The year is 1906. Music is played on phonographs, Theodore Roosevelt is president, college football has just legalized the forward pass, the NFL hasn’t come into existence, neither World War had occurred, the Cubs were in the world series (and only two years away from their last World Series triumph) and the Western Michigan University Hilltoppers played their first football game under head coach Tubby Meyers, finishing with a 1-2 record with all stats in this article according to WMU athletics unless otherwise specified.
So much changes in 100 years, even in regard to football. In 1906, there were seven officials rather than seven now, forward passes had just been instituted and were rarely used, in part because an incomplete pass resulted in a 15 yard penalty, and if nobody touched the pass before it hit the ground, it was regarded as a turnover according to the Smithsonian website.
The Hilltoppers started out with a 14 man football team and their games were against Eastern Michigan, Kalamazoo, and Wayland High School, where they lost their first two games 14-5 and 14-0 respectively before winning their finale 21-0. These scores are similar to box scores from today, but in 1906, touchdowns were worth five points rather than six, and while there were extra points, there were no two point conversions which didn’t come about until 1958, and field goals were worth four points. The current scoring system did not come into play until 1912 and minor changes were made for things like two point conversions later on.
Over the last century, Western Michigan University football has gone through 14 coaches and had five Bowl appearances. They changed their mascot from Hilltoppers to Broncos in 1939, and have put over 40 players into the NFL including current players Greg Jennings, Tony Scheffler, Jason Babin, Louis Delmas, E.J. Biggers and most recently Drew Nowak and Jordan White among others, while sustaining a winning
percentage of .558.
The Broncos won their only outright conference title in 1988 under coach Al Molde, and tied for another in 1966, although more recently the conference champion has been decided in the MAC championship game, which Western played in during the 1999 and 2000 seasons under coach Gary Darnell losing both times to Marshall. In its history, WMU has a winning percentage of .558, highlighted by several coaches early in the history of the program. Between the years 1907 to 1928, the teams posted a combined record of 100-36-6 under coaches William Spaulding, Milton Olander and Earl Martineau, with the three coaches winning over 70 percent of their games and many in ridiculous fashion.
In 1918, they won by the biggest margin in school history over Hillsdale, 103-0, and in the 1922 season, outscored their opponents 160-0. While these scores are extreme, it could have been worse. The NCAA documented that the greatest margin of victory in a single college football game came in 1916 when Georgia Tech steamrolled their opposition 222-0. Scores like that are not seen very often today.
Today the WMU Bronco football team is coached by Bill Cubit. Under Cubit’s tenure, which began in the 2005 season, the Broncos have played in three Bowl Games, and were eligible two more times that did not merit invitations.
“In this program, we demand our kids go out there and do all the right things,” Cubit said. “Not just academically but socially as well. The players are required to give five hours of community service per semester. I’ve never seen that anywhere before.”
The fact that he’s never seen service anywhere else is remarkable considering Cubit’s long career, during which he has held various coaching positions at Missouri, Rutgers and Stanford.
Cubit’s claims about academic achievement have been backed up by his players.
“We had the highest GPA in the MAC this past year” he said. “We had 51 players over a 3.0 for our bowl game last year. My goal here is to run a first class university, with high character kids who work hard and graduate, and we have had an outstanding graduation rate.”
Cubit also praised his player’s behavior in the public eye.
“I can’t tell you how many e-mails people have sent me, and they tell me about what some of my guys did and sometimes I’ve been scared to open those but almost all of them, probably 99 percent of them are positive, and that makes me feel really good,” he said.
Football can’t just be about great stuff happening off the field. Some of the focus has to be on the field and some of it has to be on how that playing on the field is financed.
According to a Nov. 15, 2010 article in Sports Illustrated by Dan Wetzel and Austin Murphy, Western Michigan’s athletic program had a, “loss of $462,535 (before adding in travel and lodging costs),” when speaking of the Bronco’s 2008 trip to the Texas Bowl where they lost to Rice 38-14.
Even finances are still deceiving, and some of it doesn’t show up in the margins.
“There’s a pride factor,” Cubit said. “There’s no other event that this university puts on that is going to attract 20,000 or sometimes more people together, where many of them are Bronco fans, and it brings in money to this area. When people come in from out of town that is a lot of money coming into Kalamazoo. If you want to talk about the money, a lot of programs don’t make a lot of money.
Cubit is right.
In that same Sports Illustrated article, in 2009, 106 of the 120 division I-A or FBS athletic departments lost money.
If everything about the money is true, and money is lost every year; Is it worth the price to have a football team?
That truth is this: men and women who compete in different athletic programs are being prepared to do things beyond the field.
“I don’t tell my players what they want to hear, I tell them what they need to hear,” Cubit said. “I do my best to be a role model for them as an employee, somebody who loves his job, father, and as a husband. I want them to understand responsibility.”