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Sunday, July 8, 2012
Arrogance and Scheming in the Big Ten: Michigan State’s Quest for Membership and (chUMps') Powerful Opposition.
From Lansing State Journal on New Book:
EAST LANSING — The story as it was known for more than 60 years could be summarized in a sentence: Michigan State finally got into the Big Ten in 1949 after repeated failures and despite the opposition of Michigan.
John Hannah, the longtime president who turned Michigan State College into Michigan State University, said it this way in his 1980 book, “A Memoir”: “We knew from the beginning that there would be no friendly consideration of Michigan State’s cause by the Big Ten if the University of Michigan had its way. We anticipated that Ann Arbor would be unfriendly and critical and obstructive, and that is exactly what they were.”
And that was the extent of his explanation. That was the story. Until now.
Thanks to thousands of hours examining and interpreting thousands of documents mined from seven Big Ten cities over three years, Dr. David Young has the complete story — and much more — in “Arrogance and Scheming in the Big Ten: Michigan State’s Quest for Membership and Michigan’s Powerful Opposition.”
Just when the MSU-Michigan rivalry is producing prodigious flames of passion, here’s some back story to stoke them.
Young, who practices internal medicine in Holland, grew up in East Lansing and graduated in 1977 from Notre Dame. A casual conversation with neighbor and then-MSU Vice President Jack Breslin in 1976 about U-M’s opposition and Notre Dame’s assistance first alerted him to the history of MSU’s quest, and 32 years later he decided to unearth its particulars.
That involved about 20 visits to U-M’s Bentley Historical Library, which Young called “an absolutely overwhelming place for sports history.”
Ann Arbor, East Lansing and Minneapolis — Minnesota and then-President Lew Morrill had much to do with MSU outdueling Pittsburgh and gaining admission — were Young’s primary research stops.
He also visited Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and made two trips to Iowa, which provided the most resistance to Hannah’s cause outside of Ann Arbor.
Young’s “passion turned obsession,” as his wife called it, involved working weeknights until 2 a.m. or later, and weekends from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., with a break for Saturday night Mass. Such is the life of an author in a hurry to finish a book, but not all of them are practicing physicians.
Some of Young’s patients would comment on his ragged appearance after long evenings of book work. One of them helped him self-publish the book, and the result is a history not only of the role of athletics in MSU’s growth but of the league it pursued so doggedly.
The Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, also known as the Western Conference and later as the Big Ten, was formed in 1895 by seven universities.
The reason? Largely to get a handle on college football, which was making the transformation from recreational pursuit to lucrative business — complete with paid mercenaries on the field, subsidized by “boosters” and often not even enrolled in school.
Among many revelations, “Arrogance and Scheming” smashes the idea that the early 20thcentury was a time of rah-rah innocence for college football. Indeed, scandals and presumed scandals weaved their way through the Western Conference.
This was true in Ann Arbor as well. Young uncovered improprieties under the legendary Fielding Yost that were nearly — but not quite — exposed by the Detroit News, buried in boxes at Bentley until now.
East Lansing had its own problems, including rampant violations under head coach “Sleepy” Jim Crowley (1929-32) before he parlayed an Iowa offer into more money — then bolted for Fordham ahead of an investigation.
At its core, this is the story of two powerful men and their years of maneuvering. Hannah, Michigan State’s president from 1941-69, turned down an offer to be President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s defense secretary in 1957 to stay at MSU, and he helped draft the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act.
He also studied law in 1921-22 at U-M under Ralph Aigler. As the book details, Aigler was essentially the most powerful man in college sports as U-M’s Big Ten faculty representative from 1917-55.
Their dance, with Notre Dame and Minnesota aiding Michigan State, and Ohio State and Big Ten commissioner Tug Wilson covertly pushing Pittsburgh, is fascinating stuff.
In a way, both end up winning. Hannah gets in and Aigler gains formal oversight of a program he long suspected of dirty dealings.
And just think, U-M in February named English professor Anne Curzan its faculty athletics representative to the Big Ten and NCAA. Hannah’s granddaughter now sits in Aigler’s old seat. (Hollywood, are you listening?)
Meanwhile, Young isn’t done writing about MSU, Michigan and the good old days.
“This story isn’t over with, let me tell you,” he said. “In the early '50s, things got really ugly.”
Young already has the research done for a sequel. Just give him a few years to write it.
“I need a break,” he said. “This thing almost killed me.”