In my first post, I mentioned how odd it was that universities would condone cheating in college football. I really think the university presidents or deans that were aware of cheating and accepted it were weak in power, or loved football more than they loved their academic reputations. I think that a lot of cheating incidents are due to rules being created or revised, and the cheating programs being slow to adapt.
For an example, let's pick up where we left off. By 1940, pretty much every college that wanted to be in a conference was in a conference. The conferences regulated the sport. The NCAA had almost no power. There are powerful teams in all regions of the country, and programs are starting to be conscious of national rankings (the AP started its poll in the mid-30s). All schools had professional coaches.
The key issue for every team, as it has always been, was getting top talent. This varied by region. The Ivy League, still an elite conference, recruited from the prep schools, as they had done for 50 years. Their players tended to be upper middle class, more physically mature (think of the modern Mormon mission kids), and very well coached.
The northern and western schools (Big 10 and Pac-10) recruited players, and helped them financially through need-based grants and summer jobs. The Ivy League schools sneered at this, accusing those programs of buying players (there were no limits on summer jobs' pay or rules).
The service academies were powerhouses, especially during WWII. They could pull players from the ROTC programs at other colleges (Army AA Bill Yeoman played freshman football for TAMU), and promise kids that they would not have to go into active duty for four years, and then as an officer.
The southern schools had invented a new concept- the athletic scholarship. Think for a second how odd this would seem if we had not grown up accepting the concept. Could you imagine giving out scholarships for other non-academic reasons- say...toga partying? The northern schools were really horrified by this.
So, what were the limits and rules on athletics scholarships? None. The kids on scholarship could also be given summer jobs.
A couple of things to keep in mind when reflecting on recruiting in this period- alumni were allowed to participate (encouraged, even), and there was no television. This meant that there were no real reasons for a player to go far from home (his friends and family would never see him).
Here are a couple of interesting anecdotes. Per Lou Maysel's "Here Come the Texas Longhorns", the first thing DX Bible did was to split Texas into 15 regions, and assign alumni to recruit each region. The Sept 27, 1948 Life magazine tells how SMU signed Harry Stollenwerk by assigning a local car dealer to bring him in. This was all legal.
Selling players' tickets for market price was also legal. Peppi Blount's memoir "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Play Football" tells of how the Texas players worried a lot about getting the best price for their tickets.
There was no penalty for transferring between conferences. When Y.A. Tittle showed up in Austin for fall drills in 1944, he saw that he wasn't going to beat out fellow freshman Bobby Layne. He left after one week, enrolled at LSU, and started his great career there without having to miss any time (Tittle would also be drafted in the 1st round with Layne, and would join Layne as a NFL HOF QB).
This was a great time to be a player. The packages were good, and the restrictions few. What kept schools from being extorted in a bidding war? Well, the market for talent was so laissez-faire that no school was going to overpay for one halfback when there was another to purchase nearly as good. in my opinion, the current limits on paying players inflate the value of the players who put themselves for sale on the D-1A black market.
This was also a great time for parity. The distribution of talent was more even than ever before or since. How ironic, as we shall see in the next installment, that when the NCAA decided to get involved to make the process "fair", the smaller schools would suffer so much.
What happened? There was a huge influx of talent when the troops returned from WWII. These players were older and more worldly. They were looking for the best deals available, and the best deals were down south (OU was bringing in hundreds of veterans). The northern schools did not like that at all.
Note- I'm not advocating the state of affairs during the '40s. I'm just trying to describe how it was. I don't think the laissez-faire talent market could have lasted into the advent of television and huge increase of D-1A income.