Washington University has a long and rich tradition of athletic achievement that first started well over 100 years ago. Since the mid-1970's the Bears have competed as a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III. Washington U. has been a member of the University Athletic Association (UAA) since the beginning of the 1987-88 season.
Throughout its athletic history, Washington University has continued to establish itself as both a leader and pioneer in the world of student-athletics.
During various periods of its history, Washington University has enjoyed the benefits associated with athletic conference membership.
The year 1890 marked the beginning of men's intercollegiate athletics on Washington University's campus. During the initial stages of its development and continuing through 1906, the athletic program functioned effectively as an "independent."
A member of the Missouri Valley Conference from 1907 to 1946, Washington relinquished its membership when the University adopted a new athletic policy that prohibited the awarding of scholarships on the basis of athletic ability alone. From 1946 through 1961 the University's athletic program operated as an "independent."
In January 1962, Washington University became a founding member of the College Athletic Conference and continued its membership until the spring of 1971 when the men's basketball program was dropped from Washington's intercollegiate program. From the fall of 1971 to the spring of 1986 the University once again conducted its intercollegiate program as an "independent."
Washington University became a founding member of the University Athletic Association in June 1986 when it joined eight other leading independent research universities to compete in intercollegiate athletics at the varsity level for men and women.
Men’s Intercollegiate Athletics
Prior to World War II, male student-athletes received specialized financial assistance for their participation in intercollegiate athletics. In general, scholarship assistance was grouped into three categories: those which involved a full or proportionate remission of tuition; those which were annually available from special endowment funds; and those which were described as tuition service grants that provided for a full remission of tuition.
In 1946, under the leadership of Chancellor Arthur Holly Compton, Washington University adopted a new athletic policy. The policy received considerable publicity. It was established in the face of some alumni opposition and much skepticism as reported by the press. The student body was less than enthusiastic. There was also little precedent among other universities that would suggest Washington University had even the right solution, much less a popular one.
The policy, however, had been carefully thought out. It was based on an educational philosophy that included athletics as a proper and necessary part of the total educational experience. It differed from the athletic policy of most other colleges and universities in one vital respect: It was "amateur."
To some the word amateur suggested the activity of the beginner, to others it suggested merely lack of ability; to others, including the University, it meant participation in athletics without financial inducements or rewards. Chancellor Compton wanted intercollegiate athletics, but he wanted them on terms that would contribute to and not weaken the educational development of the individual student. The University made a commitment to subsidize athletics, but not the athletes.
In essence, two of the athletic policies established and carried out by Chancellor Compton in the mid 1940's, serve today, as the philosophical basis for membership at the Division III level of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Compton stated the following:
First, "the same admissions and grading standards would apply to all students, whether athletically talented or not," and, second "No subsidies, financial inducements or support, or scholarships would be awarded on the basis of athletic ability alone. Students with athletic ability compete for scholarships on the same basis as other students."
Chancellor Ethan A. H. Shepley, in his Chancellor's Message of May, 1959, had reinforced the policies established by Compton and had indicated that:
"If the day should come when enough comparable institutions take the step Washington University has taken in athletics, a conference could be formed that would not only reflect credit on all the institutions involved, but would provide for everyone–students, alumni, and the general public–a program that would be interesting and entertaining as well as educationally sound."
The day had come to give serious consideration to affiliating Washington University's intercollegiate program with an athletic conference. As previously advanced in conversations with various representatives of Washington University, there were distinct advantages, both academically and athletically, that would result from conference association.
Women's Intercollegiate Athletics
Women's athletics at Washington University has a long and varied history. Due to a lack of documentation it has been difficult to determine exactly how and when each evolution and change took place. The greatest sources of information have been the school's yearbook, Hatchet, as well as recently recovered files and departmental correspondence. These have provided the basis for this history.
The earliest documented women's varsity team played in 1909. The yearbook indicated that due to the lack of competitors on the college level this team competed against various high school teams. The women's athletic program at Washington University has taken many forms since, but has always had a solid place in the lives of its female students.
It is not precisely known when the program began, but by the turn of the century, women's athletics at Washington University existed with a limited number of activities. The earliest events consisted primarily of health oriented physical conditioning, "modern" dance, and a few competitive sports. In 1917, the women of Washington University held their First Annual Field Day, in "McMillan Court, on the Athletic Field, and in the Gymnasium." It included such events as "drills by Gymnasium Classes, Hurling the Javelin, and a Pole Climb."
With the construction of Wilson Pool in 1921, swimming became a part of the athletic regimen. Throughout the early part of the century the program continued to expand and diversify. By 1950, women's athletics had become such a vital part of campus life that 70 percent of the female students were members.
For an yet unknown reason, the women's intercollegiate athletic program was disbanded following the 1955 season and didn't return for 20 years. In 1975 intercollegiate athletic programming was revived with the re-introduction of swimming, tennis and volleyball varsity teams for women. In 1977 track was added on the varsity level and basketball began in club form. In 1979, women's varsity athletics were granted access to the "Cage," the Training Room, and the Field House. By 1980, all coaches for women's sports were employed full time by Washington University.
And yet, competitive athletics and varsity sports do not completely describe the women's athletic program. For many women on campus, the program represented a strong element in the campus social life. Both the Women's Athletic Association and its successor, the Women's Recreational Association, provided a myriad of activities for their members. These events included banquets (1929-1955), intercollegiate playdays, and leadership opportunities. These organizations were the driving force behind most of the women's activities, including such specialized events as hiking outings (Tramps), college ice skating nights at local rinks (Icicles), and school spirit building (Peppers/Pep Council). For a long time, dance was a central part of the athletic program and many visiting dance companies were invited to campus through the sponsorship of these organizations. Later, the dance department would form and become an independent entity in the University.
Throughout its history, the women's athletic program offered the female student the opportunity to participate on different competitive levels ranging from club to intramural to varsity. Recognition for outstanding performance ranged from the accumulation of points to awards in the form of tokens such as chevrons and bracelets to the highest honors in membership in the various athletic honoraries which have existed since the 1910s (Sigma Lambda Epsilon, "W" Winners, and Phoenix).
Men’s and Women’s Athletics Come Together
The academic year 1977-78 saw the creation of the Department of Sports and Recreation (renamed Department of Athletics in 1983-84) that would serve both as the administrative entity for physical education classes, intramurals, recreation, and the intercollegiate athletic program for both men and women. The seeds were planted to bring equality to both programs under one administrative structure.
It was in 1979-80 when several milestones in the women's program were achieved. Two female full-time coaches were hired to coach in the women's program; female teams were provided full access to the training room and the equipment room; and basketball and cross country were added as varsity sports.
The major addition to the men's intercollegiate program occurred in the 1981-82 academic year with the reinstatement of men's basketball. Both men's and women's basketball as well as all the teams in the intercollegiate program would benefit from a change in our "independent" status to one involving "conference" membership.
Following several years of discussion and planning -- eight leading independent research universities announced on June 25, 1986 that they had joined together to compete in varsity sports under a new league called the University Athletic Association. These eight institutions (Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western Reserve University, University of Chicago, Emory Univesity, Johns Hopkins University, New York University, University of Rochester and Washington University), represent some of the leading research institutions in the nation and all have strong undergraduate programs. Brandeis University was accepted to the Association in Fall 1987 and has been an active member since. Johns Hopkins left the UAA after the 2000-01 season. Competition between nine members in 15 varsity sports began in fall 1987.
At a time when university athletics are under tremendous criticism for player and coach irregularities, we are affirming that sports have an important role to play in the lives of students," said William H. Danforth, then Chancellor of Washington University. "We believe that the philosophy of playing without athletic scholarships has high merits academically and ethically."
"As nationally prominent universities we support the philosophy of NCAA Division III athletics which emphasize the joy of competing within a quality academic environment without the threat of compromising principles for the sake of victory."
The eight current UAA institutions compete in a single round-robin format for football, men's and women's soccer, and a double round-robin format men's and women's basketball. For all other sports, the schools schedule league tournaments or championships at one of the eight UAA campuses.
One of the most unusual aspects of the UAA is the geographic location of the eight institutions. Washington University's farthest opponent, Brandeis University, is situated 1,141 miles from St. Louis, and the closest opponent, University of Chicago, is 289 miles from St. Louis. With these distances, the UAA is the most expansive athletic league in NCAA Division III.
"Division III is a commitment to athletics without financial rewards -- not a synonym for third rate," said Harry Kisker, then dean of student affairs and a chief organizer of the association along with former Chancellor Danforth. "Furthermore each of the institutions have made the necessary financial commitment to cover the added transportation costs."
"The rationale for considering an athletic association among such a geographically diverse group of institutions was based on a number of compelling factors. Some of the factors were external to the institutions while others were internal considerations."
"Among the external factors were the current state of college athletics nationally, the differences which exist in the approach to athletics and student-athletes among Division I, II and III institutions, and the public perceptions about the proper role of athletics in institutions of higher education."
"Internal factors include such concerns as providing a consistent and challenging level of competition for both men and women in intercollegiate play, visibility of athletics programs among active students, alumni and the general public, issues of morale and institutional identity, and desire for association with institutions of similar, high quality."