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Remember When? The CAC Is Born

Fifty years ago this week, Washington and Lee was embarking on a new venture in intercollegiate athletics when the formation of the College Athletic Conference (CAC) was announced.

Given both the recent shuffling of conference memberships on the NCAA Division I level and the serious conversations about paying D-I athletes $2,000 a year for “cost of attendance,” it’s fascinating to read The New York Times’ account of the CAC’s formation.

In the Jan. 10, 1962, edition of the Times, sportswriter Joseph Sheehan began his story this way: “The National Collegiate Athletic Association is making its annual effort, against heavy odds, to draft legislation acceptable to its diverse and heterogenous membership of nearly 600 colleges. Meanwhile, smaller and more manageable groups, acting on their own, continue to register solid progress toward improving the conduct of intercollegiate athletics.”

Composed of W&L, Centre, Sewanee and Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes), the CAC held as its cardinal principle that “all participation in sports . . . shall be solely because of interest in and enjoyment of the game.”

The Times’ story goes on to describe the various ways in which the CAC intended to operate in order to maintain amateurism as it was then understood. The CAC captured one of its primary features in its statement of eligibility: “Each member institution has full respect for the integrity of the other members, for the selective nature of their admissions standards, and for their existing standards of academic qualification.” As the story concluded: “If enough other institutions adopt and live up to these principles, the N.C.A.A. in future years will not have to waste so much time on such gnat-slapping proposals as barring outside competition in basketball.”

That was then . . .

W&L was a CAC member until 1976, when the University left to join the newly formed Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC). Meanwhile, the CAC was renamed the Southern College Athletic Conference (SCAC) in 1991, and it has 13 teams in eight states today. It will undergo a change after this year, when the three other CAC founding members — Sewanee, Centre and Rhodes — leave for the new Southern Athletic Association.