By all accounts, Dec. 19, 1973, was a typical early winter day at Xavier—cool, bare, quiet. Finals were finished and the students had already abandoned campus.
The day, though, turned out to be anything but typical. Within the University’s hallowed halls, the board of trustees gathered, and on its agenda was an item that would forever change the face of the University: Xavier football.
For years the football program had been bleeding money—approaching $300,000 annually—and the administration ordered a report on how to resolve the problem. Several options were put forth, from staying the course to discontinuing the sport altogether.
It was a difficult issue and a difficult time. The University was struggling with its own financial situation and managed to balance the overall budget only after imposing severe spending restrictions. Plus, the team was struggling, compiling a record of just 11-40-1 over the previous five years.
After extensive discussions, the board reached a conclusion, and it was the most drastic one. By an 18-3 vote, football at Xavier was finished. Suddenly this typical early winter day became arguably the single most important day in the University’s 175 years of athletic history.
Football had long been the University’s athletic centerpiece, dating back to its beginnings in 1901. Baseball was America’s pastime, and Xavier fielded a team, but football was its passion. When the University moved to Avondale in 1919, it agreed to build a stadium to quench the desire. Businessman Myers Y. Cooper conducted a campaign to help pay for it, bringing legendary coach Knute Rockne from the University of Notre Dame in to speak. By the time Rockne was done, Cooper had raised $300,000.
For the next 44 years, football dominated crisp autumn Saturdays on campus, with Xavier sending a number of players to the professional ranks and grabbing the nation’s attention in 1950 by beating Arizona State University in the Salad Bowl. By its end, Xavier football had an overall record of 307-228-21.
If the demise of football had any positive repercussions, it was that more attention and resources were now given to basketball. The origins of Xavier basketball trace back to 1915, to a time when the team was without a gym and played in local parishes. But 13 years after taking the court for the first time, the basketball team moved into Schmidt Fieldhouse, a gift from alumnus Walter Schmidt that was the largest structure in Ohio at the time.
While the Elite Eight appearance of the men’s basketball team in 2004 was a key moment in Musketeer history, its pinnacle—thus far—actually came nearly 50 years earlier with the capturing of the 1958 National Invitation Tournament. At the time, the NIT was the crown jewel of postseason play, and winning the tournament placed Xavier at the top of the collegiate basketball world.
Through the years, the University added various other sports—track, golf, tennis, volleyball and even rifle, which became arguably the most successful varsity sport with two NCAA Championship runner-up titles, 51 All-Americans and two Olympians. The enactment of Title IX legislation in 1972 helped create a balance of men’s and women’s sports.
Xavier now has 16 varsity sports, half of which are women’s teams. Many club sports teams also gained the University national attention, including boxing, sailing and polo.
While much has changed in the University’s athletic world in 175 years, some things have not—upholding academic standards, for instance. Even as far back as 1932, the University’s stand on academics and athletes was remarkably similar to the standards in effect today.
“There is but one standard of both discipline and studies strictly enforced upon all students, whether engaged in athletics or not,” the University wrote in response to a regulatory edict by the Father General in America regarding the conduct of Catholic college athletics. “In fact, the opinion is abroad that we are more strict in enforcing these standard on so-called athletes than on other students.”
While some still may have grumbled about what they perceived as preferred treatment, Terence Kane, S.J., chairman of the board of athletic control in 1935, summed up the issue—then and now.
“There is no reason for raising the scholastic standard for athletes, because it was already more rigorous than in most schools and more vigorously enforced,” Kane wrote. “There is no need of de-emphasizing athletics at Xavier because they have never been unduly emphasized.”