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College football scheduling has always been this dumb

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Rivals ducking each other because of fear, greed, accusations, bad manners, and inequity? Yep, we’ve been yelling at each other about this for well over a century.

Mid-1870s Yale, constantly at the center of scheduling disputes
Wikimedia Commons. Banner Society illustration

Unfortunately, your rival is a shenanigous coward whose schedules are weak. They don’t line up games for entertainment value and the human experience, instead only scheduling games that will increase crap like Brand Value and Market Exposure. They obsess over petty slights while also breaking rules that sully your program by association.

Even more unfortunately, your rival has literally always been like this, since even the 1870s, if your rival was around at the time.

Let’s hurtle through the ancient days and realize, like all endless arguments about college football, disputes over stupid scheduling are nothing new.

Unfortunately, our rival university is barely even a university, so we shouldn’t schedule them in football

All the same stuff as now, from the Carnegie Report, an academic group’s 1929 study of college football history to that point:

Jealousy of the apportionment of state aid to sister institutions and personal animosities of directors, coaches, and other officers have contributed to similar results.

In a few instances an ill-disguised feeling of superiority on the part of one or both of the universities involved made contests impossible.

Upon three occasions low scholastic standards have been advanced as the cause of the abandonment of competition [...] The excuse of low standards has more than once been used to cloak real reasons for severance of relationships.

Can’t play them, they cheat way more than we do

“Mid-Western” being part of this excerpt is gonna make it seem like I doctored it for laughs. I didn’t.

At a dinner tendered to two football squads representing Mid-Western universities, much of the evening was passed in charges and countercharges of recruiting and subsidizing of players at the respective institutions. Frequently the reason which has been alleged for a discontinuance of athletic competition was merely an excuse.

In every instance, however, the immediate cause was bad feeling between the partisans of the institutions. In almost every instance, its origin appears to have been an overweening desire for victory and the reputation that victory is supposed to bring.

Everyone is too offended to schedule a riot

Once a decade or so, a pair of rivals spend some time apart because of an overheated game. Not a new phenomenon.

Harvard-Yale 1894 is known as the Hampden Park Blood Bath, perhaps the most pro-wrestling game in history. Fans and media praised players who took advantage of distracted refs by punching opponents in the nose.

This series taking a break after that to cool off: reasonable! But that’s only kinda what happened.

In spring 1895, Yale refused to schedule Harvard until Harvard’s head coach apologized for blaming the ‘94 game’s carnage largely on Yale captain Frank Hinkey, later called “a tightly wound ball of hate” by his own alumni magazine. He’s widely alleged to have jumped knees-first onto a Harvard collarbone. The programs wrote aggrieved letters to each other, not about the sanctioned brawl, but about the indignities that followed it.

“Yale won’t recede and from what I see of Harvard, I do not think they are liable to [either],” wrote the Boston Globe in June.

In September, the Globe’s headline was “Yale willing, rumor says even without formal apology. May challenge the Crimson, instead of waiting to be asked.” Harvard acquired a top-secret letter from Yale, possibly some sort of challenge.

In October, Harvard announced Yale had made no official challenge in time. They wouldn’t play in 1896, either.

Unfortunately, our rivals are devious cowards

“There is a great deal of indignation felt here over the evident intention on the part of Harvard and Princeton to force Yale to her terms,” wrote the New York Daily Herald in 1877.

What terms were those?

Nothing major. Just the number of players each team could have on the field at once.

  • In 1875, Yale wanted to keep playing 20-on-20 football. Harvard wanted 11 per side. They settled on 15. Harvard won.
  • In 1876, Yale met Harvard at Harvard’s desired 11. Yale won.
  • In 1877, Yale had 11 players. Harvard wanted to go back to 15, the number at which it’d last beaten Yale. Not having 15 players, Yale offered to go up to 13. No deal.

“We would far rather suffer an honorable defeat than enjoy a passive championship,” Yale captain Eugene Baker announced, possibly the first They Ain’t Played Nobody in college football history.

“Yale men say they would as readily play with fifteen as with eleven men if it were not for the principle of the thing,” said the paper.

Unfortunately, our rival university’s weak schedules include ducking Kaiser Wilhelm II and/or we are mad about a parade

In 1919, Georgia students mocked Georgia Tech’s football program remaining open during World War I by parading a float marked “Georgia in France 1917” ahead of one marked “Tech in Atlanta.” (Tech had hosted military training during the war.)

Because of the great parade float near-riot fallout, the two did not meet in football again until 1925.

This one happens exactly like this every year. “Unfortunately, we cannot play Texas/Texas A&M this year, because they are not doing enough to help us defeat Kaiser Wilhelm II,” Texas/Texas A&M will say each summer in the 2020s and 2030s, and then there will be a parade riot.

All these football emotions are ruining non-football stuff too

Mizzou left the Big 12 to join SEC football. Basketball and everything else were side products. Yet the Missouri-Kansas basketball series went on an eight-year hiatus because of the ripple effects of football, despite how much easier it is to schedule basketball games than football games.

This is one of many examples going all the way back. Carnegie:

In many instances in which football relations have been severed, competition in other branches of athletics, including soccer [are also severed] ... Such facts reflect the overvaluation of football ... American football, whether from its intrinsic nature as a body-contact game or from the abuses that have grown up to choke it, has bred distrust, suspicion, jealousy, and physical violence.

Paperwork excuses

These days, this could be anything from television contract stuff to a lack of venue availability to being incapable of wrapping your mind around days that aren’t Saturday. In the beginning, this could include a dispute over whether two teams were even referring to the same sport.

“[Yale] foot-ball players have received a challenge from the Princeton students, but the rules of the two colleges prevented a meeting,” wrote the Hardford Courant in 1872. Thus ended Yale’s 1-0 debut season.

This was a thing all throughout the 1870s. It wasn’t until the early 1880s that everyone agreed on football’s rules, and then everyone continued arguing about them into the 2020s.

Conference rivals never play each other

We all agree it’s annoying when rivals in the same conference go years without meeting. This too has been a thing since the first decade of the oldest football conference.

One example: the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported the Hawkeyes and Gophers would likely not meet in 1906. After five straight scoreless losses to the more established program, Iowa wanted to play late in the season, so its players sure to be injured by the Gophers could be done with football for the year. Minnesota wanted to play early, I guess so they could make Iowa players hate football? Speculating.

Now I’m just wondering again why Duke decided to start 2019 by playing Alabama.

Even when conference rivals do play each other, that is also unfair

The most basic possible unit of college football? Also worthy of argument. Carnegie:

Theoretically, any college, however small, should be able to compete with any institution, however large. Practically, competition between small and large universities has given rise to dissatisfaction and dishonesty. [...]

It is impaired in its operation by the financial returns to be gained by competition with much larger institutions in the same conference (in the Intercollegiate Conference, Chicago, Northwestern, and Purdue, with eligibles ranging in number from five hundred to a thousand, compete with Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, whose eligibles number from four to six thousand). [...]

In some conferences small colleges suffer many inconveniences and even indignities rather than withdraw. The ambition to compete outside of a class has given rise to many deleterious influences.

It is indeed unfair that Ohio State has to try and beat Purdue.

The two “real reasons” rivals no longer play each other

Carnegie summarizes one:

When athletic relations are severed, the initiative is generally taken by the institution that has been losing games over a series of years.

And the other:

Even in instances where football receipts have reached hundreds of thousands of dollars, games with well-established rivals have been abandoned if they have involved financial loss (New York University and Syracuse; Ohio State and University of Iowa).

Yep, everything our rivals do is just about money, unlike us


During the past few years, contests between two Eastern institutions and between three universities in the Far West have been held not for reasons of friendship - which have long since disappeared - but for the sake of the financial return.

West Virginia playing Texas Tech instead of Pitt fits this nearly perfectly (we can call Texas Tech either “Far” or “in the West,” but not “in the Far West,” and “friendship” was never the thing we liked about the Backyard Brawl).

Your rival plays too many lower-level opponents instead of seeking appropriate challenges

In the Playoff era, we still have no idea how to incentivize bravery, despite the committee promising in 2014 we’d entered a whole new world of valor. Each year, we see a team that probably would’ve made the field if it’d only dialed down its difficulty level.

This lack of courage has been an issue since the beginning. Consider mighty Princeton, shameless claimer of 28 national titles and a founder of the sport. What are we to make of such a proud and accomplished program playing all of its first four games against Rutgers?

Have another topic you’d like to see us explore in our list of college football arguments that have been around since day one? Let us know.