The NCAA's decision to ban Penn State from the postseason for four years matches the longest such ban in the organization's history. The only other program to receive such a penalty was Indiana, which saw its program crippled during the 1960s by sanctions faced by then-head coach Phil Dickens.
In the first of our two-part story on Dickens' time at Indiana, which appeared in Volume 20 of Inside Indiana Magazine in November 2010, we break down how Dickens' tenure began at IU and how quickly the Hoosiers found themselves in hot water.
When the Kelvin Sampson Saga unfolded just a few years ago, the cry went out from the Hoosier faithful that Sampson had soiled a legacy of compliance at IU, that he had destroyed a squeaky-clean image that had taken decades to create.
“Sure, Indiana had that problem in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but IU has been clean ever since!” went the argument from the Hoosier faithful.
More than one IU fan took pause and said, “Yeah! Wait, what happened in 1960?” Or maybe they didn’t say that in fear of being ridiculed for not knowing their Hoosier history. Either way, the bottom line is that once upon a time, IU was known as the biggest scofflaw in the NCAA and received the harshest penalty ever handed down on an athletic department for recruiting violations to that point.
One of the sports involved in the scandals was football, a program led by the charismatic coach Phil Dickens. Dickens’ tenure at IU was tumultuous to say the least, and his time at IU was marked by scandal. He is remembered by some as a victim of circumstance. He is beloved by his former players, who call themselves the “Dickens Boys,” and they will defend him to the hilt. Others remember him as a renegade coach who tried a crazy offense and played loose with the rules.
All of them are probably, to some extent, right.
Still, the story of Phil Dickens is one that feels like it was ripped from the recent past, even though it took place more than 50 years ago. The Dickens name at IU has become synonymous with scandal and rule breaking, but the reality is more layered than just claiming Dickens was a coach who played loosely with the rules. After all, he survived not one, but two recruiting scandals, so his story isn’t quite as simple as calling him a cheater.
Bernie Crimmins came to IU with high hopes, but his struggles led to his resignation in 1956.
For some of you the memories might be fuzzy. For others, this may be the first time you’re hearing of Dickens. Either way, in the first of our two-part series on the drama that surrounded Dickens’ tenure at IU, we look at his early days in Bloomington, a time that didn’t even see him coach a game for the Hoosiers.
The coach sat down, grabbed a pen and tried to decide how best to describe his feelings. As Indiana football coach, he had done his very best to guide the Hoosiers to victory, but the results just weren’t up to his own standards or the standards of the IU faithful. There weren’t many wins in his time in Bloomington and when it came to Big Ten play, success was even tougher to find.
Finally deciding once and for all, he put pen to paper and wrote the following:
“I am greatly disappointed that we have not had more successful football seasons during my tenure as head coach at Indiana. I feel that many unfortunate incidents, including an undue number of injuries, have entered into the lack of success.
“But, for the good of the football team and the University, I feel that I should terminate my services at Indiana.
“In doing so, I have the utmost regret, and I wish to thank the University alumni, the student body, the faculty, and friends for the cooperation and support they have given me.”
With that, the coach signed his name at the bottom. He may have looked at a calendar and realized that it truly was the first day of the rest of his life.
Indiana's hiring of Phil Dickens from Wyoming led to his image as a cowboy before he arrived in Bloomington.
For the new former IU football Bernie Crimmins, Nov. 28, 1956, was a step down. The Hoosiers now had to step forward into the unknown, hoping to hire a coach who could finally turn the football program, which had struggled for the vast majority of its 73 years of existence, into a winner. It was a process that would present more than its fair share of drama, and it would eventually lead to some of the most controversial days in school history.
When Alvin “Bo” McMillin, the coach who had led the Hoosiers to an undefeated season in 1945 and had been the leader of the football program since 1934, decided to walk away from Bloomington in March, 1948, the Hoosiers appeared to be in good shape. IU’s Director of Athletics, who had led the Hoosiers to a 5-3-1 record in 1947, accepted an opportunity to become the general manager and head coach of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, and Indiana quickly acted to hire former line coach Clyde Smith, who had been the head coach at La Crosse State Teachers College, to take over effective April 1.
Unfortunately for Smith, the program was already starting to show signs of falling apart from those heady days under McMillin. IU had posted just a 2-3-1 record in what was then known as the “Big Nine” conference—Michigan State didn’t join the league until 1949—and Smith struggled from the beginning. He went just 8-27-1 during his four years at Indiana, resigning midway through the 1951 season. By the middle of January, 1952, Indiana seemed to have a young, up-and-coming coach who had the pedigree to succeed and the desire to turn the program around.
Crimmins was just 32 years old when he was hired to take over the Hoosiers after serving as the backfield coach at Notre Dame since 1946. He was a former Fighting Irish player, as well, having played for ND before World War II, and he spent the 1945 season with the Green Bay Packers. IU couldn’t have picked a coach with better leadership qualities. He was in the Navy during the war, and he earned a Silver Star as a PT boat commander in the Pacific as a junior Lieutenant. With a five-year contract in hand, Crimmins was ready to take the Big Ten by storm.
Of course, Crimmins didn’t enjoy much more success than Smith, stumbling to a 13-32 record overall and a 6-24 mark in Big Ten play. Saddled with an awful facility in the original Memorial Stadium and nearly a complete lack of football tradition to fall back on, Crimmins struggled mightily and proved to be unpopular with fans.
The last straw may have come Nov. 23 when IU lost 39-23 to Purdue in West Lafayette, completing a three-game skid to close the season. Five days later, on a day in which someone hanged an effigy of Crimmins from a tree near the intersection of Seventh Street and Woodlawn in front of Ernie Pyle Hall, the coach walked away.
Crimmins’ resignation was met with surprise, but the Bloomington Herald-Telephone was optimistic about the future.
This photo from the Indianapolis News shows Dickens (right) horsing around with Herman B Wells (left) and AD Frank Allen (back) on the day of his hiring.
“Although it doesn’t appear in the five-year won-lost record, the football picture at Indiana undoubtedly is in a far healthier state than it has been for a decade,” the H-T wrote Nov. 28, 1956. “Crimmins deserves much of the credit for the current state of affairs—one which will make the hiring of a successor a much easier matter than it was five years ago or would have been at any time since, before now.”
The H-T credited Crimmins for his work with alumni and organizing clubs in helping to improve fundraising efforts, and that hard work had helped push the athletic department toward building new athletic facilities north of the campus.
“Largely through his efforts, the University already has started a huge building program for the athletic department,” the H-T wrote. “(He) has raised the pay scale of the head coach and his staff to an attractive level and has provided a better tutoring system for the athletes.”
It didn’t take long for thoughts to turn to Crimmins’ successor, and it seemed there was an endless list of possibilities. Former IU players Pete Pihos and Jim Trimble were immediately entered into the discussion. IU assistants Howard (Goon) Brown and Kenneth Karl were mentioned. Other wish lists included newly-retired Cleveland Browns QB Otto Graham, Nebraska head coach Pete Elliott, Xavier (then St. Xavier of Cincinnati) head coach Harry W. (Mickey) Connolly, former Texas head coach Eddie Price, Los Angeles Rams head coach Sid Gillman, NFL legend Paul Brown and even former Kentucky and then-Texas A&M head coach Paul (Bear) Bryant. One other name was expected to be a long shot, but there were more than a few fans who thought IU should throw everything it had into bringing one football coach to Bloomington: Woody Hayes.
The Indiana Daily Student summed up the early thoughts of many IU fans by asking a simple question in its Nov. 29 edition: “Has the time finally come when our campus may be blessed with a winning personality who will instill his teams with the desire to emulate the great Hoosier team of 1945?”
A minor scandal developed over the next few days as it became clear that Crimmins may have been forced out the door. Although Director of Athletics Frank Allen and IU president Herman B Wells praised the coach, an anonymous member of the IU staff told the H-T that he “understood that not only did the pressure (to resign) come from the inside, but that persons who opposed Bernie’s dismissal were given a choice — keep Crimmins or keep the proposed new athletic plant building program.”
(Editor’s note: More than 50 years on, there’s no way of truly knowing who this anonymous source was definitively speaking of. Circumstantial evidence, however, points to Allen and former AD Paul “Pooch” Harrell opposing Crimmins’ departure. Harrell’s dream was the building of the athletic plant north of campus, which included the future Gladstein Fieldhouse, Assembly Hall and new Memorial Stadium. In fact, Harrell resigned as AD in 1955 to oversee the construction at the athletic plant full time. Allen, meanwhile, was excited about the new facilities and would have had to fold on the Crimmins issue if he was really given the choice. Again, this is pure speculation on our part, but they are the most likely candidates.)
Boosters and Trustees also seemed to be putting pressure on the powers-that-be to get Crimmins out of town.
Dickens (far left) met with his team shortly after being hired and made it clear things were about to change at IU.
“Without naming names, several members of the University’s official family have indicated that pressure arose from ‘certain strong alumni, particularly several active in the recruitment of football talent,’ ” the H-T wrote.
The fact that Crimmins would be paid the remaining four years of the five-year contract he signed following the 1955 season was another indication that Crimmins had not left of his own free will. Crimmins also had made no indication that he was considering resigning, and the announcement caught the assistant coaches completely off guard.
The sketchy situation surrounding Crimmins’ dismissal was undoubtedly a concern for the Hoosier brass, especially when it considered the future. Any new candidate would certainly hear the rumors that Crimmins had been forced out, and more than a few coaches were likely to balk at agreeing to coach the Hoosiers if there was the chance that the University administration would tamper with the program going forward.
Crimmins, however, could not have been too bothered by his treatment at IU. He served as a representative of IU at the annual Big Ten meeting in Chicago in early December. Ironically, it was at that meeting that rules would be considered which would prove to have a long-lasting effect on the Hoosier football program.
December 7, 1956 was a critical day in the history of Indiana football despite the fact there wasn’t a single game played that day. On that Friday, the Big Ten Conference during its annual meeting laid out its new financial aid plan, which was designed to cut down on costs for schools and alleviate some of the arms race that was occurring on the recruiting trail.
On its face, the proposal seemed sound. The “Council of Ten,” comprised of school presidents, recommended that “conscientious attention” be paid to “the presently large expenditures for visitation and entertainment,” and the “growing diversion of athletic receipts to finance athletic scholarships.” In other words, the Council believed that recruiting expenses and scholarship costs were getting out of hand, and it aimed to cut back a bit.
With that thought in mind, the Council approved a measure that would limit each school to only 100 total scholarships per year for all sports, and aid would be provided on the basis of need. Schools would be allowed to provide aid for an athlete’s basic college expenses, including room and board, books and tuition, but only on a need basis. A formula was set up in which an independent agency, which processed general scholarship applications, would decide just how much each athlete’s scholarship would be worth based on his own financial condition and that of his family.
Dickens signed his contract with a thrilled Wells looking on, but his time at IU would be marked by scandals and sanctions.
For instance, if it was decided that a potential student-athlete could afford to pay 60 percent of his tuition, books, and room and board, a Big Ten school could offer him a scholarship for the other 40 percent. If another potential student-athlete could only afford 20 percent, the scholarship would cover the remaining 80 percent. Each scholarship would be judged on each student-athlete’s respective need, and the parents of a student-athlete would be forced to file a financial statement with the conference.
The measure passed by a 6-4 margin — Minnesota, Ohio State, Iowa and Indiana voted against the proposal — and after a 60-day “cooling off” period, the package would become the rule. Again, on face value, the plan seemed like a solid way for schools to control costs.
The flaw, however, came in the fact that the measure would only apply to the Big Ten. No other conference in America would be playing by the same rules. In other words, Indiana might be limited to offering a 60-percent scholarship to a student-athlete, but Nebraska, Texas or Notre Dame would be allowed to offer a 100-percent scholarship. Guess which school would lose that battle?
The reaction to the measure was swift and passionate. The University Board of Regents at Minnesota decried the unfairness of the plan.
“If they’re hiring a kid to play football, they ought to pay him whether his old man is rich or not,” said Daniel Gainey, a member of the Board of Regents and the CEO of Jostens Jewelry (the folks who likely made your high school class ring). “Establishing the ‘need’ of the college athlete is too socialistic… This is not scholarship.”
The measure would only become a Big Ten policy if no schools filed an objection, and it seemed very likely that one would be forthcoming.
Back in Bloomington, the speculation over who the next head coach would be continued to bubble. Trimble, who already had a job as the head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League, returned to his alma mater to officially throw his name in the ring. Other names continued to be mentioned throughout the Christmas holiday and in early January, the Indiana job was one of the hottest topics at the 51st NCAA convention in St. Louis. With roughly a dozen football openings still available, the competition for coaches would be tough, but Indiana had a solid list of candidates it was considering for the job.
Dickens ran into trouble before he ever coached a game at Indiana, but he wouldn't be done battling the NCAA.
One of the names on that list was North Carolina head coach Jim Tatum. Tatum, who posted a 73-15-1 record and won the 1953 National Championship at Maryland before moving to North Carolina for the 1956 season, had posted a 2-7-1 record in his first year with the Tar Heels. His efforts to build UNC’s football program, however, were hindered by the fact that since arriving in Chapel Hill, three of his assistant coaches had moved on to head coaching positions. Tatum’s status at UNC seemed in question, and despite his assurances he wasn’t unhappy in Chapel Hill, he reportedly had met with Allen in St. Louis.
Trimble, however, was tired of waiting for IU to make a decision, and he dropped out of the race after signing a three-year extension with the Tiger-Cats. IU reportedly was serious about a couple other candidates, including South Carolina’s Warren Giese, Syracuse’s Ben Schwartzwalder and Wyoming head coach Phil Dickens. Two other NFL coaches, Baltimore’s Weeb Ewbank and Washington’s Joe Kuharich, were said to be very interested in the job, as well, and were willing to take the job under the right circumstances.
Over the next couple of days, the list started to narrow. On Jan. 17, 1957 the H-T reported that both Giese and Ewbank had decided to stay with their respective clubs, and the Hoosiers were down to Dickens, Kuharich and Illinois freshman coach Mel Brewer. Tatum wasn’t completely out of the picture; he was described as the “darkhorse” candidate.
That darkhorse, however, quickly stepped into the spotlight. On Jan. 18, it was reported that the IU Board of Trustees was deciding between Tatum and Dickens, but the H-T marked Dickens as a 9-1 favorite to be named Indiana’s new head coach. The Board met, and Allen presented 98 names of coaches who had been interviewed, recommended or had applied for the position. For three hours, the Board met, and at the end of the meeting the Board gave Allen one task: Pick someone and sign the coach as soon as possible. It was Allen’s choice all along.
Allen’s selection appeared clear the next day when Tatum flew in from North Carolina and arrived on the IU campus at 3 p.m. Tatum sat down with university officials for six hours to discuss the job, but when all was said and done, Tatum simply couldn’t bring himself to change jobs again.
The scene played out like some sort of movie. Following the meeting, Tatum headed to the elevator at the Union Building to return to his room. After stepping into the elevator, Tatum saw William S. Armstrong—yes, THAT Bill Armstrong—and grabbed the door. He shook hands with Armstrong, who asked Tatum, “Are you going to be with us?”
“I just can’t leave North Carolina,” said Tatum according to the H-T. “I don’t know why I came out here.”
A few minutes later in Room 502, Tatum spoke with reporters about the day.
“I’ve been so nervous and upset since I’ve been here I couldn’t even eat,” Tatum said. He got to work eating some cold roast beef and started asking questions of the reporters.
“What was Bernie’s trouble here?” Tatum asked.
“Nobody really knows,” the reporters said. “Could have been lack of material. Almost anything.”
“Well, I want to tell you that (Allen) has a wonderful program here,” Tatum said. “This is sure a wonderful opportunity for somebody. But I just can’t leave North Carolina. I’ve only been there a year, and I’d sure feel bad about leaving.
“I should have never come here.”
Money could have been an issue behind Tatum’s decision as well. The H-T reported that one of three phone calls made during the conference was to the vice president in charge of finance at North Carolina, which could have led to UNC giving Tatum a bump in salary. For its part, IU thought it had its man. The University had photographers waiting for Tatum, but they were left waiting.
Allen, however, was done waiting. Only a few minutes after being spurned by Tatum, Allen picked up the phone and offered the job to Dickens, who had posted a 10-0 record the year before at Wyoming. Dickens quickly agreed to a four-year, $60,000 contract.
Indiana had its man.
In hindsight, the fact Dickens’ tenure at IU was delayed by stormy weather seems almost appropriate. Dickens was due in Bloomington Sunday, Jan. 20, with a contract-signing ceremony scheduled for Monday, but bad weather sent him to Cincinnati instead. He was still stuck in Cincy Monday morning, and with Wells scheduled to head first to Indianapolis then Washington D.C., the ceremony never took place in Bloomington. Instead, Dickens dispensed with the formalities in Indianapolis before driving down to IU to begin his reign over the Hoosiers. He also planned to bring his entire staff of assistant coaches with him from Wyoming to allow him to hit the ground running on 10th Street.
“I’m very happy with this opportunity,” Dickens told the H-T. “My wife and family are thrilled about coming to Bloomington, and I’m sure that my staff feels the same way. I spoke to members of the staff only briefly Saturday night before leaving for Bloomington. Each man seemed receptive to the idea of moving here and getting a job done here.”
Dickens had been successful at his two previous head coaching stops. He posted a 40-16-7 record at Wofford from 1947-52, finishing first in the South Carolina Little Three Conference in five of the years, and he went 29-11-1 in the Skyline Conference from 1953-1956 at Wyoming. During his final season with the Cowboys, Dickens led his team to the No. 16 ranking in the Coaches Poll. His career record as a head coach of 69-27-8 ranked him 10th among active coaches with a winning percentage of .702. He was in the Naval Civil Service program during the war, and he was a church-going man.
Allen called Dickens a “gentleman who will be an asset to the entire university as well as to its football program.” Allen understood Dickens wouldn’t turn things around overnight, but with the coach’s pedigree and the lure of a proposed 58,000-seat stadium on the horizon, the hope was IU’s recruiting would turn a corner.
Dickens admitted that he was a bit vague on the Big Ten’s new rules on recruiting. He said he knew that he wouldn’t be allowed to visit a recruit in the recruit’s home and said he always had been allowed to do that before, but he vowed to follow all the Big Ten rules to the letter.
Someone at IU had long before prepared him for the headache that was Hoosier football.
“I can’t make any predictions,” said Dickens when asked what he thought the next season held. “Last December, when I visited the campus, somebody showed me the schedule—and laid down a bottle of aspirins beside it. We’ll play them as they come along and do the best we can.”
Reporters, meanwhile, decided to get a little clever with Dickens’ name. Playing on the writings of Charles Dickens, a column called “Roundin’ the Square” in the H-T asked the question: “A novel note — Has Dickens changed Indiana’s football story from ‘Bleak House’ to ‘Great Expectations?’ ”
Little did they know Dickens wouldn’t get a chance to answer that question for a while.
In late February, the Big Ten’s financial aid plan came up for final adoption. A simple majority vote was needed to either pass the rule or send it packing. Purdue, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin all clearly favored the plan. Iowa and Minnesota both were opposed. Ohio State, which had previously voted “no” on the measure, was expected to do the same this time around. That left Indiana and Northwestern as the swing schools in the vote. If either school voted “no” on the proposal, it would kill the legislation.
Indiana wasn’t in a hurry to decide.
“There’s a chance Indiana may not make a decision until the meeting Feb. 22,” Allen said. “There is a possibility that Indiana’s faculty representative, Prof. John F. Mee, will be sent to Chicago with an open mind.”
Whatever was said at the meeting, it rang true with IU. The Hoosiers voted for the plan, and it passed. K.L. (Tug) Wilson, the Big Ten commissioner, hoped the conference was setting an example other conferences would follow, but critics believed the league had just legislated itself into irrelevance and sapped its pool of prospective student-athletes dry.
Whatever the opinion might have been, it was clear that penalties for running afoul of the new proposal would be steep. If an athlete accepted a grant from a Big Ten school, he was barred from transferring to another member school and receiving aid from that institution. Any player caught receiving extra financial aid would be ruled ineligible. Any coach or staff member who offered or paid extra aid to student-athletes would be fired and barred from the conference, and any school failing to take such disciplinary actions would be ordered to show cause why it should not be suspended or expelled from the Big Ten.
To be blunt, coaches had better abide by the rules, or there would be hell to pay.
Dickens had to be furious that IU had gone along with the plan. Insiders said Dickens had been promised that Indiana would vote “no” on the measure, and he didn’t find out that IU proved to be the decisive vote until he was told by another Big Ten coach that the Hoosiers allowed the measure to pass. Despite that confusion, Dickens immediately got to work building the IU program, and his strategy was to quickly turn around the moribund program by improving on the recruiting trail.
Throughout the spring and summer, Dickens worked tirelessly to sell the Hoosier program to the top talent in the Midwest and beyond, and he hoped for big things for the fall of 1957. He got big things all right. They just weren’t what he expected.
During the Big Ten’s late May meeting in Chicago, the new financial aid rule was modified to relax some of the restrictions that had been placed on schools, partially because opponents from outside the Big Ten had raided the Midwest for talent. After all, Big Ten programs weren’t allowed to offer a formal tender of aid to an athlete until June 15, and more than a few prospects were anxious to solidify their plans prior to that date. The restrictions frustrated athletic directors who saw potential talent leaving the area.
“In time the plan will kill us,” Stu Holcomb, the Director of Athletics at Northwestern, told the Associated Press in early May. “I am sure the rest of the conference had anticipated an invasion of recruiting forces from outside because of the new plan.”
Other modifications were in order as well. Previously, schools were barred from visiting or interviewing prospects off-campus after the student-athlete had accepted a scholarship offer, but the late-May meeting changed the rule. Another revision allowed schools to grant a full, 100-percent scholarship to student-athletes who graduated in the upper one-third of his high school class and maintained a “B” average in his college classes. A committee was also formed to study what other revisions should be instituted in the future.
Just to recap, recruiting rules were changed in December, instituted in February, then changed again in May with more changes likely to come. Not surprisingly, schools and coaches were confused by the new regulations. Dickens, who was said to be violently opposed to anything having to do with the financial aid plan, continued to work the recruiting trail hard, but his efforts began to draw the wrong kind of attention.
On June 5 and 6, Wilson and an investigator showed up in Bloomington to ask the football program a few questions about its recruiting practices. A few days after that session, the Big Ten’s official “inspection staff” showed up to conduct a 12-hour session with the IU football staff to interrogate the coaches on their recruiting efforts.
The Big Ten conducted the meetings in secret and demanded that Indiana keep the proceedings secret, as well. By June 11, Wilson formally notified IU that the conference determined that Dickens had violated the financial aid rules by offering aid in excess of the allowable amounts. A hearing, attended by Wilson and a Conference committee, plus Allen, Wells and Dickens, was then held June 19 at the University. At the hearing, Allen, Dickens and his staff presented evidence that they had not broken any rules, saying they had withdrawn promises of aid that was permissible under the old rules but not under the new legislation.
All of these meetings, investigations and hearings were conducted in complete secrecy, but eventually word got out. On July 1, 1957, the H-T spilled the beans.
“I.U. Grid Coaches In Loop ‘Doghouse’ ” screamed a headline on the front page of the newspaper. The H-T reported that the Big Ten was accusing IU of going “beyond the limits of the Big Ten’s new aid program,” but the paper did point out that Indiana was playing within the rules set by the NCAA. The H-T reported that rumors were swirling that Indiana had been “turned in” by Conference rivals, and even some non-conference teams had accused the Hoosiers of at least 16 violations of the new aid program.
Under the harsh penalties imposed by the legislation, if any one of the 16 violations proved to be true, Dickens would be subject to immediate dismissal. The accusations, however, were vague, and it seems Indiana was being accused of paying more for campus recruiting visits than was allowed under Big Ten rules. The extra expenses came in the form of more luxurious travel arrangements rather than monetary gifts to recruits. Several players also were accused of making multiple visits to Bloomington, which was against the rules as well. IU was not accused of making under-the-table payments to any athletes.
The accusations were crippling to Dickens’ efforts to recruit players to Bloomington. Not only was the Big Ten staying mum about the investigation, but the coaching staff, due to conference rules barring contact with players who had been offered aid to attend IU, couldn’t even call players to explain what was going on. Wells ordered IU officials to stay silent on the matter, which didn’t help the situation. After all, with rumors of an investigation swirling, a statement by Indiana or the Big Ten either confirming or denying the accusations would have defused the situation a little. Instead, both parties stayed silent, allowing the controversy to grow.
With Dickens already struggling to gain ground on the recruiting trail due to the new restrictions and the lack of proper facilities for the football program, the H-T expected the scandal to all but destroy the football program.
On the bright side, Indiana was not alone. The July 3 H-T said a source close to the Big Ten said that at least six more conference schools beyond IU — Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State — were also in trouble for running afoul of the financial aid plan.
“These schools,” the H-T’s anonymous source said, “have been able to keep quiet the fact that they are under investigation so far. And, instead of being in the same boat as Indiana, they are profiting at Indiana’s expense because their own suspected guilt is not generally known.”
The source was quoted as saying other Big Ten schools were being accused of more serious violations than IU, but for some reason the accusations against Indiana were leaked first. The source went on to say that it would be difficult for the Big Ten to actually hand down harsh penalties because it would basically mean replacing the coaching staffs of nearly every school in the conference.
Despite the speculation, the Big Ten and Indiana maintained a remarkable silence that is nearly unthinkable in today’s world. Nothing—not a word—was uttered by either side in nearly a month. Then, on Sunday, July 28, a bombshell was dropped on Bloomington.
The Big Ten announced that due to violations of the financial aid plan, Dickens would be suspended by Indiana for one year effective Aug. 5. Dickens was accused of offering prospective athletes room and board, books, tuition and fees, plus incidental expense money, in excess of what the financial aid plan would allow. In other words, Dickens was promising full-ride scholarships to prospective student-athletes instead of following the “need” basis the conference had adopted earlier in the year.
It should be noted that Dickens was not accused of breaking any NCAA rules, only Big Ten bylaws. What Dickens offered — just offered, not paid, but offered — was completely legal in every other conference in the country save for the Big Ten. Unfortunately, IU is in the Big Ten, and Dickens was going to pay a price. Oh, and the representatives at the Big Ten meeting ruled 9-0 that Indiana would not be allowed to ask for Dickens’ reinstatement until its meeting in December, 1957, at the earliest, and IU’s continued membership in the Big Ten was conditional upon the school suspending Dickens.
Dickens put his best foot forward in a tough situation.
“I can say in good conscience that if I was in violation of the rules in statements attributed to me, I was not aware of it, nor did I intend to violate the rules,” Dickens said. “The Conference action is a severe blow to me personally. But I regret even more so its effects upon the University, which I wish only to serve and which I hope to serve well in the future. I hope likewise that in the future I will be able to demonstrate my high respect for the Conference, which I have always felt and which I retain in all sincerity despite the action which now affects me.
“I also want to record my deep appreciation of the support and confidence which the University authorities, President Wells in particular, have shown for me in these proceedings. I have a wonderful staff, and I know that they will do a great job for Indiana University this coming year.”
Wells, for his part, reluctantly accepted the Big Ten’s ruling.
“Indiana University for 58 years has adhered strictly to the rules and regulations of the Big Ten,” Wells said in a statement. “Therefore, it accepts the decision of the Conference. While regretting the decision, it respects the integrity and impartiality of the faculty representatives. In accepting the decision, Indiana, now as in the past, upholds the faith it has in the Western Conference as a regulatory body in intercollegiate athletics.”
Wells, however, didn’t get through his statement without explaining Dickens’ side of the story.
“Indiana voted for adoption of the new rules of the Conference,” Wells said. “These rules became effective almost coincident with the change by the University in its football coaching staff. The new rules and a new staff which arrived late resulted in much confusion and misunderstanding. The University administration and athletics committee have great confidence in the character and professional ability of Coach Dickens and believe that he and his staff will build in time a successful football program at Indiana.”
IU certainly stood by Dickens. Although Dickens was suspended from coaching, he would remain in the athletic department and would be paid his full $15,000 salary due to him in his contract.
Despite the rumors that many other schools were involved in the same violations, Wilson said Dickens would be the only coach suspended. The suspension, by the way, was the most severe penalty ever handed down by the conference against a single person at the time.
Indiana, the Big Ten and Dickens may have appeared calm in the face of a tough situation. The same could not be said of the IU media and alumni.
The Herald-Telephone was livid about the lack of information surrounding the suspension.
“This newspaper has no idea what happened,” the July 29 edition reported. “We have asked all and any connected with the situation. Lips have been sealed from the banks of the Jordan River to the Commissioner’s office in Chicago. To shroud in secrecy this incident in IU’s football history is an insult to the thousands upon thousands of Indiana University alumni and friends who deserve to know the full story.
“Where do we go from here?” the H-T continued. “Do we still recruit players? Will we continue plans to build a new stadium? Will our football teams become, in fact, Poor ‘Lil’ Boys? There can be no joy among our neighbors in the Big Ten colony at the fate of Indiana football. After all, we haven’t disturbed the standings more than a mild rippling in more than a decade. If all the sins of in the entire conference are at our doorstep, we would blush, indeed. If we are but a scapegoat, we should be fighting mad. There is no fate worse than frustration, unless it is to heap new frustration on old. Here we stand today.”
The Indiana Daily Student was just as angry.
“If a victim of the new Big Ten discipline experiment has been found in IU merely to set an example for fellow colleges in the organization, we of IU fail to see the justice in it. We’re not a member of the Big Ten as guinea pigs. We’re in there with the same rights and restrictions as the rest…. Indiana wasn’t the only school that reportedly was guilty of incorrect recruiting under the new plan. Many newspapers throughout the state and the Midwest reported that practically every Conference school was guilty of some sleight-of-hand moves to get top football talent.
“Are we going to sit back and take the reap for something that we did and everyone quite obviously is doing—just as if we were a mechanical subject to a one-sided experiment? Or will we send all reported violations to the Commissioner, just as the rulebook says? The boom fell on Indiana first—we’re wondering who is going to be next. Will it be Ohio State (and Woody Hayes), or Michigan State (and Duffy Daugherty), or Illinois (and Ray Eliot)? These are the teams that stick in our minds—teams that have perennial football powerhouses and who seem to be doing everything ‘kosher’ as far as the Big Ten front office is concerned.”
By Aug. 1, the anger still hadn’t subsided.
“When you are a doormat, as Indiana has been, you can expect to have heels ground into you,” the H-T wrote. “That appears to have been the case when the Western Conference powers-that-be metted out punishment for IU’s recruiting sins.”
The idea that IU was being held up as a scapegoat for the sins of the entire conference was held deeply by the IU faithful. An effigy of Wilson was hanged by the salesmen at J.O. Humphry’s car dealership in Bloomington. Rex Grossman, a Bloomington contractor and former IU football player (not to mention the grandfather of current NFL QB Rex Grossman), wondered aloud whether IU was being singled out.
“If this suspension is an indication of what’s going to happen under the new rules, I imagine most of the Big Ten this year will be done by assistant coaches,” Grossman said. “I wonder if the Big Ten is investigating all the schools. I’m sure all schools follow the same general recruiting procedures. They may use different methods, but that’s about all. It’s rough this had to happen to Dickens in his first year here, but I’m sure he will take Indiana on to greater things — and beat Purdue.”
Some believed the suspension would bring the IU community closer and help the football program organize its efforts a little better. With Dickens out of the picture, more help would be needed from alumni on the recruiting trail to steer prospects toward Bloomington (can you imagine this being publically stated now under any circumstances?). Others even blamed the alumni for not helping more in the past, and they hoped that problem would be solved by the suspension.
In the short-term, IU would have to find a coach to replace Dickens on a temporary basis. Allen and Dickens decided on line coach Bob Hicks, who would serve as “coach-in-charge” for the season. Dickens was comfortable with Hicks after working with him at Wyoming—Hicks actually turned down the head job at Wyoming after Dickens left to join his friend in Bloomington—and considering Dickens would be allowed zero contact with the football program, he needed someone he trusted implicitly.
Allen made it clear that the coaching switch was a temporary issue and nothing more.
“We are proceeding with all plans for the approaching football season,” Allen said in a statement. “There is no reason whatsoever for writing off the 1957 season. Of course we will feel the loss of Phil Dickens, but we’re confident that the squad, as it indicated throughout spring practice, will be noticeably stronger this Fall—an aggressive, hustling team with greater incentive than ever.”
Hicks said he was up for the task.
“The staff and I are fully aware of the size of the job and the responsibilities which have fallen to us,” Hicks said. “I can promise only that each of us will do everything within our power to do the job as Phil would have done it. We’ll be operating under a great handicap, but we certainly aren’t writing off this season.”
The situation Hicks faced was bleak, one that was only marginally better than the one inherited by Tom Crean in the wake of the Kelvin Sampson scandal. Looking at his roster, Hicks saw 18 lettermen, 17 reserves from the 1956 season and 26 sophomores. No fewer than 13 of the reserves had never played a game, and Hicks was hoping to add a few freshmen to the mix. Despite the setbacks, Hicks did his best to bolster the spirits of his squad in a letter sent to the returning players.
“We want you and every other member of this football squad to dedicate yourselves to the coming season as you have never done before,” Hicks wrote. “We want the highest spirited and the fightin’est bunch of Hoosiers that ever walked on a football field, whether you are the last sub or on the starting ball club. We plan to go out and play football like we are supposed to play it.”
The spirits may have been willing, but the bodies were definitely weak. If you think IU football struggles now, it’s nothing compared to that 1957 season. Indiana posted a 1-8 record overall and an 0-6 mark in the Big Ten, and the record doesn’t reflect just how bad the team truly was. The Hoosiers were outscored 307-47 and were shut out five times on the season. IU didn’t score its first touchdown until the third game of the season, and it cracked the end zone a total of three times in the first seven games. Tom McDonald led IU in passing, going 43-of-123 for 544 yards and a touchdown, and John Meegan led IU in rushing with 43 carries for 114 yards (that’s not a typo).
The frustration of the season boiled over during the Old Oaken Bucket game vs. Purdue in Bloomington Nov. 23. Twice, state police had to chase several hundred spectators off the field, and twice, the game was interrupted by fighting that involved the players and the fans. The near riot was so distracting that the officials tacked an extra 30 seconds onto the game clock, and IU lost 35-13 for its 10th straight defeat at the hands of the Boilermakers.
With the season out of the way, IU could concentrate on the opportunity to have Dickens reinstated by the Big Ten. Finally, on Dec. 12, the Big Ten voted to allow IU to restore Dickens to full head coaching responsibilities for the 1958 season.
Now that he was back on the job, Dickens hoped to focus on rebuilding the Hoosiers into a power. With a new stadium in the works and a fire to succeed burning in his belly, Dickens hoped to attack his job with a passion and gusto that was designed to put the issues of the past behind him. He had no idea that his problems were just getting started.
Look for part two of our story on Phil Dickens' time at IU tomorrow. For more stories like this and the best in-depth coverage on Hoosier athletics you can find in any publication, subscribe to Inside Indiana Magazine by calling 800-524-9527 or visiting us at magazine.insideiu.com