Stormy Clouds- The Southern Association of Colleges vs. Centre
On December 6, 1923, there was a meeting of the Southern Association of Colleges and Preparatory Schools at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. The executive committee of the Association had submitted a report in which it was recommended that Centre be removed from membership and the college actually lose its accreditation. The previous year, the Association hadn't renewed Centre's accreditation, and this year, several colleges, including Macon College and Vanderbilt, not only didn't want to renew but wanted to revoke it.
It was claimed that Centre "had not met the standards of the Association."
Dr. Montgomery, Centre's president, had heard rumors about what was going around and he and Dr. C.E. Allen, Centre's faculty athletic committee chairman, journeyed to Richmond to attend the meeting and hoped to be able to fill out the necessary forms for reaccreditation. They were confident that Centre had run an honorable athletic program and the committee would find no reason to deny reinstatement.
However, when they arrived at the meeting, instead of finding what they felt was going to be a renewal of both membership in the Association and accreditation, they were met with accusations about Centre's football program regarding players not earning necessary grade credits but still being allowed to play along with the amount of money Uncle Charlie was being paid as coach.
Dr. Montgomery also learned that it was being said others were claiming that Centre was actually paying students to come to the school to play football.
When he found out what was being said, he was outraged, as was Dr. Allen.
It was shades of 1919 all over again, when West Virginia's Major Earl Smith published an article in his Fairmont "Times" which was the result of his "investigation" which showed "conclusively" that Centre was playing "ringers," and that was how the little school upset mighty West Virginia, conquerors of Princeton. People just had a hard time accepting that Centre, with its small enrollment, could compete, and compete successfully, with colleges so much larger. It simply didn't make sense.
"They must be cheating! They just have to be cheating!"
Dr. Allen and Dr. Montgomery decided to go one the offensive after a professor at Macon College in Georgia stood and urged the Association to "get to the bottom of the present evil in college athletics."
"Let's do just that," Dr. Allen said as he jumped to his feet.
Athletic Chairman Dr. C.E. Allen
"You accuse us of paying our coach, Charles B. Moran, an excessive salary. Let me give you some facts about that! Coach Moran came to Centre in 1917 and wasn't paid a cent. He received the princely sum of $200.00 in 1918, and $500.00 in 1919, plus a $100.00 bonus if we had a good year."
"Would you gentlemen say that an undefeated season was a good year? Would you gentlemen say that defeating West Virginia, which beat Princeton, served the South well?"
Dr. Allen made eye contact with each of the representatives of the schools.
There was silence, then some affirmative nods.
"Our athletic director, Robert L. Myers, has worked in that capacity since 1917 and has never accepted any salary- not a farthing- since coming to Danville. Would you say that he has been overpaid?"
Silence again, then a few negative shakes of heads.
"After the 1922 season, the University of Alabama tried to hire our coach, Charles B. Moran, by offering him $9,000.00. Only then did we offer him a decent salary. We paid him $6,000.00 or we would have lost him to Alabama. Has anyone accused Alabama of offering to pay Coach Moran an excessive salary- $3,000.00 more than we pay him?"
"Here are salaries being paid to some of the coaches in the Southern Conference."
"Washington and Lee $12,100.00."
"South Carolina $24,000.00."
"Has the Southern Association of Colleges and Preparatory Schools accused these fine institutions of overpaying their coaches?"
Dr. Allen was just warming up.
"How many of you had an All-American who couldn't return due to finances? Who didn't return because he didn't have the money to buy his books?"
"None, you say? We had Red Weaver. Do we pay our athletes as you state?"
Dr. Allen mentioned Sully Montgomery, a starter against Harvard in 1920 who didn't return the next year mainly, "because of finances."
"How many of you had a young man catch a touchdown pass against Harvard who couldn't play the next year because of grades?"
"Again, none? We had Ed Whitnell. Do we not have grade standards?"
Dr. Allen then very deliberately reached in his nearby briefcase and pulled out a letter which was typed on the letterhead of Vanderbilt's athletic department.
He held it up and then read it aloud. The letter had offered financial assistance to Minos Gordy if he would enroll at Vandy and play football for the Commodores after he had already stated that he intended to enroll at Centre. Vanderbilt offered Gordy a job at a Nashville country club where he wouldn't have to do any work except to show up to pick up his pay.
"Has Vanderbilt, which we understand to be one of our chief accusers, been threatened with expulsion from the Association because of this offer, the offer clearly proffered to Mr. Gordy in this letter?"
Again, silence, as the letter, which had been supplied by Gordy to Centre, was passed around the room and deemed authentic.
Dr. Montgomery then stood and took over.
"If Centre College has an athletic program which is so rotten, as you have not just implied, but have actually circulated rumors about us in trying to make your case, why do so many honored institutions seek football games with us? Here is the list of some of the many who have actually sought games with us in 1924 alone; Indiana, Kentucky, Washington and Jefferson, Washington and Lee, Colgate, Drake, West Virginia, Auburn, Alabama, Furman, South Carolina, Florida, Tulane, Texas A&M, Sewanee, Georgetown in D.C, Tennessee, Georgia, Notre Dame, Columbia- and others have sent word and asked if we have any slots open. Ten of these schools are members of the Southern Conference and members of the Southern Association of Colleges. Why do they seek games with Centre College? I'll tell you why. Because they know that our team plays a clean, fine game, full of pep, science, and sportsmanship."
Dr. Montgomery continued.
"Our records are open to you, but I want it to go on record that not one of you has come to Danville to look them over. We challenge you to come to Centre and either make your case, or close up."
There was an awkward silence. Finally, the president of Johns Hopkins stood and spoke.
"Perhaps the executive committee of the Association should have the matter referred back for further consideration."
"The executive committee, therefore, is yet ignorant of the facts in the case." Dr. Montgomery was correct when stating that no one had come to Danville to look over Centre's records.
Several organizations and individuals stepped up to the plate in defense of Centre.
Ed Danforth of the Atlanta "Georgian," praised Dr. Montgomery for his solid defense of his school, and said that he had come as near as a college president can come to saying, "Put up, or shut up!"
The University of Kentucky issued a statement that it felt, "Centre has represented the state honorably on the gridiron across the country. Since coming to the front in football, Centre has kept at the top and no doubt there is envy at the small college's success."
Robert Dundon of the Louisville "Herald" wrote about the situation and had the same feeling as U.K.
"Jealousy has inspired the attack on Centre by the Southern colleges."
The controversy reached all of the way to New York, and the "Times" weighed in, speculating with tongue-in-cheek that since the Colonels prayed before games, perhaps the Southern school's administrators regarded Centre's offense to be that it invoked the Divine, which was "against the amateur spirit."
More seriously, the "Times" pointed out that Harvard had totally cleared Centre of any misdeeds before playing the Colonels for 3 straight years.
The December 1923 meeting in Richmond broke up with the vow that next year, when the Southern Association met in Memphis, charges and countercharges would be investigated further. Dr. Montgomery and Dr. Allen went on record as welcoming any further discussion in the future.
When the two returned from Richmond, they met with the Centre Board which requested that the Association come to Danville by no later than April, 1924, and not wait the next year's Association convention.
Centre obviously wanted the matter resolved quickly as the college felt that it had no reason to fear any investigation of its academic and athletic programs.
From the February 13, 1924 minutes of the Board of Trustees of Centre inviting the Association to come to Danville for a visit "not later than April first, 1924."
The next scheduled meeting for late 1924
Even though Centre had requested that the Southern Association send representatives to visit Danville by April 1, 1924, by the time of the next meeting in December, 1924, no one had come and Centre was simply left in an uncertain state regarding its status of being accredited. At least, a report was published which indicated Centre's policy regarding paying its coach in the past had at least not been excessive.
Dr. Allen at the Richmond meeting had said- "You accuse us of paying our coach, Charles B. Moran, an excessive salary. Let me give you some facts about that!" His comments were validated.
While Centre didn't regain its accreditation at the Memphis meeting, it was found to be blameless regarding allegations against its athletic program and was allowed to continue operating as an approved college.
A partial victory in Memphis
In the fall of 1925, over a year and a half after it was requested, a visit to Centre's campus was finally made by Association members and it was determined that Centre's program was legitimate and on the up and up.
At the winter 1925 meeting of the Southern Association of Colleges in New Orleans, after the visit by the Association members, the vote was for Centre to be accredited and for it to become effective in the spring of 1926.
Many felt that since Centre's glory days were now obviously in the past at the time, the accreditation was made possible not only because Centre was found to be compliance, but also due to the fact the schools which had made accusations against Centre now no longer felt that the little college was a threat athletically.
The 1919 accusations against Centre after the West Virginia game had been soundly refuted but resulted in uninformed individuals years later feeling that "cheating" had been why Centre was so successful. Inevitably and unfortunately, the same sentiment persisted after the 1923-25 events involving the Southern Association of Colleges.
As the Centre Board's minutes stated in February, 1924, "Centre College......has stood for honest academic work and clean athletics and it is not fair and just that the college should suffer any longer under these unwarranted imputations."