Testing the Playing Field
Establishing a foundation for sports on campus proved unpredictable during the University’s early days. As students’ interests shifted, Oregon constantly found itself reshaping its athletic focus. Various athletic endeavors fought for status as “major” sports. The University financially supported those sports considered major teams and they enjoyed a higher interest from student-athletes. At the end of the 1920s, Oregon considered track and field, baseball, basketball, and football to be the major sports on campus.
Although football and track and field popped into the picture early, circa 1893 and 1895 respectively, they did not emerge as major sports until the teams became successful on the field. Under the direction of Bill Hayward, the track and field team made a name for itself in the early 1900s. In his first 11 years as head coach at Oregon, Hayward helped lead nine teams to Northwest Championship titles, elevating the popularity of the sport on campus. The football team followed at a slower pace. It wasn’t until its first Rose Bowl appearance in 1917 that Oregon’s football team truly gained prominence.
Men’s basketball struggled to gain footing in the early years, but as interest in the sport increased, so too did its importance on campus, as indicated by the plans to build McArthur Court which started in 1919. Baseball, as mentioned previously, also bounced from a popular activity, to non-existent, to a prominent intercollegiate undertaking during the early 1900s.
Years of Variation
Included within the main men’s sports were numerous athletic activities offered at a more recreational level. During the early decades, new sports were routinely introduced on campus. For instance, indoor baseball hit the scene in 1897, and soccer began at Oregon in 1913 after Colin Dyment, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, educated the University community about the sport. Wrestling hit campus during the 1910s and 1920s, coinciding with the growth of the sport on the national scene.
Other activities, such as handball, archery, canoeing, and swimming, also emerged during this time. The trend of experimenting with new interest areas and solidifying popular sport focuses for the University continued. Women athletes were involved in the process, although other than field hockey and tennis, intercollegiate competitions were minimal.
Intramural and inter-fraternity/sorority leagues fueled the growth of sports at Oregon and enabled those not interested in “major” intercollegiate offerings to participate at their own levels. As the next 40 years played out, the University continued to redefine its athletic concentration as interest in sports grew substantially at the local and national levels.