Scope and Contents
These records reflect the administrative activities of the Rice Athletics Department and the activities of varsity athletics. Administrative records include materials such as historical, eligibility, scholarship, and participation reports, Southwest Conference meeting minutes, Student Athletic Committee records, media guides, and NCAA scorebooks. Records arranged by sport include rosters, injury reports, statistics, notes, scores, and Letterman Awards. Graphic materials arranged by format and then by sport include photographs, negatives, slides, video, film, and DVDs. Plaques are arranged by sport. Trophies remain the property of the Athletic Department.
Conditions Governing Access
Stored offsite at the Library Service Center and require 24-hour notice for retrieval. Please contact the Woodson Research Center at 713-348-2586 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Please contact the Woodson Research Center at 713-348-2586 or email@example.com for more information.
This material is open for research.
Restrictions on Use
Permission to publish from the Rice University athletic records, UA 155 must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.
Biographical / Historical
Rice began playing organized football against outside opponents in 1912 under the direction of Philip H. Arbuckle, who taught English and History. (It was fairly common until after World War II for faculty to coach athletics teams. For example, Knute Rockne, coach at the University of Notre Dame from 1918 to 1930 and perhaps the most legendary figure in college football history, was a chemistry professor.) In 1914, Rice participated in forming the Southwest Conference (SWC) and played its first full schedule against collegiate competition. The school’s early teams, coached by various faculty members, comprised regularly enrolled students and were consistently mediocre on the playing field. In 1924, however, the Committee on Outdoor Sports, chaired by William Ward Watkin, hired John W. Heisman to coach Rice football and serve as Athletic Director. Heisman’s hiring provoked immediate controversy among the faculty; although he would be in residence only for the football season and spring training, Heisman’s salary far exceeded that of full-time faculty members, some of whom were among the most distinguished scholars in the world. Heisman also began attracting students from the northeast, specifically to play football, at a time when the notion of “recruiting” was still controversial, and even scouting other teams was regarded as dishonorable.
Faculty unease, as it would turn out, was as justified by the number of recruited athletes who failed classes as it was by the Heisman-led teams’ poor records on the gridiron. (Heisman teams, 1924 to 1927, were 14-18-3.) Strict regimentation of the athletes’ daily lives helped academic performance somewhat, but the teams continued to falter on the field, and Heisman resigned after the 1927 season.
Wrestling with issues of academic standards, losing records, and an increasingly onerous financial situation, the Rice Board, faculty, and administrators chose—far from unanimously—a new tack in 1928. The faculty approved the creation of a department of Physical Education. This department offered a program leading to a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education (P.E.), consisting largely (but not entirely) of courses in P.E., coaching, and business. Supporters of the program argued that, although the requirements for a degree in P.E. were obviously different from those in other academic areas, the standards could be just as high. This argument carried the day with the majority of Rice professors. For its part, the administration was satisfied by the trustees’ agreement that the costs of this program would be covered solely by contributions from the Houston business community and the guarantee that the 40 students enrolled each year would be in addition to the regular class of 400. No money would be taken from the academic needs of the school; no ‘regular’ students would be denied admission.
Rice saw more athletic success in the wake of this change. Apart from one truly disastrous season in 1933 when eight varsity players were suspended for Honor Code violations, the football team did well, winning the SWC Championship in 1934, again in 1937, and playing in their first Cotton Bowl in 1938. The basketball, track, golf, and tennis teams were also frequent winners during this period. As might be expected, the increased success led to increased visibility in the Houston community. As the teams attracted many more spectators, it became clear that Rice needed a new football stadium to replace its undersized facility. Rice had been financially constrained since the mid-1920s, though, and this condition worsened in the 1930s. Struggling to improve its academic position, Rice could not afford to divert funds to such a project. Again, the trustees turned to the Houston community, which provided money to renovate and expand the stadium.
As the United States moved closer to war in 1939, and after a 1-9 season, the Committee on Outdoor Sports fired Coach Jimmy Kitts and hired in his place Jess Neely from Clemson University. Eventual entry into World War II in 1941 did not halt SWC play, but the loss of students to the armed forces created “patchtogether” football teams and predictably erratic results. In other sports, though, Rice faired better. In track and field, Fred Wolcott, Bill Cummins, and Bill Christopher amassed eight individual event NCAA titles between 1938 and 1946. Rice basketball also saw NCAA tournament appearances in 1940 and 1942 and a National Invitation Tournament (NIT) tournament appearance in 1943.
After the war, Rice experienced renewed football success, adding another SWC title in 1946. Basketball and tennis also performed reasonably well, with regularly competitive teams in the conference. Neely’s football team contended almost every year, rising to fifth in the national rankings in 1949 after a Cotton Bowl victory over North Carolina. This success continued into the 1950s, with additional SWC championships and Cotton Bowl appearances after the 1953 and 1957 seasons. With Rice adding a SWC men’s basketball championship and NCAA basketball bid in 1954 under Coach Don Suman, other Rice sports also began to receive national attention. Interestingly, baseball was not one of the success stories in the 1950s, with Rice teams struggling to stay above .500 throughout the period. In a city with no professional sports franchises, Rice games drew large crowds, and ticket scalping even became common. To meet the increased demand, Rice considered another renovation of its facilities. Instead, the trustees chose to build two completely new venues: the present Rice Stadium and Autry Court (a new multi-purpose indoor facility), both completed in 1950. With two new world-class facilities and successful seasons in many sports, Rice athletics looked well positioned to build on its success as it entered the 1960s. However, two changes in the environment, both with negative implications for Rice, would make that increasingly difficult.
First, Rice began to lose its ability to keep up with rivals such as the University of Texas and Texas A&M University. Huge enrollment increases at those schools created a giant advantage in recruiting. The 1965 re-adoption of the “twoplatoon” system in football—the practice of having separate offensive and defensive players—and the growing importance of expensive training facilities exacerbated this scale difference leaving Rice at a considerable disadvantage. (The two-platoon system of free substitution was originally instituted in 1941, outlawed in 1952, and re-instituted in 1965.) Second, the Houston Oilers began to play professional football in 1960. Fans began to trickle away, and then left in droves as the popularity of the fledgling American Football League grew. Jess Neely also retired in 1966 after coaching the Owls for 27 seasons. Over the next 18 years, Rice had nine football coaches, and by the late 1970s, Rice teams regularly struggled just to compete. The 1977 season was an example of how difficult it had become to build consistent teams: the football team, quarterbacked by All-American Tommy Kramer went 3-8, and the basketball team went 4-22. In effect, these changes were the beginning of what has become a fundamental structural change in the competitive context for Rice. Competition for an audience, Rice’s size, and its ongoing efforts to build a national academic reputation, contributed to Rice’s transformation from successful contender, to occasional competitor, to “cellar dweller” in many sports.
The 1960s and 70s also saw changes in the way athletics were viewed on campus. The program in Physical Education was re-evaluated in 1960 by a faculty committee. This review led to the adoption—again amidst substantial controversy—of a new program that (many inferred) was just for athletes. The Commerce Department offered a program focused on practical business courses, including finance, marketing, and management. From the beginning, its presence at a school that was beginning to make real strides in academics and research was perceived as an anomaly. Consistent lack of success on the playing field made some Rice constituents question the overall value of the athletics program as well. Self-studies in 1964 and 1974 and the appointment of an Athletics Review Committee in 1971 brought renewed controversy over athletic admissions, and in 1975, Rice’s faculty voted to eliminate the Commerce Department, ending what was regarded by some as a formal sheltered course of study for athletes.
In the 1980s, six of nine SWC schools were placed on NCAA probation for various violations in their football programs. Although Rice’s reputation remained spotless, these violations tarred the reputation of the conference as a whole, led to more difficulties in recruiting, and caused a loss of national television coverage. Intermittent turmoil on campus over the academic performance of athletes also continued. Rice’s 1984 Self-Study and a 1992 Athletics Review Committee report again worried over the differential admissions criteria for athletes and non-athletes, leading to the adoption of some reforms in the way recruited athletes were admitted.
In 1992, the University of Arkansas defected to the Southeastern Conference in search of better television revenues. The remaining SWC members, facing continued participation in a highly regional conference with little national appeal, disbanded in 1994 with national powerhouses like the University of Texas and Texas A&M University joining strong conferences such as the Big 8 (now the Big 12), and the competitively weaker schools such as Rice and Texas Christian University casting about for good options.
With few reasonable alternatives, Rice ultimately entered the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in 1996 and was immediately confronted with a new set of problems. The lack of traditional rivalries brought an even greater loss of fan interest, and far-flung competitors led to increased travel expenses. Subsequently, the WAC also suffered it’s own problems, splitting into the current WAC and the 8 team Mountain West (Utah, Air Force, Brigham Young, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, and Wyoming). This left a far weaker conference with amplified geographic problems that forced Rice to the west coast and Hawaii more frequently and removed from the conference any schools that resembled Rice academically.
Rice’s move to Conference-USA (C-USA) in 2005 was, in part, an attempt to re-engage with traditional rivals like Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, and the University of Houston, while addressing the current budget impact of traveling to such WAC schools as the University of Hawaii and California State University at Fresno. However, at least one of these planned rivalries will not occur as TCU moved from C-USA to the Mountain West conference. Regardless of how these new conference affiliations play out, one thing is certain: the future of Rice sports will be built internally on the same rich character and competition that has been the hallmark of its history. External factors, particularly the changing nature of intercollegiate competition, may prove far more challenging as Rice seeks to maintain its place in top tier sports.
Organizational sketch excerpted from "Intercollegiate Athletics at Rice University," Board of Trustees Athletics Subcommittee, April 2004. Call # WRC LD 4711 .R292 I58 2004. Also known as the McKinsey Report, for the name of the firm who was contracted by the univeristy to assist in researching this topic.
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