That Time the Razorbacks Football Team Went On Strike: Part 1

In other states, Arkansans have played major roles in some of the biggest team protest/strikes in college football history. In 1969, for instance, Sparkman native Fred Milton precipitated an Oregon State football protest generating national headlines by simply refusing to cut his hair.

Later that same year, Pine Bluff native Ivie Moore became one of Wyoming’s “Black 14” who boycotted an upcoming game against BYU.

In 2015, of course, the entire Missouri football team went on strike in advance of a game against BYU — though for different reasons than the Wyoming players. Russellville native Mitch Hall* was on that Mizzou squad.

Far less known than the above incidents is the time practically the entire University of Arkansas football team went on strike. In happened in January, 1912, and before diving into specifics, let’s take a wide-lens look at some of the most dramatic ways Razorback football was then so different:

  • Under the leadership of Hugo Bezdek, the program was coming off the most statistically dominant stretch in its history. From the start of 1909 to halfway through the 1911 season, Arkansas went 17-1 and outscored its combined opposition 617-42.
  • Touchdowns were then worth five points each.  Not only the 1912 were they worth six points.
  • It would be another two years before Arkansas joined the SWC as a charter member.
  • Its captain-elect, Dan Estes, would go on to coach at what’s now called UCA for 17 years. Today, Estes Stadium in Conway is named after him.

So, back to the strike: What exactly happened?

Just like with the strikes at Wyoming and Missouri, this student protest started with non-athletes. In Arkansas’ case, it started with the university administrators trying to put the clamps on an underground student-run newspaper called The X-Ray. This publication, helmed by 36 students, aimed “to correct university failings by condemning everything from campus litter to favoritism among discipline and scholarship committees,” Brady Tackett wrote for The Arkansas Traveler in 2012.

Another specific complaint levied by The X-Ray editors: “While we are too poor to keep our campus look neat at a nominal cost, we are able to build ten thousand dollar tracks and football fields that are never used.” Notably, the editors (who included their names on the paper’s masthead) included sons of members of the board of trustees, UA baseball stars and, apparently, Dan Estes himself.

This publication infuriated UA administrators, especially UA president John Tillman. It violated a 1905 law, prompted by the board of trustees, banning “unauthorized publications and assemblages.”


This was Part 1 of a two-part series. Go here to read the rest.


*The 2015 Missouri football team strike was inspired by a black student organization’s protests against racially charged incidents on campus and a cut to health insurance for graduate students. I don’t know if Hall, who is white, supported the protest or not. Not all the Mizzou players did, after all. One white player anonymously told ESPN: “As much as we want to say everyone is united, half the team and coaches — black and white — are pissed. If we were 9-0, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Missouri football has struggled mightily since the start of the 2015 football season, winning only three SEC games in that span and producing terrible Tweets like the below. It’s has about 1000-to-1 odds of winning the 2018 national championship according to some betting lines.

 

The 5-10 Philander Smith Guard Who Led the Nation in Field Goal Percentage: Part 1

It’s not common to find high-volume shooters who connect on more than 75% of their field goal attempts over the course of a full college season. Rarer still are those players who can also connect on more than 90% of their free throws.

Rarest of all is the player who does all the above while standing less than six feet tall.

And yet, nearly 50 years, a Philander Smith College guard named Robert Thompson pulled off this possibly unmatched trifecta. In 1968-69, this 5-10 Texas native finished:

  • 8th in the nation in scoring with a 29.1 average per game
  • 1st nationally in field goal percentage at 77.8 %, completing 257 out of 330 field goals attempted
  • 1st nationally in free throw percentage at 97.1 %, completing 104 out of 107 free throws attempts

These are amazing statistics. In the NBA, the kinds of players who can shoot more than 70% from the field while also shooting at high volumes are in the Wilt Chamberlin realm—unstoppable giants camped out close to the rim. Yet those same giants often struggle with their free throws, shooting under 60%.

At the Division I NCAA level, the two highest field goal shooters have been:

  1. Davontae Cacok (UNC Wilmington): Shot 80% for 12.3 PPG in 2016-17
  2. Steve Johnson (Oregon State*): Shot 74.6% for 21 PPG in 1980-81

Yet both of these guys were fairly large dudes operating around the rim. Cacok stands 6-7, 240 pounds, while Johnson played at 6-10, 235 pounds. And both shot under 69% from the free throw line.

Meanwhile, the Division I record-holder in season free throw percentage is Missouri State guard Blake Ahearn, who hit 97.5% in 2003-4. But he also shot under 40% from the field.

Philander Smith plays in the NAIA, so how does Thompson’s feat stack up within that association’s all-time records? Well, it turns out his free throw record still stands today.  The runner-up is Klay Knueppel (Wisconsin Lutheran), who made 95% of his free throw attempts in 1989-1992.

The listed season field goal leader is James Cason, a Birmingham-Southern forward who made 78.2% of his 280 attempted field goal attempts in 1995-96. Cason, however, stood 6-5, making him one of the tallest players on the court during most NAIA games. Robert Thompson may hold the No. 2 ranking here. According to the NAIA record book, the No. 2 spot goes to Paul Peterson (Westbrook [Maine]), who shot 76.2% from the field in 1994-95. But Thompson’s 77.8% is superior, of course.

Of course, since the NAIA official record keepers didn’t include Thompson’s record, it’s possible they have missed others as well. But regardless of how high Thompson’s 77.8% ranks, it’s fair to say it’s an extremely impressive for any player—especially a 5-10, 158 pound guard.

I’ve found some old articles which delve deeper into Thompson’s historically great season. Stay tuned for those upcoming posts.

 

*My oh my how the Oregon State basketball program has fallen, going from No. 1 throughout much of that 1980-81 season to around 500-to-1 odds to win the 2018 national championship according to some betting lines.