As questions and proposed plans continue to swirl around all things COVID-19 pandemic, the calendar on college football has flipped to June.
Will players return to campus this summer? What will the NCAA allow? What will individual states allow? Will all conference members participate? Will there be fans in the stands? Can schools afford the testing? Is testing athletes justified compared to the general public? Will there be a delayed start? An extended season? A season at all?
In fact, there may be more questions than players on rosters. It can be overwhelming to consider all the facets, phases and scenarios.
Yet, college football has been here before.
As The Athletic's Matt Brown wrote last week, " . . . with the United States fighting in World War I and a flu pandemic spreading around the world, college football had put together a limited 1918 season in which schools scraped together whatever players and games they could. Many didn’t play at all."
Included in that mass group that didn't play were the institutions that today make up the four Illinois FCS teams — Eastern, Southern, Western and Illinois State.
In fact, the "War to End All Wars" also affected athletics a year prior when the United States began sending soldiers across the Atlantic to Europe.
"There's little question that World War I all but shut down intercollegiate athletics across the nation," wrote Fred Huff in Saluki Sports History . . . 100 Years of Facts & Highlights. "After athletics director William McAndrew volunteered for military service, it was not until late September that [Southern's first four-sport athlete] Sam Patterson was contacted and agreed to serve in a non-salaried position as SINU's football coach."
Patterson took over a spartan team with only one returning letterman from 1916's squad and posted a 2-2 record with all four games being played in November.
When war ended with the Versailles Peace Treaty, life didn't immediately return as it had been prior to Americans going "over there".
Eastern, for example, opened 1919 by pasting Hillsboro High School 53-0 en route to a nine-game schedule. Illinois State and Western each played seven games. Nearly all of each school's games were against in-state or border state opponents.
Southern, however, played just four games under William Lodge, who also coached basketball until a January illness sidelined him. An interesting footnote is that one of Southern's losses was to Southeast Missouri State, perhaps the only time in intercollegiate history that a team gave up two safeties while being shut out 4-0.
Meanwhile, McAndrew was discharged as a brigadier general and working on a law degree before returning to SINU.
"It was too late, however, to salvage the 1920 football season. The dollars, equipment and a schedule were all missing," Huff's book states.
During the ensuing years bridging the two world wars, the athletic departments were led by powerful names that still resonate on the Illinois campuses today — McAndrew (Southern), Charles Lantz (Eastern), Ray "Rock" Hanson (Western) and Howard Hancock (Illinois State).
Brown wrote in The Athletic, "By World War II, the sport had exploded in popularity, survived the Depression and modernized: more bowls, more polls, more fans, more conferences, more structure. The new war effort threatened to shut it all down. About 200 colleges and universities dropped football in 1943. Many were small colleges, but the list also included luminaries such as Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and Stanford."
Brown noted, "A year earlier, pessimism about football in 1942 had proven to be exaggerated, but the increased needs of the war effort meant that 18- and 19-year-olds would be drafted into service. College football’s talent supply needed to be tapped for a greater purpose, making 1942 feel like the last gasp of normal football . . . Not only did the war effort threaten to clean out intercollegiate rosters, but it threatened colleges, period."
United Press International sports editor Leo H. Peterson predicted, “The sport likely to suffer most in 1943 is college football."
Those words certainly held true as Eastern and Southern fielded no teams that fall. Western stumbled to a 1-6 record and went winless in 1944. Illinois State posted a 6-2-1 record in '43 and played crosstown rival Illinois Wesleyan twice that autumn.
Brown also wrote, "The Big Ten, home to numerous prospective V-12 schools [designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers in the Navy], swiftly altered its rules, clearing the way for freshmen, transfers and members of the armed forces — even those who played professionally or had exhausted their college eligibility — to suit up and keep the conference on the field."
While no professionals trickled down to Carbondale, Charleston, Normal or Macomb, seventeen-year-old Chicago native Fred Carman found his way onto Western's campus.
“My birthday is in December and I graduated (from high school) in 1943. I was 17 at the time. I enlisted in the Army in the Air Corps, but they wouldn’t take me until after my 18th birthday,” Carman told me in a 2014 interview. “I went to Western, to Macomb, waiting to be called up (by the Army). While I was there I played on the football team in ’43. Many of the great athletes were in the service and so forth.”
With World War II raging in Europe and the Pacific, college enrollments were down. Many schools dropped or suspended athletic programs. Those that remained played limited schedules with reduced rosters.
“It was common to see 17-year olds play,” Randy Roberts, Distinguished Professor of History at Purdue University and author of A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation at War, said in an e-mail.
The 5-foot-9, 165-pound Carman had played football at Chicago’s Marshall High School. Moreover, he was a co-captain.
“Back then we only had three high school sports: football, basketball and baseball. There wasn’t any wrestling or track or swimming. Those three sports were it,” he said. “For basketball they had a team for 5-foot-7 and under and another (team) of unlimited heights. Our Marshall High School basketball team of that time won 98 games over a five-year period and was written up in Time magazine.”
Though he didn’t wind up in any national magazines, Carman did get some ink of his own.
“I had a buddy named Seymour Kaufman who was a semester ahead of me who was the sports editor in high school,” Carman said. “We were friends and whenever he could, Seymour gave me a little plug.”
In Carman’s senior season Marshall faced rival Harrison High School on a rain-soaked field.
“I was in our end zone back to punt. The snap from center was lousy, on the ground. I picked it up but couldn’t kick so I ran,” he said.
Carman did far more than run; he weaved his way the length of the field for a touchdown.
“I guess they had no other news to report because the next day in the Chicago Sun had an entire page headline that read ‘Marshall’s Carman Runs 101 yards to Beat Harrison 7-0’. Seymour had called it in, but I was no All-American or anything. I was a better than average player but nothing special,” Carman said.
Star or not, Carman, the football player, will always remember his friend Kaufman, the journalist.
“Unfortunately, he was killed in Normandy, France less than two weeks after D-Day,” Carman said.
So how did the city boy wind up at Western?
“I had friends who had gone there,” he said. “I also had a $50 scholarship from the Letterman’s Club in high school. They gave me 50 bucks for proficiency and scholarship.
“I wanted to be a flyer. I don’t know if it was affiliated with the school or not, but Western had a deal that for $80 you could get 10 hours of flying lessons. I thought I’d do that because it might give me a leg up when I got into the Air Corps. We scraped together the money and I got those 10 hours of flying lessons. I got to solo down there but never got to Pre-Flight.”
In addition to those flying lessons, Carman took flight in another form, as quarterback for head coach Wix Garner’s Western team.
“Of course back in those days you played both ways, offense and defense,” Carman recalled. “We didn’t have the T-Formation. We ran the Single Wing (offense) if I remember correctly.”
The highlight of Carman’s season came in his very first game.
“We played Cornell College, which is in Iowa. We beat them 27-0,” he said. “When I was on defense I intercepted four of the opposing quarterback’s passes. I was probably his best receiver.”
Carman, playing linebacker, ran two of those interceptions back for touchdowns.
“One of them was maybe 40 or 50 yards and the other was probably 30 or 40 yards,” he said.
“Later that season we played in Normal. We played Illinois State and (Illinois) Wesleyan. One of them had several Naval cadets and a few Big 10 players on their team. We played Drake University and got killed by them [50-0],” Carman said. “We did alright. I had fun. I enjoyed it.
“Back at that time Western had maybe 700 students, a far cry from what they have now.”
Carman didn’t finish his entire school year at Western. Instead, he was accepted into the military in the spring, however, there would be no more flight training for him.
“They told use the good news was that their casualties were lower than expected, and that the bad news was that nobody was going to go to Pre-Flight,” he said.
When Germany surrendered in May 1945, Carman volunteered to go to officer training school, which was in Oklahoma.
“While I was there the bomb was dropped on Japan,” the father of Chicago radio personality Mark Carman said.
Commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Carman was shipped to Japan and served there until 1946 when he was honorably discharged.
“I came home (to Chicago) around Labor Day of ’46 and I wanted to get into school right away with the G.I. Bill, which was a marvelous thing. At that time you could have gotten into any school,” he said. “The University of Chicago had already started its quarter and I didn’t want to wait until the next quarter started.”
As a result, Carman chose to enroll at DePaul University. He studied accounting where he earned his degree and later passed the CPA exam. While working as an accountant for Arthur Anderson and Company, Carman attended law school at night. In 1955, he left accounting and joined a law partnership.
“I’ve been practicing as a solo attorney since 1963,” Carman said in April 2014.
* * * * *
Western, Southern, Eastern and Illinois State all tasted success in the postwar years. In fact, after Illinois State won the 1945 Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference football crown, Southern (1947), Eastern (1948) and Western (1949) followed suit. Illinois State took the 1950 title.
While men the likes of Hanson, Lantz and former Southern star turned coach Glenn "Abe" Martin continued to influence their respective campuses, along came others such as Maynard "Pat" O'Brien (Eastern), Vince DiFrancesca (Western), Edwin Struck (Illinois State) and Bill Waller and William O'Brien (Southern).
"They were the whole ball of wax," said former Northern Illinois quarterback Bob Heimerdinger. "In those days, those men were everything. They coached the sports, and they ran the PE departments."
Heimerdinger, who lives in DeKalb, played for George "Chick" Evans at Northern Illinois.
"It was just those five state schools (in the conference) when I played," said 1947 league MVP Red Miller of Western, who later coached the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.
"Northern and Southern were the biggest schools, ISU was in the middle and Western and Eastern stayed about the same size," said Lou Stivers, captain of Eastern's 1948 conference champions.
Most of the postwar football rosters were made up by veterans.
"About all of us were back from the service," Stivers said in 2012. "Only about one or two starters weren't veterans. Several were married."
Stivers, who enjoyed a lengthy teaching and administrative career, died in 2015. Miller passed away in 2017.
Sept. 11, 2001
A war of a different kind interrupted the 2001 season. Games were cancelled the weekend after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.
The 9/11 attacks meant the cancellation of the annual rivalry game between Illinois State and Eastern scheduled that season for Sept. 15 at Hancock Stadium in Normal. Other than the previously mentioned interruptions from war, 9/11 marked only the second time — the other being 1996 when EIU joined the Ohio Valley Conference — that the rivals did not play in a series that dates back to 1901.
Time will tell if 2020 will add another chapter to this story.