The effects of NCAA rule changes on gridiron success
Did scholarship reductions help the Huskies?
Malamute, 25 January 2003
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
||Welch, Odell, Root (&)
||Cherberg, Royal, Owens
||Unlimited substitution; no limits on scholarships
||95 scholarships (#)
||Mostly 85 scholarships (*)
||James, Lambright, Neuheisel
(*) 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
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
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
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.
went both ways in those days, playing both offense and defense.
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
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
by the efficacy of this rule, the Huskies won 50% of their games in this interval, going
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
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
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
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