1904 College Football National Champion: Minn, Mich, or Penn?

by Gopher Fan
(Minneapolis, Minn)

Greetings from Minneapolis. I have a question about the 1904 college football season. The NCAA and Big Ten's official football records list Minnesota as a national champion for going 13-0 and outscoring opponents 725-12 in 1904. The national championship was by Billingsley.

Michigan and Pennsylvania were also named National Champions in 1904. Michigan and Penn shared National Championship honors from the National Championship Foundation while Parke Davis and Helms named Penn as champions. Michigan and Minnesota also shared the Big Ten title for the second straight year as well in 1904.

The University of Minnesota's athletic department has never acknowledged this national title, even though it acknowledges two national basketball titles awarded by the Helms Foundation in the early 20th century. My question is, is the national title by Billingsley legitimate enough to consider?

Thank you for your time.



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Apr 17, 2012
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Yes, Minn 1904 Championship Should be Counted
by: Tex Noel

Thank you for your question.

Early NC selections for college football and who to accept and not to are 1 of the many early debates among college football circles.

All 3 selectors, Davis, Billingsley and Helms at that time named what would be considered ''retro-active" national champions--even though, of the 3, only Davis was alive in 1904. But this great stats person only named an actual (same season) #1 once in 1933.

The NCAA does accept both Davis and Helms' choice as an accepted national championship selector.
Back in 1990, I believe, the NCAA did a survey of early selectors to formulate a consensus and the previous 2 and others were included. It overlapped the official ones (AP, Coaches, FWAA, NFFHF) beginning with the 1900 season through the 1953 season for the early selectors.

Their reason being that no one that was alive during the era of the survey; the governing body accepted well-known selectors' choices.
Billingsley's choices were not (his 1st actual season was 1970.)

Personally, I would accept Billingsley's champions over Sagarin, or many of the current BCS selector's retro choices for champions.
The reason being is that he is an actual football rater; the others, IMO, only qualify as such because of high advanced degrees in math, statistics or other non-related football fields....

Billingsley uses, as his variables, how teams perform on the field--which is how a champion should be considered--if there is no playoff; the others don't.

I have done extensive statresearch on the Pre-1937 era and have found a number of polls from someone that was there at the time; but for some unknown reason--maybe lack of uninformative--these early selectors are not considered; plus many early polls were heavy-Eastern teams. But this is where early college football's main emphasis was till the game expanded west.

Yet, early AA selections are considered official; go figure!! LOL

In my book, Stars of an Earlier Autumn, on Pre-1937 statistics; I have a noted early sportswriter's poll for the 1904 season...neither Minnesota nor Michigan is listed as the nation's top team--as Yale was.

Here's Caspar Whitney's Top 10 for 1904:

1904
Caspar Whitney
1 Yale
2 Pennsylvania
3 Army
4 Princeton
5 Harvard
6 Dartmouth
7 Minnesota
8 Michigan
9 Amherst
10 Chicago

See continued below --

Apr 17, 2012
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More on Minn 1904
by: Tex Noel

When try to decide if a selector's choice made a valid choice for #1...is like the old cliche': "beauty is in the eye of the beholder..." However, I would consider various factors in his selections before accepting.

Until recently, when I'd compile a school's list a total titles won, I would count retroactive ones--as such as found in the NCAA Records Book.
No longer; since I found enough early sources to pin-point a Pre-1936 (before the AP poll began).
I now list my champions as:

Actual (any reputable source) that named a #1 prior to the beginning or since the 1936 season; but not an official source. Official using the ones mentioned above

Joel, I hope this has answered your question....yes, I would accept Billingsley's 1904 NC of Minnesota...but remember it was made retroactively (after the fact).

Please get back with me if you have additional questions.

Since you have an interest in college football history...I would like to invite you to become a subscriber to The College Football Historian--official publication of the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association (IFRA).

There is no cost involved; IFRA has been around since 2008 and we have over 430 members--many of which are members of the media, or work directly with college football. A number of ESPN staffers are also members--infact, since Aug. 2011, we have been contacted 3 times to assist a writer or provide a quote for their story.

I just sent the April issue of the newsletter out Saturday; if you would like to receive it, please let me know and I'll send it to you in Minneapolis.

Thank you for your time and question.

Tex/Executive Director

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