(Excerpted from James F. Willis, Southern Arkansas University: The Mulerider School’s Centennial History, 1909-2009, pp. 143-45)
While basketball prospered in the 1930s, Mulerider football did not. The great success of the 1929 team raised fan expectations and brought improvements in facilities, but neither more spirit nor more expenditure made a difference. Magnolia businessmen formed a nonprofit corporation to obtain New Deal assistance to build Columbia Stadium in 1935 to be the home field of both the high school and college teams. The lights—twenty-four large reflectors—that the high school and college had purchased for Smith Field in 1934 for their night games were moved to the new location on the west side of Magnolia about halfway to the college. Columbia Stadium was used for all home college games until after the Second World War.
There was a concerted effort to promote campus and town support for the Muleriders. Instructor Harriet Key wrote a new Loyalty Song; a drill team of twenty-five girls decked out in blue and gold cowgirl costumes was established; and the band featured a high-stepping drum major, Harry Crumpler, the mayor’s son. Crumpler on one occasion marched the band, cheerleaders, drill team, and entire student body, a parade 1,320 feet long, to the courthouse square for a huge Mulerider rally.
The Muleriders after 1929, however, had only one winning season over the next six years. That occurred in 1930 aided by players remaining from the championship team. The worst losing season was in 1936 with only one win and eight losses. Overstreet at the conclusion of that season decided to abandon Mulerider football. Many schools across the nation and several in Arkansas abolished football programs in the depression-plagued 1930s. Money was certainly a major factor in those decisions. Another issue was disillusionment with college football’s increasing professionalism and loss of amateur innocence. A Carnegie Foundation report in 1929 had exposed lavish costs, systematic cheating, illegal recruiting, and subsidies for players. College football in Arkansas had these same problems although on a lesser scale. The North Central Association in 1932 withdrew Ouachita’s accreditation due in part to “unsatisfactory athletic relations,” and the AIC [Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference] suspended Henderson State in 1934. Overstreet worried about such troubling episodes and certainly was aware of disparities in funding. He kept a tight rein on expenditures, spending an average of $4,202 on all athletics (not just football) from 1926 to 1936. In contrast, Magnolia’s chief rival, the Monticello Boll Weevils, at times ran a deficit as high as $12,000 every year in football. Overstreet was also aware of a national trend among some colleges favoring more intramural and less intercollegiate competition.
He expressed these concerns when in March, six months before the terrible 1936 season began, he attempted to persuade the board of trustees to discontinue not only football but “all forms of intercollegiate sports.” He declared that he was prejudiced in favor of it, but he was in “doubt whether intercollegiate athletics have contributed anything to the institution really worthwhile.” He told the board there were four reasons for his recommendation: (1) winning was unlikely for A&M as a two-year school competing against four-year schools with more experienced players; (2) recruiting experienced players with money would violate rules and alienate A&M students; (3) some 90 percent of the $7 activity fee went to athletic programs, giving other students “practically nothing in return for their money”; and (4) as for “students taking part” in athletics, “I believe it has done the students more harm than good.” In place of athletics, Overstreet urged establishment of “a well-balanced intramural sports program for all our students.”
The board ignored Overstreet’s recommendation but did address some of his concerns. It issued a “statement of Athletic Policy” affirming that A&M would “conduct all intercollegiate athletics according to the spirit and letter of rules and regulations” of the AIC and “the policies of North Central” and that the faculty athletic committee would monitor compliance. It also directed the athletic program to operate as other departments and for the faculty to grant no special favors to athletes.
When the 1937 fall semester began, Overstreet essentially discontinued football. He told the board that “there were not enough boys reporting for practice to develop a team,” and it acquiesced in his suspension of football for the year. Overstreet told a Bray reporter later that there were sufficient players to field a team, but that they were not experienced or talented. He said, “Our policy has been to adhere to the letter of conference rules. We cannot subsidize players. As a result football material did not come our way.” Mulerider football did not resume until the fall of 1940 and then only at the board’s initiative, not Overstreet’s. In those years without football, a much more elaborate intramural program for men and women was instituted.