Carlisle Causes Eligibility Rule Changes

The on-field influences the government Indian schools, Carlisle mostly but also Haskell to some extent, had on the development of college football are well known. Less well-known are the impacts on the rules under which the game is played. Most football historians are aware that Carlisle Indian School was frequently criticized for not adhering to eligibility rules similar to those agreed to by the major colleges. In 1908, Pop Warner instituted a limit of four years of eligibility on the varsity team for Carlisle’s players. Years spent riding the bench without playing were most likely not counted against the four years. Something that is not known as well is that major colleges routinely ignored the fact that players they recruited from Carlisle had already played for four years prior to enrolling in college. That was about to change in 1905 if some had their way.

A November 29, 1904 article datelined Chicago that was printed in The Boston Globe announced that eligibility rules were about to be enforced more stringently, at least by some schools. “A meeting of representatives of leading western colleges” (read Big Ten) agreed on rule changes to which they were to comply. Two schools were singled out specifically: “Carlisle and Haskell Indian Schools, two formerly unclassified institutions, were raised to the ranks of colleges, and students who have competed for four years from those institutions in the future will not be allowed to compete in events controlled by western colleges.” Since Carlisle and Haskell seldom played more than a total of two games a year against the schools that became the Big Ten, this rule was probably aimed at the schools themselves. Several former Carlisle players had played for these schools after having used up their eligibility at the Indian school. Some that come quickly to mind are: Frank Cayou, Illinois; James Johnson, Northwestern; James Phillips, Northwestern; William Baine, Wisconsin; and Ed Rogers, Minnesota.

Next time – Freshmen.

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