recent offenders as Oklahoma, Auburn, Indiana and Kansas.
On the whole, however, the moral and ethical quality of U.S. recruiting in 1961 is a cut above the level of previous years. And the man responsible is that bookish fellow who runs the hundred as if pursued by demons and who may even have got into college without an athletic scholarship. Duffy Daugherty has said, "You'll find today that the average boy isn't getting into college. He must be above average, and so it is with a football player." It will be a great comfort to find that the above-average—and presumably above-bribery—football player got into college before the gamblers.