The Big Eight Conference, of which Oklahoma is a member, has no such proscription. Consequently, a letter of intent signed by a Texas player does not relieve him of the courtship of Oklahoma. Indeed, Texas schools have often accused Oklahoma of capitalizing on their letter of intent as a device for salting away promising Texas high school stars until the Oklahoma scouts can get around to making the young man a better offer. They like to point to the recent case of Jerry Tubbs, Oklahoma's All-America center last year.
In 1953 Tubbs had signed a letter of intent with Baylor University, and the cloud of college scouts who had holed up in his home town of Breckenridge, Texas forthwith departed. In September of that year Tubbs had a change of heart and decided the college he really wanted to attend was Oklahoma, so he tossed his copy of the letter of intent with Baylor in the waste-basket and hied himself to Norman. A bitter Baylor alumnus claimed that an Oklahoma banker had planted a $12,000 nest egg in the bank for Tubbs to induce him to change his mind, but the NCAA, which was investigating Oklahoma at the time, found no such bank account. The NCAA did, however, rap Oklahoma gently on the knuckles for three minor violations of its code and put the university on probation for two years. The violations: Oklahoma had given an extra year's scholarship to athletes who needed more than the customary four years—presumably because they were unduly preoccupied with football—to wind up their studies in the time-consuming petroleum geology course which is the scholastic pride of the school; Oklahoma had, on some occasions, paid medical expenses for players' wives; and, in the case of Tubbs, an enthusiastic alumnus had lent Tubbs his car for a trip back home over the weekend.
The charge that Oklahoma has subverted the letter of intent to its own best interests may be well founded. Oklahoma officials maintain, however, that a choice high school prospect will often sign with a Southwest Conference school just to get the platoon of football ivory hunters out of his parents' front parlor, but that his real desire all along has been to attend the University of Oklahoma if he got an acceptable offer. Nonetheless, coaches in the Southwest Conference still tend to regard the Oklahoma recruiters as the worst menace to Texas border security since Pancho Villa gave up his raids from Mexico.
When Gomer Jones, Oklahoma's assistant coach, appeared as an envoy of peace before the Southwest Conference meeting this year with a proposal to work out some kind of nonaggression pact between Oklahoma and the SWC, he was turned down cold after an hour-and-a-half session. Jones's somewhat lopsided peace offer proposed that the Texas colleges and Oklahoma respect each other's staked-out claims among Texas high school players and that Texas schools quit prospecting entirely in Oklahoma. Since Texas colleges seldom send prospectors into Oklahoma, the SWC coaches felt that this gave Oklahoma essentially the same free-raiding privileges it has enjoyed for the last 10 years—particularly in west Texas. As of now, Oklahoma has a no-trespassing agreement with Southern Methodist only; OU does not raid the SMU remuda and vice versa. Oklahoma may have reached this agreement in self-defense, since, in the five cases this year in which the two schools were after the same players, Southern Methodist enrolled four and Oklahoma one.
This is by no means typical of the usual Oklahoma recruiting performance, which is as efficiently organized as life in an ant hill. Oklahoma's contact work with high school athletes is divided equally among Assistant Coaches Sam Lyle, Ted Youngling and Eddie Crowder, while Assistant Coach Gomer Jones, who is also assistant athletic director, handles the desk work back at Norman and seldom goes into the field. While the assistants do not work in sharply drawn territories, Crowder usually concentrates on Oklahoma City and the northern half of the state, Youngling on south and southeastern Oklahoma, and Lyle on southwestern Oklahoma and west Texas, with Youngling occasionally visiting a Texas prospect, too. A familiar story in Texas alumni circles is that OU has four red airplanes for the exclusive use of its coaching staff on quick forays into Texas; actually, the coaches do on occasion use a university plane for an emergency trip to bolster a wavering prospect, but the planes are the property of the University Extension Service, and there are only two of them. University officials insist that the coaching staff has only third priority—after the president's office and the extension service—but it is unlikely that this strict protocol is observed when a high-scoring halfback is about to slip out of the Oklahoma dragnet.
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Oklahoma has much to offer prospective football players without throwing in $12,000 bank accounts or Cadillacs. To an Oklahoma football player, a successful football career can do much to relieve financial cares during his undergraduate days and simultaneously furnish a springboard toward truly impressive financial achievements in later life. This is oil country, and to provide the petroleum industry with the geologists and engineers it needs, the University of Oklahoma claims it has the world's largest petroleum geology school and says it has turned out over 2,400 of the nation's geologists—one-fourth of all those in the petroleum industry and one-fifth of all the geologists in the Western Hemisphere. The football player who studies geology at Oklahoma has summer jobs open to him with the big petroleum companies like Kerr-McGee Oil Co. and Phillips Petroleum, for whom he can work on drilling rigs as a roughneck. While the hourly pay ($1.32) is not high, the rigs work around the clock and overtime is available in nearly unlimited amounts, so that an average weekly pay check is around $100. The work is hard and physically demanding and semidangerous (but not so dangerous that OU has ever lost a player) but the rewards are big enough so that a football player is expected to return to the campus in September with at least $500 saved from this summer work to cushion him against the financial burdens he must carry while occupied with both football and studies. It is carefully pointed out to the most desirable high school football prospects that the kind of opportunity available to an OU graduate—and especially to one who has given his all for OU football for four years—is to be found in the career of Harry Moore, who was a senior on the 1950 Oklahoma team. Moore, a boy from a poor family, was graduated with a degree in petroleum engineering in 1951. He worked on salary for a year for another Oklahoma graduate named Eddie Childs, an oilman in west Texas. Then he branched out into speculating on oil leases, with the help of other OU graduates in the oil business. Now he owns an interest in some 30 oil wells and two strings of expensive oil well drilling tools and is well on his way to becoming a very wealthy man who will keep the cycle going by assisting other deserving young OU football players. To make sure that prospective athletes get the point, the Oklahoma football press book, an annual compendium of facts and figures about the current team, carries a list of 47 players of the last 10 years, describing their success in business since graduation. By way of contrast, Princeton, in its 89th season of intercollegiate football and with some pretty successful football graduates of its own, is content to talk only of the 1957 squad in its press book. Naturally enough, the graduates of OU football have, for the most part, found their success in the oil business.
The 75 to 80 scholarships awarded Oklahoma football players are standard in the Big Eight Conference: board, room, tuition, books, fees and laundry money. They cost the university an average of around $75 to $80 per month, except in the case of Texas athletes, who cost an additional $200 per year to cover the tuition charged out-of-state students. Most of this scholarship expense is defrayed by the Touchdown Club of Oklahoma, which contributes a good deal more to the success of Oklahoma football than the annual check it sends to the school to be administered by school officials.
The Touchdown Club comprises some 900 members, who are scattered all over Oklahoma and Texas and as far away as oil is found. Dues are $50 per year giving the club $45,000 per year to operate on. Administrative expenses run around $8,000 to $10,000 per year, and this takes care of an office in downtown Oklahoma City run by a manager and secretary. They keep the membership advised of the progress of OU football and handle ticket allotments.
The membership of the Touchdown Club includes practically all of the influential citizenry of the state—men like Henry Browne, president of the club and also president of the Oklahoma Coca-Cola Bottling Company; Eugene Jordan, an attorney and president of the City Bus Co.; Roy Dale Jones, a wealthy oil operator; and Mark Dykema, president of the Progress Brewery. Among the most useful assets of the Touchdown Club is the tremendous power and prestige of its membership. This is evident in legislative proceedings whenever the university needs an appropriation and in the fact that the administration of the university itself would be unlikely to de-emphasize football in the face of the unanimous disapproval of such distinguished citizens.