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The effects of NCAA rule changes on gridiron success
Did scholarship reductions help the Huskies?
By: Malamute, 25 January 2003

There are many variables affecting the success of a college football program. To seize on one of them and correlate it with success on the gridiron seems simple minded at best. However, the data shown below in Table 1, indicate there is a strong correlation between NCAA rules' changes affecting player availability (e.g., scholarship reductions) and the success of the Washington Husky gridiron program. 
 
This tabulation (Table 1) provides data from six different eras of Husky football when significant NCAA rules' changes were in effect, ranging from the era of two-platoon football to the era of 85 total scholarships, which are in effect today. 

Table 1. NCAA Rules' changes and their correlation with Washington football records
Period NCAA Era Coaches Record Pct.
1945-'51 Two Platoon Welch, Odell, Root (&) 30-35-2 .46
1952-'64 One Platoon Cherberg, Royal, Owens 72-54-2 .57
1965-'72 Unlimited substitution; no limits on scholarships Owens 39-38-0 .51
1973-'77 105 scholarships Owens, James 28-28-0 .50
1978-'91 95 scholarships (#)  James 128-41-2 .76
1992-'02 Mostly 85 scholarships (*) James, Lambright, Neuheisel 85-43-1 .66

(*) 1992=92; 1993=88; 1994-2002=85 scholarships.

(&) Due to the illness of Howie Odell, Reggie Root (an assistant coach) took over as head coach in 1948 and coached one year. 

(#) For a period of time, the Pac-10 limited the scholarships to 90.

There is a strong correlation between Washington's won/lost record and the changes in effect. These rule changes either negated or enhanced the effects of the population advantage that California schools had over Washington.  
 
For example, tossing out the won/lost record in the era of one-platoon football (1952-1964), Washington won just 49% of its games from 1945-1977, a segmented 20-year period running from 1945 through 1951 and from 1965 through 1977. During both periods of time, two-platoon football was in effect, which gave the population-rich California schools a marked advantage over Washington when it came to recruiting players from the available talent pool. 
 
During the interim period (1952-1964), when one-platoon football was in place, the Huskies won a more respectable 57% of their games. The number of times a player could appear in a game was restricted by this rule, and consequently, population effects were mitigated.
 
From the years 1978 through 1991, with significant scholarship reductions in place (95), Washington won a remarkable 76% of its games. 
 
Because of the 85-player scholarship rule and its positive effects on the have-nots in the Pac-10, Washington has won a lesser amount since 1992, winning 66% of its games. Although the 85-player limit most likely helped the Huskies during their sanction years, the sanctions had a negative effect on the program. 
 
The following takes a look at some specific eras in Washington football, where significant NCAA rules affecting player availability were in place.
 
1. Two Platoon Football (1945-1951)
 
Single platoon football ended in 1941 when free substitution was allowed, except for the last two minutes of the first half. However, the first two-platoon football game wasn't played until 1945, when Michigan played Army.
 
In this era, Washington won 46% of its games, posting a 30-35-2 record. Thanks to two legends, Hugh McElhenny and Don Heinrich, the Huskies managed to salvage one successful season during this anemic period, going 8-2-0 (1950).
 
Under two-platoon football, the eleven best offensive players and eleven best defensive players were on the field.
 
Partly, because of its population advantage and a plethora of returning veterans from World War II, the Big Ten pounded the Pacific Coast Conference in the Rose Bowl during this era. Much later, helped by a return to one-platoon football, a Jim Owens' led team defeated Wisconsin in the 1960 Rose Bowl, ending thirteen years of frustration for the conference. 
 
 
2. One Platoon (1952-1964)

In this era, Washington won 57% of its games, going 72-54-2. However, coaches John Cherberg (1953-1955) and Darrell Royal (1956) were unable to take advantage of the one platoon rule (limited substitution) partly because of the player revolt (1955) and the slush fund scandal that surfaced in 1956, the disclosure of which led to sanctions levied against the Huskies.

After the effects of the sanctions were put to rest, Owens was able to take advantage of this rule, which put him on a competitive basis with the California schools, since it mitigated their population advantage.

In so doing, Owens conditioned his athletes better than anyone else. His teams fourth-quartered their opponents, pinning them to the mat after wearing them down for three quarters. His players believed in themselves because they had survived the “death march,” a term used by the media to describe Husky practices.

Players went both ways in those days, playing both offense and defense.

3. Unlimited substitution, Unlimited Scholarships (1965-1972)

Once more population effects took its toll on the Dawgs.

During this era, the Huskies won 51% of their games, posting a record of 39-38-0. Jim Owens, who coached during this era, was slow to match the rest of the conference in featuring a wide-open attack.  Tough entrance requirements at Washington made it hard for Owens to recruit skilled athletes from out of state. Then there was the racial unrest at Washington in 1968 through 1970, which haunted the Washington program. The Huskies went 1-9-0 in 1969 in the midst of that crisis.

4. First scholarship reductions (1973-1977)

Jim Owens and Don James coached the Huskies during this period, when NCAA limited schools to 105 total scholarships. Before this period, coaches could recruit as many players as they wanted in one season, some of them recruiting as many as 100. After this rule was put in effect, teams could only recruit 25 players per season. 

Seemingly unaffected by the efficacy of this rule, the Huskies won 50% of their games in this interval, going 28-28-0.


5. Major scholarship reductions (1978-2001)
 
The first major scholarship reductions occurred in 1978, when the NCAA limited them to 95. Subsequent reductions occurred in 1992 (92), 1993 (88) and 1994 (85). From 1978 through 2002, the Huskies have won 72% of their games, posting a record of 213-84-3. 
 
The last reduction in scholarships has brought parity to the Pac-10 conference. In the past nine years, eight different Pac-10 teams (WSU, Oregon and USC repeating) have either appeared in the Rose Bowl or another BCS bowl, the  BCS starting in the 1998-'99 season. All but two of the teams (WSU, 1998 Rose Bowl; OSU 2001 Fiesta Bowl) were led by a senior quarterback. In the 2001 season, Oregon, led by senior quarterback Joey Harrington, won the conference title outright and appeared in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl, beating Colorado. This season, senior quarterback Jason Gesser led WSU to the Rose Bowl, where the Cougars lost to Oklahoma; and senior quarterback Carson Palmer led USC, which tied WSU for the conference championship, to victory over Iowa in the 2003 Orange Bowl.
 
Parity can flummox the experts and make them seem almost human. In 2001, number one Miami traveled to Boston College and was lucky to survive. Two weeks later, Miami pounded the Huskies in Miami, 65-7. A week later, Miami won a squeaker over Virginia Tech by two points. The Huskies reversed the negativity of the Miami debacle by almost upsetting a highly-favored Texas team in the Holiday Bowl. This season, Ohio State upset Miami in the Fiesta Bowl  championship game, ending the 'Canes long winning streak.
 
In 2000, Washington, which book-ended the Miami winning streak along with Ohio State, defeated Miami in Seattle, with many of the players on hand that were humiliated by Miami in 2001. In the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, 90-pound-weakling Oregon State pummeled heavyweight Notre Dame 41-9, proving that parity was here to stay. 
 
To start the 2001 season, little old Fresno State dispatched Colorado, Oregon State and Wisconsin in order.
 
With 19 returning starters, WSU turned around a 4-7-0 season in 2000 to a 10-2-0 season in 2001. 
 
In the Pac-10, erstwhile power Southern California is hardly a factor anymore, this past season excepted. In the past, the Trojans recruited players away from other schools, but now they are playing on a leveled field. Added to their frustration, the Trojans have very little home-field advantage in certain games at home (against Notre Dame, say). Because of its heritage, a tottering Southern Cal can make a team's day--and season. Enter emotion, which has always been a factor in college football. 
 
Little things like emotion mean a lot nowadays. Besides having a significant home-field advantage, an easy schedule is another stepping stone that can lead to a national championship or successful season.
 
Although Notre Dame finished 10-3 in 2002, it squeaked by in several games and capitalized on its schedule--the luxury of being an independent--by sandwiching patsies in between the toughies. The Irish can schedule a patsy like Rutgers before it plays 'SC, while the Trojans are coming off a rivalry game with UCLA. However, this season that ploy failed and the overrated Irish were pounded by Southern Cal in their traditional match-up and then humiliated by North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl.
 
Arguably the best team in college football this season, the Trojans lost two games, playing the toughest schedule in the country.
 
Parity has made college football more enjoyable for the fans, while giving coaches at big-time schools, such as Notre Dame, a heck of a roller coaster ride. Instead of dodging buckets of Gatorade, big-time coaches are trying to avoid the proverbial pink slip, week in and week out. 
 
Coaching is more important than it used to be, since more and more freshmen are playing, and the best coaches and staffs are getting the most out of them.
 

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