Jerry Summers: Sewanee Football - SEC To Division III

Sunday, July 26, 2020 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

Much has been written about the 1899 undefeated Sewanee football team that scored 322 points versus their opponents' 10 points. 

Their remarkable feat of winning five games in six days away from home earned the squad the title as the “greatest football team of all-time” in 2012 by the College Football Hall of Fame with the moniker Iron Men of Sewanee.  The opponents that were demolished were Texas (12-0), Texas A&M (10-0), Tulane (23-0), LSU (34-0), and Ole Miss (12-0).  Seven other victories were claimed against other foes with all of them being shut out completely except Auburn (11-10) that scored the only 10 points for the entire year.

Sewanee had first fielded a football team in 1891 and dominated collegiate football until the larger schools began subsidizing athletes.  In 1924 Sewanee joined the Southern Conference, the SEC’s predecessor, and only had one season where the squad won more games than it lost.  In 1932 Sewanee was a founding or charter member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) along with 10 schools which included Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt with Tulane and Georgia Tech later playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

Sewanee, a small school with around 200 students, quickly fell behind the other schools who were beginning to spend large sums of money on athletes, particularly football. On September 30, 1933, the Purple Tigers visited the University of Kentucky for the first football game in the newly formed SEC.  The score was 7-0 in favor of the Wildcats.  Except for a 10-6 loss to Florida in 1938 things never got better.

From its entry into the SEC from 1933-1940 Sewanee lost all 37 of its games on a non-home field basis as road games were more financially lucrative compared to the little school on the mountain.  During its membership in the SEC the school's aggregate score was opponents 1,163 points, Sewanee 84 points.  Sewanee probably would have never joined the SEC except for the pressure put on the school by the widely respected Bishop Frank Juhan, a College Football Hall of Famer who was a graduate of Sewanee and loved both the school and the sport of football, and other avid alumni.

Sewanee’s historical tradition and influential alumni and financial supporters prevented the school from accepting reality that there was no benefit in being in the SEC and the prospect of competing with the larger universities would continue to be a disaster.  Finally, in 1938 with the vice-chancellor Benjamin Ficklin Finney on his way out of the university, it turned to former Baylor School president and president of the University of Chattanooga Alexander Guerry to address the issue of Sewanee’s continued membership in the SEC.  Guerry conditioned his coming to Sewanee on the school getting rid of scholarship athletes.

In 1940 Sewanee withdrew from the SEC and would eventually become a member of what is now the NCAA’s Division III.  Loud protects came from alumni, fans and former players.  Perhaps the biggest outcry came after the loss of the traditional Sewanee-Vanderbilt game on Thanksgiving Day in Nashville.  The rivalry began in 1902 and through the 1920’s was the Southeast’s great ritual.  For 28 consecutive Turkey Days the Commodores and Tigers had met.  The largest crowd was a near capacity one in 1922, but by 1929 the crowds had dwindled to 7,000 fans and Vanderbilt finally pulled the plug on the game in 1931.

This action created a severe financial loss on Sewanee as this was its main revenue game. Thus ended the historical contest between the two schools which with a few exceptions have achieved mediocracy for both Vanderbilt in the SEC Division and Sewanee in Division III.  However, both have retained their reputations of being excellent institutions of academics in America.

Though mostly played against schools with players only having non-athletic scholarship programs there have still been seasons of outstanding records for Sewanee.  Under Coach Shirley Majors, the Tigers in 1958 and 1963 were undefeated in the Collegiate Athletic Conference (CAC) and in 2000 won a share of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) for a total of 13 conference titles since the school left the SEC in various conferences.

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com  

 


Jerry Summers: When Dolly And George Came To Ringgold

Chattanooga Pup Crawl Is Going Virtual

Local Anti-Sex Trafficking Nonprofit To Host Virtual Fundraising Event


Most historians of the Civil War would probably think that the most famous event in the area would be Confederate General Patrick Cleburne’s brilliant defense of Ringgold Gap on November 27, ... (click for more)

The second annual Chattanooga Pup Crawl benefiting the Humane Educational Society is going virtual on Saturday, Sept. 26. Registration deadline is Sunday, Sept. 20. Pup Crawl tasting kits will ... (click for more)

Love’s Arm will host the “Lights On” Campaign fundraiser on Aug. 30 from 7-9 p.m. via a Facebook Live event. The event allows donors to sponsor “a day of healing” by covering the costs of what ... (click for more)



Happenings

Jerry Summers: When Dolly And George Came To Ringgold

Most historians of the Civil War would probably think that the most famous event in the area would be Confederate General Patrick Cleburne’s brilliant defense of Ringgold Gap on November 27, 1863 during the South’s retreat from the disastrous defeat of Missionary Ridge by the blunders of General Braxton Bragg on November 25, 1863. Others might be made proud of the accomplishments ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Pup Crawl Is Going Virtual

The second annual Chattanooga Pup Crawl benefiting the Humane Educational Society is going virtual on Saturday, Sept. 26. Registration deadline is Sunday, Sept. 20. Pup Crawl tasting kits will be picked up curbside at the Humane Educational Society on Friday, Sept. 25 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Ticket holders will refrigerate their Chattanooga Pup Crawl six-pack when they get home and ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Supt. Johnson Says County Schools To Start Aug. 12 In Groups, But Hope To Be Fully Open By Aug. 30

Hamilton County Schools Supt. Dr. Bryan Johnson on Monday said the schools plan to open Aug. 12 with two groups of students at each school each attending two days a week. However, he said it is hoped that students will be able to go five days a week by Aug. 30. The opening format includes Group A going on Wednesday, Aug. 12, and Group B on Thursday, Aug. 13. Friday will be ... (click for more)

Hamilton County Has Just 52 New Coronavirus Cases, But ICU Cases Continue To Go Up; Tennessee Has 25 More Deaths

Hamilton County had just 52 new coronavirus cases on Monday and deaths remained at 48. However, the number of COVID patients in Intensive Care continued to go up and is now at 37. Total cases now are 5,669 after the numbers have dropped in recent days. There are 86 COVID patients hospitalized as well as four more suspected cases. The number of active cases in Hamilton ... (click for more)

Opinion

Leave C.E. James Monument And Park Alone - And Response (4)

The recent controversy over the monument to our town's founder, C.E. James, is more than a completely unnecessary and avoidable waste of time and possibly money - it is contrived and downright silly. Race-based restrictions on residential real estate sales weren't just common a century ago, they were universal in both the North and South. Such "red-lining" didn't start to die out ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Laughing With Jim Murray

When I was in high school, I would love it when the “Newspapers in Education” would roll around once a week. The Chattanooga Times was a real Godsend because it offered me something interesting to read during class and, man, I would pounce on the paper. I would immediately find the syndicated columnist, Jim Murray, and revel in his every word. He was - and this I believe to this ... (click for more)