Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Before the NCAAs, Wofford basketball aimed for the SIAAs

With the Southern Conference basketball tournament this weekend, it seems fitting to look back at some of the other, more obscure postseason tournaments in which Wofford has competed over the years.

Before there were rigid governing bodies in collegiate athletics and a sea of regulation, sports on university campuses were different. In 1894, a group of larger schools formed the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association for the “development and purification of college athletics throughout the South,” according to its original constitution.

Wofford joined the league in 1903, along with three other colleges; with the continued expansion of the SIAA throughout the 1910s and 1920s to include many smaller institutions, larger members began to drift away.

“A major disagreement among the members developed quickly regarding the eligibility of first year students, freshmen or higher class men, the so-called one-year rule,” wrote the late Dr. Roger B. Saylor, a former statistics professor and trailblazing football records-keeper. “In general, the larger members favored this rule, and the smaller ones were opposed to it. A sign for the future appeared in 1915 when (some) of the larger members formed the Southern Intercollegiate Conference and decided they would observe the one-year rule.”

Members of this new association, which would soon become the Southern Conference, did not actually leave the SIAA until the mid-1920s, making the once-mighty league a hodgepodge of small colleges scattered throughout the region. Lack of a strong central authority and the presence of logistical and financial issues eroded the luster and muddled the SIAA’s proceedings.

Before the SIAA ultimately disbanded in the 1940s, though, Wofford enjoyed several trips to league-sponsored postseason tournaments.

1926 - Wofford was listed in the Monroe (La.) News-Star as being the South Carolina state champion and was to face Howard College (now conference foe Samford) in the first round of the SIAA Tournament in Greenville. “Southern basketball fandom today followed the spotlight from the Southern Conference tournament which closed yesterday in Atlanta to Textile [sic] where 12 representative quintets of the [SIAA] begin elimination contests to decide the 1926 champion,” the newspaper reported.

The Terriers lost by a score of 26-19. As an interesting aside, another sentence in the News-Star’s preview article hints at how the SIAA operated. The Citadel was supposed to face a representative from the state of Louisiana, but the Bulldogs “drew a bye through the failure of Louisianans to agree on a team.”

1927 - The very next year, Wofford returned to the SIAAs and drew Louisiana Tech in the first round. Not much information concerning this tournament is available, although it was probably held in Greenville and Louisiana Tech reports a 50-41 victory over the Terriers. Interestingly, this game does not appear in the “All-Time Results” section of Wofford’s media guide.

1933 - Wofford finished the 1932-33 regular season 12-4 and earned an invitation to the SIAA tournament in Jackson, Miss. “The teams were pulling in last night [Feb. 27], the Wofford Terriers being among the first of the visiting aggregations to try out the auditorium floor while the February rain poured over the roots,” reported the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

The Terriers ended up facing Centenary College of Shreveport, La. “The local collegians probably have the toughest assignment of any of the 11 quintets which earned the right to participate in the annual conference play-off,” wrote the Shreveport Times on Feb. 27. “...Wofford of South Carolina, with eight victories and one defeat is the conference leader and if Centenary wins from the defending [Miss. College] Choctaws, they will face this Wofford team in the second round.”

The Gentlemen, as they are known, swept the field, including a 35-29 win over the Terriers, en route to a SIAA title. Down 16-12 at halftime, the C-L reported that “Wofford’s Terriers came back after the rest period with a flashy offensive and quickly tied the count. Both teams settled down to a cautious brand of play, trying only sure shots.

“With five minutes to play the score was tied at 27 points, and Matthews dropped three field goals in succession before Harper found the wicker to give the Gentlemen a 35 to 29 victory.”

1935 - A 13-6 Wofford squad in 1935 again took a trip to Jackson.

“The Bulldogs are expecting a hard battle with the Wofford men because of the advance dope that has come out that Terriers have not been held under forty points in a single game this season,” reported the March 1, 1935 edition of Louisiana Tech’s student newspaper, the Tech Talk. “They have compiled an enviable record in the association, but the Techmen are confident of taking them to camp.”

Wofford was apparently taken to camp, as Louisiana Tech’s records show a 36-18 disposal of the Terriers. This is another contest that does not show up in Wofford’s media guide.

1936 - For the second consecutive year, a Terrier team posted a solid regular-season performance (11-8) and went to Jackson to face the SIAA’s best.

In first-round action, Wofford achieved an elusive feat -- a postseason win. This time, the Terriers used a second-half push to take down Centenary, 41-37.

 “Wofford warmed up slowly and trailed by six points at the mid-point of the first half. Centenary was leading by seven tallies when the rest period came,” wrote the C-L of March 7, 1936. “But at the three-quarters pole, the Terriers were on even terms at 28-28, and then the South Atlantic boys stepped on the gas and won themselves a four point victory.”

The Times reported that “Kinard and Hodges, fast Wofford forwards, began an offensive drive, looping in snow birds from long distances to put the Terriers in the van.” (Editor’s note: Let’s bring these phrases back into vogue.) “Kinard, deadly with one-handed shots, accounted for 18 points for Wofford.”

Louisiana Tech knocked Wofford out of the tournament the next day, by a tally of 42-37.

The C-L described Wofford and fellow first-round winner Murray (Ky.) as “rangy teams with elongated centers who gave the tip offs consistently and supplied height to control rebounds under both baskets.”

Wofford’s coach was first-year man Roy Robertson, who the Times said played basketball only the year before and replaced a man named Jack Frost.

1947 - One of the more intriguing tournaments in which Wofford competed was the 1947 SIAA tournament.

Wofford competed in Bowling Green, Ky., along with Delta St., Miami (Fla.), College of Charleston, Tennessee Tech, Milligan, Northwest Louisiana and eventual champion Western Kentucky. The Terriers were knocked out early by Delta St. in a close 53-47 decision.

So, why is this interesting?

According to several online sources, the SIAA dissolved in 1942. Upon further inspection, however, it seems some version of the association -- perhaps mostly informal -- was still loosely operating within the small-college realm. Whatever was extant at the time appears to be a direct ancestor of the modern NAIA, of which Wofford was a part for much of the 20th century’s remainder. Tennessee Tech’s records list the tournament as an “NAIB Sectional.” The NAIB, the National Association for Intercollegiate Basketball, was formed in 1940 and became the NAIA in 1952.

This informal body may have actually been a regional version of the NAIB, though it was still portrayed by the media and participating colleges as the SIAA. An article in the Louisville Courier-Journal on the eve of the 1947 tournament notes that “this may be, however, the last SIAA basketball tournament. Surely we will not be privileged to see more than one or two more.

“The trouble is that the SIAA is too spread out and embraces too many schools. There are 33 colleges and universities holding memberships in the SIAA. Originally the association was intended to be an administrative conference.”

The author would like to thank Chris Brown, archivist at Centenary College of Louisiana, and Nolan Eller, archivist at Louisiana Tech University, for their assistance in researching source material for this post.

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