The University of Chicago News Office
October 1, 1998 Press Contact: Dave Hilbert
(773) 702-4638

Sports at the University of Chicago: A rich history

Since its days as a founding member of the Big Ten Conference nearly a century ago, the University of Chicago has maintained a rich sports history and has played a large role in shaping the direction of intercollegiate athletics for both men and women.

The history of football at Chicago is linked closely to that of the University itself. Amos Alonzo Stagg accepted the position of athletic director and football coach in 1890, nearly two years before the University opened its doors to students. Stagg held his first football practice on October 1, 1892, the day the University held its first class. Football in the 1890s was in its formative stages. Stagg and his team helped shape the game with innovative ideas such as the “T” formation, the huddle, and the center snap.

In 1896, Chicago became a charter member of the Western Conference, which would later be known as the Big Ten Conference. Under Stagg, Chicago would go on to win six Big Ten football championships from 1899 to 1924.

Chicago competed in the Big Ten in all sports from 1896-1939 and in several others until leaving the conference on March 8, 1946. During its association with the Big Ten, the Maroons won or shared 71 league championships in sports including football, basketball, baseball, indoor and outdoor track & field, swimming, golf, gymnastics, fencing, and tennis.

In 1935, however, after a decline in the program’s success and a wish to maintain the University’s rigorous academic standards, Chicago discontinued varsity football in 1939.

While the glory days of Big Ten competition were reserved for men, the University of Chicago has been a leader in the development of women’s intercollegiate athletics. Under the guidance of Gertrude Dudley, Chicago in 1898 launched the first program of competitive athletics for women at a major university.

In 1976, Mary Jean Mulvaney became a chairman of a consolidated men's and women's athletic department, in so doing becoming one of the nation's first female athletic directors. There are other “firsts” as well:

  • In 1935, Chicago’s Jay Berwanger was the winner of the first-ever Heisman Trophy.
  • In 1896, Chicago defeated Iowa 15-12 in the first five-on-five intercollegiate men's basketball game.
  • Chicago became the first women's collegiate basketball team to fly to an away contest in 1974.
  • Chicago boasts the nation’s longest running men's and women's support organizations - the Order of the C and the Women's Athletic Association, both founded in 1904.

Varsity football returned to the Midway in 1969 after a 30-year absence. In 1976, Chicago's men's teams joined the Midwest Athletic Conference, followed by the women’s teams in 1982.

In 1987-88, Chicago became a charter member of a new and unique NCAA Division III conference, the University Athletic Association. Comprised of some of the nation's leading research institutions, UAA members include Brandeis University, Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western Reserve University, Emory University, Johns Hopkins University, New York University, the University of Rochester, and Washington University in St. Louis.

The UAA provides its member institutions and student-athletes with some of the best athletic competition in the country, as evidenced by the fact that the UAA has sent 129 teams to NCAA postseason play and has produced 11 national champions in its 11-year history. Many student-athletes at UAA institutions are capable of competing at the NCAA Division I level, but choose the UAA experience because of the unique combination of academic, athletic, and travel opportunities the Association afford its members.

Since joining the UAA, Chicago athletics has seen a dramatic resurgence, and in the past few years has emerged as a national championship contender in several sports. Recent sports highlights include
1997-98Men’s BasketballNCAA III Sweet 16UAA Champion
1997-98WrestlingNCAA III #18UAA Champion
1997-98Women’s Indoor TrackNCAA III #13
1997-98Women’s Outdoor TrackNCAA III #25
1997-98Women’ SoccerNCAA III 1st Round
1996-97Men’s BasketballNCAA III Sweet 16UAA Champion
1996-97Men’s SoccerNCAA III Final Four
1996-97Women’s SoccerNCAA III Final FourUAA Champion
1996-97WrestlingNCAA III #25UAA Champion
Last modified at 03:51 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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