Suggested Research Topics - The "Angell Conferences," Football Reform, and Michigan's Departure from the Western Conference in 1908.

Michigan had been one of the founding members of the "Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives" (The Western Conference, now Big 10) in 1896. Football quickly became the most popular college sport and Michigan's powerful teams of the early Yost years generally dominated the Western Conference. By 1905 the fervor surrounding college football and the brutality of the games had become so great that there were repeated calls for reform from political and educational leaders, among them U of M President James B. Angell. He called for a meeting of Western conference representatives to discuss ways to rid college athletics of objectionable practices.

The so-called "Angell Conferences" of January 6 and March 19, 1906 developed a series of reforms that were adopted by the Western Conference. Some of these reforms were strongly opposed by some Michigan supporters and the Board in Control instructed its representative to the Conference to seek to have them modified. After considerable debate Michigan decided to withdraw from the Western Conference in 1907. (Some would say it was "expelled.") From 1907-1919 Michigan was not a member of the conference and member schools were prohibited from scheduling any athletic events with Michigan. There was continual agitation from some factions at Michigan to re-join the conference while others preferred to remain independent. All of this was deeply bound up in questions of university governance, faculty control of athletics, traditional student prerogatives, and the demands of the alumni.

The entire episode is still quite murky. Most accounts rely on Plant's essay in the Encyclopedic Survey but there are contradictions and unanswered questions about who supported which side of the question of withdrawal and for what reasons. This paper would attempt to sort out the facts and the motives of various actors in the episode and place Michigan's experience in a national context.


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In an effort to encourage creative thinking about possible research topics for students unfamiliar with archives and their inevitable complexities, archivists and student employees of the Bentley Historical Library have authored "suggested research topics ." The purpose of these is not to define a topic but rather to stimulate thinking about a topic where the holdings of the Bentley Library are particularly strong.