Georgia Tech Leaves The SEC

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July 20, 2010 

Georgia Tech Leaves the SEC

The year was 1964. Lyndon Johnson was President, the Beatles were at the top of the pop/rock world, Barry Goldwater was the Republican nominee for President. The Vietnam War was on it's way to becoming one of the most controversial periods in American history, and, after their 20th year under head coach Robert "Bobby" Dodd, The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets decided to leave the Southeastern Conference (SEC), a conference that they had been a part of since joining the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) in 1895.

So what happened to Georgia Tech and the SEC? What caused this massive falling out that would lead to a team leaving a conference that they had been a part of for 69 years. Georgia Tech is still listed  as a founding member of the SEC.

This long and strange history, admittedly, could only happen in the South where football is king and could only happen because of a relationship between two men who are almost synonymous with the game of college football. Those two men? Paul "Bear" Bryant and Robert "Bobby" Dodd.

However, before we get to that relationship, perhaps it would be best to visit the history of Georgia Tech football, once one of the great powers of the college game. Led by coaches such as John Heisman ( you know, the guy who has a trophy named after him ) and then Bobby Dodd, the Yellow Jackets were always a prominent figure on the national scene. A program with four national championships to their credit ( more than Florida, Florida State, and a lot of other very prestigious programs, and the same amount as the Texas Longhorns ). Georgia Tech also has 5 SEC Championships, 3 Southern Conference Championships, and 5 SIAA Championships.

So what caused this very successful, very prestigious program to up and leave a conference that they were a founding member of? That story has it's roots deep in the history of Georgia Tech and Alabama and stretches back to a very personal rivalry between Alabama head coach Bear Bryant and Georgia Tech head coach Bobby Dodd.

Originally, these two men were great friends who got along both on and off the field. They reportedly had a lot of respect for each other. However, that all changed on a cloudy, overcast day in Birmingham at Legion Field in 1961. Late in the game, which Georgia Tech lost to Alabama 10-0, Darwin Holt, an Alabama player threw an elbow into the face of Georgia Tech running back Chick Granning. The blow was so hard across his face that his cheekbone was shattered and several teeth ripped out. A media uproar followed that could not even be quelled by the visit of the Alabama football player to the Atlanta hospital where the Georgia Tech player was recovering.

The media continued to call for punishment, including publishing frame by frame photos of the incident. Bear Bryant, stubborn as ever, was reported to have remarked that he would take care of his own player and discipline him appropriately. He made it clear that the Atlanta media was not going to tell him how to run his team. While there is some debate about whether the Alabama player was disciplined or not, Dodd and Bryant, who had once been great friends, stopped talking after that game. The following season ( 1962 ) the Jackets managed some degree of revenge against the Bear and 'Bama with a thrilling 7 - 6 win over an undefeated Tide team up to that point in the season.   Chick Granning was an honored guest of the Jackets and sat on the Tech bench during the game.  In 1963, a two-loss Tide team beat Tech 27 - 11.  In June of 1964, Georgia Tech officially withdrew from the Southeastern Conference.  The series between Alabama and Georgia Tech was discontinued after a 24 - 7 Tech loss to another undefeated Tide team on November 14, 1964. For all practical purposes, this closed out any long-term rivalry series between Georgia Tech and Alabama.  

Bobby Dodd insisted there was no other reason he left the SEC, other than the 140 Rule. The 140 Rule stated a college program could only have 140 football and basketball players on scholarship at any one time. The teams were allowed to sign up to 45 players a year, but could not exceed the 140 Rule. Dodd would not allow any of the football players choosing Tech to be dismissed from Tech, because they were not good players. Dodd said, “it is not the recruits fault for not making the squad, it was the coaches fault for misjudging their talents”. If a recruit came to Tech, he would stay on a football scholarship until he graduated. Dodd would sign about 30-32 players a year to meet the guidelines, but the other schools in the SEC were offering 45 scholarships a year. Those players, not good enough to fall under the 140 Rule, had their scholarships withdrawn and sent packing before the end of each year. Dodd insisted, the recruiting of athletes by this method amounted to nothing more than a tryout for a scholarship.

Dodd thought it unfair and would not withdraw scholarships from his players. He wanted the SEC to limit the amount of scholarships to about 32 per year. This would keep the other schools from offering 45 scholarships, picking the best, and sending the rest packing.

A vote was to be taken by the presidents of the colleges on the issue, and Dodd made it clear, Tech would have to leave the SEC unless the rule was changed. Dodd said he would live with 10, 20, 30, 40, or even 50 recruits per year as long as he did not have to chase any of his players off.

The presidents were split six for Dodd’s position and six against. Bear had promised Dodd he would get his president to vote for Dodd’s position, which would have changed the rule.

When the meeting was held, Bryant did not show up and the Alabama president voted against Dodd’s position and the 140 Rule was upheld. Tech’s president immediately walked to the podium and announced Tech was withdrawing from the SEC. Bryant never told Dodd why he reneged on his promise.

While there are some people who still believe that Georgia Tech left the conference because of that debate over scholarship allocation and the treatment of student athletes, many old SEC fans will tell you that Georgia Tech left because Dodd did not want to play Bryant year in and year out. Between 1965 and 1977, Georgia Tech was an independent team. While Dodd envisioned Tech eventually being the Notre Dame of the South and playing a national football schedule, Georgia Tech never reached the glory days of their time in the SEC.

Dodd left Tech in 1966, shortly after pulling them out of the SEC, and Tech struggled in the three years following his departure. They went 4-6 in each of those seasons. While there would be some success, such as a 9-3 record in 1970, Georgia Tech went 85-53-3 during their time as an independent. They never reached their goal of becoming the Notre Dame of the South.

However, in 1975, there appeared to be a making up of sorts between Coach Bryant and Coach Dodd. Bryant told Dodd that Alabama would personally sponsor Georgia Tech getting back into the SEC. While Dodd was grateful, he stated that the Mississippi schools would never allow Tech back into the SEC. Why the Mississippi schools, you ask? Well that begins another interesting chapter in this story ( I told you it was twisted! ).

Apparently, during this period in SEC history, teams were not required by the conference to play certain schools like they are now. During the 30 years that Georgia Tech was in the SEC, let's look at their history with the Mississippi schools.

Ole Miss and Georgia Tech played in 1946, in Atlanta, and in 1953, in New Orleans in the Sugar Bowl. Against Mississippi State? Between 1933 and 1963, the Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets never played a game against each other. According to legend, Dodd felt that Georgia Tech was too good to have to travel to places like Oxford and Starkville to play football games, so he never would agree to play the Mississippi schools.

From the history that has been presented above, it now becomes obvious why the Mississippi schools would block Georgia Tech, even when Bear Bryant was willing to give in. Finally, in 2008, Georgia Tech and Mississippi State squared off, ironically enough in Atlanta, with Georgia Tech winning the game 38-7 in the first meeting between the schools since 1929. In 2009, Georgia Tech Ground out a 42 - 31 win in Starkville. This was the Jackets first ever football trip to the state of Mississippi. There are no future plans to play Mississippi State again at this time.

What about Ole Miss and Georgia Tech? They haven't played since a 41-18 Rebel win in the 1971 Peach Bowl and are not listed on each other's future schedules at this point.

So what happened between Georgia Tech and Alabama? The series was renewed between 1979 and 1984, with Alabama winning 4 of the 6 matchups. The two teams have not played since that last game in 1984, however, and do not appear on any future schedules between the two teams.

What started with a personal rivalry between two of the SEC's most famous coaches had now escalated to something much greater. The history between Georgia Tech and the SEC is one of the most twisted stories in the history of college football yet, for some reason, it is often ignored and has gone largely unnoticed in the greater histories of college football.

 

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