by Elise Yuhas
When most people think of big time college sports, large stadiums, mascots, and excellent training facilities come to mind. However, in the early twentieth century, Baylor had none of these items. In fact, Baylor Athletics did not have the financial support of the University because the University was struggling to pay off other expenses. Due to Baylor’s indebtedness in the early 1900’s, the University’s athletic teams were primarily funded through the athletic association. This meant that athletics were a source of school pride without implications to the University’s financial structure.
A Change in the Presidency Changes the Baylor Environment
In the early 1900’s, the dynamics of campus life at Baylor University began to change. One major change was a shift in the presidency at the University. After suffering through several pranks from students, President Cooper resigned from his position on March 31, 1902. The search committee recruited Samuel Palmer Brooks, a Baylor graduate who was then employed at Yale University. Brooks accepted the position on April 17, 1902 (Baker, 1987). This presidential shift would prove to be important as student life began to change on campus.
One way student life changed during this era was the increasing significance of school pride. For example, “…athletics and special interest groups were beginning to draw students’ attention away from the literary societies” (Baker, 1987, p. 94). Until this point, literary societies held a significant role in campus life. The rise in the popularity of intercollegiate athletics shifted students’ attention away from academically focused organizations. Athletics gave Baylor students and alumni reason to show their institutional spirit. In 1902, The Lariat had an entire column devoted to Baylor’s athletics. The writers tried to put a positive spin on the state of Baylor football in order to encourage the student body to support the University’s teams. In the fall of 1902, many of the football players quit the team because they did not have a coach. The Lariat writers still claimed that “If the line only squares itself properly for the “jolts and caresses” that are coming to them, Baylor’s team will yet march on for a good many touch downs” (The Lariat, 1902, p. 1). This statement reveals the growing interest Baylor students had for their team despite challenging circumstances. Baylor pride filled not only the students, but alumni and donors as well.
Football on Carroll Field
Photo courtesy of The Texas Collection
Baylor’s Athletic Association Relied on Donors and Outside Revenues
What proves telling about the role that athletics had in connection to school spirit in this era, is that Baylor’s athletic program was funded by outside sources, and not by Baylor itself. Baker (1987) reveals, “The athletic program was not a part of the budget of the University and had been a self-supporting endeavor from the beginning. It was supervised by the annually elected members of the Athletics Association and entirely paid for by student fees, by gate receipts, and by special donations” (pp. 106-107). Because of the nature of the donations, the members of the athletic association struggled to operate on a consistent budget.
Donations and ticket sales varied from year to year. In September 1901, thanks to the generous $1,000 gift of Lee Carroll of Beaumont, Texas, the one thousand seat grand-stand and the eight foot wooden fence was completed on Lee Carroll Field, and in March of 1902, a four-hundred and fifteen yard track was added (Baker, 1987). In 1904, ticket sales were the primary source of revenue, and brought in $339.80 in ticket sales from football, showing that Baylor had a supportive fan base (Bishop & Henry, 1996). Moreover, during WWI, the alumni association and the student self-government association raised money for improvements to the grandstand. A bath house and a bigger grandstand replaced the old one (Baker, 1987). President Brooks’ Annual Report in the 1915 Baylor Bulletin states that Mr. C. A. Gantt, the graduate manager for the Athletics led in the fundraising for this cause. The Alumni Association got pledges from members for donations. It cost $9,000 to build the Grandstand and Bath House, which had the same seating capacity of 1,000 people (Baylor Bulletin, 1915, Annual Report). Even though the athletic program was not getting funding from Baylor, it had loyal supporters that contributed to formalizing its role on campus. These examples of funding led to an increased interest in athletics within the Baylor community. The support led to a need for a school symbol.
Photo courtesy of The Texas Collection
Not Even a Funeral Could Kill Athletic Pride
The increased interest in athletics was here to stay. Not only did athletic pride serve as the catalyst for the formation of one of Baylor’s finest traditions, homecoming, it provided unity within the student body even when a ban on football threatened student enthusiasm. Several universities throughout the country debated about the safety of the sport. Many of the players suffered injuries due to the lack of rules in the game. In 1905, changes to the rules of football occurred on the East Coast. Chancellor MacCracken of New York University inspired other schools to allow the forward pass, but urged them to prohibit the flying wedge in an attempt to eliminate deaths and injuries. This same group would later form the National Collegiate Athletic Association (Bishop & Henry, 1996). However, news of the changes in rules did not reach Baylor in time.
On May 29, 1906, President Brooks made a request to the trustees to forbid football from being played on campus (Baker, 1987). The fact that Baylor’s finances did not depend on revenues from football at all indicates that Brooks could make this decision without having to consider the ramifications it would have on the University’s budget. Brooks made the decision to ban football to protect the safety of the student athletes without having to be responsible for realigning finances. However, Brooks did not consider the importance that sport had to student life. Many students were upset because they thought the decision was a “demoralizing intrusion to the ‘Baylor Spirit’’’ (Baker, 1987). The following account depicts the scene of the football funeral:
“On last Thursday night a number of the students gathered on the campus about ten o’clock and preceded to bury on the spot so recently warmed by bonfires of victory, the last remains of Baylor football. Appropriate exercises were held over the grave, concluding with a softly-blown “taps,” and flowers were freely strewn upon the mound over which drooped long cedar Noughs. A large stone was erected at the foot of the grave, while at the head was a large plank bearing a suitable inscription to the memory of the dear departed” (The Lariat, 1906, p. 3).
The students believed that football was dead forever at Baylor, but that would not stop the legacy of school spirit. A year later, in 1907, Baylor’s basketball team beat the University of Texas twice (Baker, 1987). The success of the basketball team allowed the athletic association to keep operating despite the fact that football was banned. In the same year, President Brooks reinstated football because there were changes in the rules of the sport to aid in the prevention of player injuries (Baker, 1987). The student body rejoiced for the resurrection of football, however, the athletic association still did not receive funding.
The Athletic Director Asks Baylor for Funding
The continued rise in the popularity of athletics was at odds with the University’s overall financial health. Enoch Mills was hired as the athletic director and coach for all of the men’s varsity teams (Baker, 1987). As Mills became acquainted with his position, Baylor University found itself in a challenging financial position. In 1910, President Brooks launched a five year campaign to raise $600,000 because Baylor was $100,000 in debt (Baker, 1987). However, Enoch Mills saw a need to make improvements to the athletic program. In 1910, Mills wrote a letter to President Brooks asking for financial assistance in building a gymnasium. He claimed that the athletic department needed a gymnasium because he wanted to teach all students the importance of staying physically active. In the letter, Mills stated, “health is the greatest asset to all life” (Baylor Bulletin, 1910, Annual Report, p. 17). Mills had already raised $10,000 of support, but looked to Baylor’s budget to match this amount. It is not known whether or not President Brooks found donors to support Mills’ cause. However, this was a strategic plea because Mills’ main purpose in building the gymnasium was so that the student athletes could have a facility in which to exercise with better training equipment. This is the first time that the athletic association needed to ask the University for funding. Over the next couple of years, University departments asked for only limited amounts of funding in order to show support for the $600,000 campaign. The Athletic Association did not ask for as much equipment and even put a hiatus on the campaign for the gymnasium (Baker, 1987). Therefore, the athletic association had to be self-sustaining due to the lack of financial resources at Baylor.
Donations to Athletics Seen as More Pressing Than Donations to Baylor Campaign
Despite the lack of institutional funding during WWI, interest in all Baylor athletics increased. The basketball team won the state championship from 1909-1912, and students showed a growing interest in female sports such as volleyball, tennis, and basketball (Baker, 1987). This increased fervor led to more donations made to the athletic association, and fewer donations to the $600,000 campaign. The university financial campaign had to be extended until 1917 because pledges had not been met. This was partly due to the poor economy during the War, but the success of the athletic association contributed to the lack of pledges to the University, as well. The alumni wanted to pour money into the athletic program, which meant that the University struggled to meet its financial goals (Baker, 1987). Therefore, since the athletic association had more financial support than the University, Baylor did not feel the need to provide more funding. The separate sources of donations are further highlighted by the campaign for a school mascot.
From School Pride Came a Mascot
With the increased popularity of athletics, the athletic association needed a symbol. In 1914, the athletic association held a mascot contest. The contest was advertised in the October 8 publication of the Lariat. The article listed the rules of the contest and stated that the prize was $5 in gold. All of the submissions were to be turned in by November 23 (The Lariat, October 8, 1914). In December, the decision was announced. The headline read “Bruin Is Elected Patron Saint of all Baylordom. Bear is the winner in the Mascot Contest, the Honor Going to Doyal Thrailkill – To Have Lived Cub” (The Lariat, December 17, 1914, p. 4). The article also stated that “the winner declared yesterday that she intended to make the university a present of a real, live specimen of her choice. The cub will probably be placed in a conspicuous enclosure on the campus where the reverential athlete and all lovers of the gospel of pep may pay their bows of obeisance and devotion” (The Lariat, 1914, p. 4). Thus, the Baylor Bears came into existence, not through University funding, but rather, the athletic association offering a prize for the winner. Furthermore, the athletic association promoted the mascot contest because Baylor did not have the financial resources to support the campaign. The mascot helped fans and outsiders identify the school since Baylor had recently joined the Southwest Conference.
Intercollegiate Play for the Sake of Regulated Competition, Not Financial Gain
A major change to athletics in 1914 was the formation of the Southwest Conference. The Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association (TIAA) formed in 1913 as an attempt to organize the schools because there were discrepancies in the scorekeeping. At this point, each school used its own scorekeeper (McCarson, 1978). There were differences among the score records between universities in Texas. This organization wanted to eliminate the discrepancies and called for organization among the Texas schools. Soon after the formation of TIAA, the founders recognized that Texas was behind the divisions of schools forming in the east. The Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association was also behind in its eligibility requirements for players compared to schools on the east coast (McCarson, 1978). TIAA wanted to arrange games with universities in other conferences that had higher standards of eligibility. TIAA marked the beginning of the formation of the Southwest Conference. The first planning meeting of the Southwest Conference occurred in May 1914 in Dallas at the Oriental Hotel (McCarson, 1978). Baylor was one of the charter members. There was no financial gain for any of the schools joining the Southwest Conference, so Baylor received no compensation for its participation. The Southwest Conference put more requirements on eligibility and rules for play. Baylor won the inaugural Southwest Conference Championship in 1915. Ironically, the school was forced to vacate the victory because it was later found that a player, Thomas E. Stonerod, had been ineligible because he previously played football for Carnegie Tech (Bishop & Henry, 1996). While this was a blow to Baylor’s athletic association, they were not financially responsible for the infraction because the conference did not allocate prize money. Rather, the Southwest Conference was formed to promote the expansion of intercollegiate play. Therefore, conference formation regulated intercollegiate football without putting financial stress on the schools.
Baylor’s indebtedness in the turn of the twentieth century allowed athletics to be a source of school pride without having financial implications on the institutions. The athletic program was funded through donations from alumni and other outside resources. This allowed the sense of school pride to be more authentic because support for athletics came from donors who were passionate about seeing Baylor play a role at an intercollegiate level for the sake of campus spirit, rather than a means to make an income for the university.
(1902, October 11). Athletics. The Lariat. p. 1.
(1906, June 5). Football Funeral. The Lariat. p. 3.
(1914, October 8). What Mascot is to be Center of Baylor’s Glory? The Lariat. p. 1
(1914, December 14) Bruin is Elected Patron Saint of All Baylordom. The Lariat. p. 4.
Baker, E. (1987). To light the ways of time: an illustrated history of Baylor University, 1845- 1986. Waco, Texas: Baylor University.
Baylor Bulletin. (1904-1905) vol. 8. Annual Report.
Baylor Bulletin. (1910) vol. 13. Annual Report.
Baylor Bulletin. (1915) vol. 18. Annual Report.
Bishop, M. & Henry, R. (1996). Bears handbook: stories, stats, and stuff about Baylor football. Wichita, Kansas: Wichita Eagle and Beacon Publishers.
McCarson, M. The Road to Respectability. (Term paper). Retrieved from: The Texas Collection, Baylor University.