The Times West Virginian

Mickey Furfari

January 24, 2014

FURFARI COLUMN: Dr. McKown recalls bizarre NCAA rules of the 1950s

MORGANTOWN — Dr. Charles McKown, now the veteran vice president for health sciences at Marshall University, was an outstanding baseball outfielder at West Virginia University in the 1950s.

After all these years, the southern West Virginia native still has some not-so-fond memories of the NCAA. So I thought readers might be interested.

“The NCAA put in some very unusual – at least by today’s perceptions – rules and regulations about athletics,” Dr. McKown said recently. “This was imposed in the early 1950s when I was a student-athlete.

“One was in football (which he played in high school, but by choice not in college). The NCAA created what in essence established a one-platoon system.”

That was imposed on gridders in the early 1950s when McKown was at WVU playing baseball. What the new rule meant was a football player could not return the rest of a half in which he was replaced by a substitute.

During that period, a player saw action both ways – offense as well as defense.

Such a restriction (no more than one appearance in each half) eventually was changed. But the good doctor said a rule still in baseball today – at all levels – is a player couldn’t return to a game once he leaves.

“If you come out of a game, you can’t go back in,” the former Mountaineer baseball centerfielder stressed. And he still wonders whether that’s a good regulation.

“When you’re taken out of a game in baseball, you can’t go back in, period. It’s been that way in baseball history forever.”

Of course, a player today can go in and out in basketball unless he or she fouls out. It’s pretty much free substitution in football now without those restrictions of more than 60 years ago.

“But in football in the 1950s you couldn’t go back in that half if taken out, and it seemed so peculiar in those days,” recalled Dr. McKown. who was an All-State halfback at Wayne County High School.

He sounded pleased that eventually sub limitations were discontinued in football.

“One of the changes by the NCAA was to allow two substitutions each half,” he remembers.

McKown explained, “In other words, he could go in and out twice on offense and defense. It was a short time before they eased up on those.

“I think it was Paul Dietzel, then coaching at LSU, who got the NCAA to ease up on that in the 1950s. Today it’s strictly free substitutions.”

He also thought the NCAA made a mistake to require student-athletes of that period to play a year on a freshman team in all sports. Apparently all players were affected, limiting those to only three years of varsity competition.

That was a requirement that the NCAA enforced intermittently off and on, especially in the 1950s.

Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley, of WVU basketball fame, were limited to three varsity seasons. McKown wasn’t in baseball; playing all four years (1953-54-55-56).

While not affected by the freshman rule, Dr. Charles McKown recalled another regulation that he considered even more bizarre that did have a detrimental effect emotionally on him and several other senior teammates in 1956.

“If you played varsity sports as a freshman, you couldn’t compete as a senior in any NCAA post-season championship events at that time, whether it be baseball, basketball, etc.,” he said.

“There was a lawsuit about that. We started our senior year and still thought we were going to be able to compete well.”

The Mountaineers played in a regular-season tournament at Tallahassee, Fla., and other games down and back in 1956. WVU met such opponents as Notre Dame, Northwestern, Illinois and North Carolina.

“We had played in the NCAA tournament in 1955,” McKown noted. “But we ran out of pitching on that long trip in 1956 because it was cold weather.”

Even so, WVU won 9 of its first 12 contests that season.

But he emphasized that the ridiculous rule that the seniors would not be allowed to play in the NCAA tourney at season’s end “really took away our enthusiasm.”

He added, “That was a peculiar rule affecting only the seniors who didn’t play on a freshman team.

“In retrospect, it was absolutely inconsiderate that the authority the NCAA really had at that time. I think their authority really compromised a number of athletes in their ability to advance in their sports.”

Despite the sparkling 9-3 start, West Virginia finished 16-9 and did not qualify for the NCAA playoffs.

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Mickey Furfari
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