Norm Beal did not have a lot of running room that fateful day.
The 1960 game is the most infamous in the long MU-KU football rivalry. In the regular season finale that year, KU beat No. 1 ranked MU, thus squashing MU’s hopes for a national championship. However, KU was later ordered to forfeit the win due to their use of an ineligible player. Was it simply a case of KU cheating, as some Tiger fans claim? Or was MU a sore loser that pulled some post-season shenanigans to unfairly strip KU of the victory, as some Jayhawk fans maintain? To judge for yourself, read on.
The MU-KU rivalry may not be among the most renowned in college football, but it is certainly one of the most distinctive. Not many college football rivalries have their origin in actual warfare, but the enmity between the MU and KU fan bases is rooted in the vicious fighting along the Missouri-Kansas border during the Civil War era. That enmity carried over to the gridiron when the MU and KU football teams met for the first time in 1891. It is a bit hard to believe in today’s politically correct world, but KU actually chose to name their team the Jayhawkers, the same term that had been used for the rogues who had pillaged and burned their way through western Missouri just 30 years earlier. The annual football game quickly became a tradition, and has now been played 118 times (the second longest rivalry in the country among FBS schools). And how about this for a distinctive twist – while there is agreement on the overall series record, which is nearly dead-locked at 55-54-9, both schools claim to have the 55 wins. The source of the disputed record is the 1960 game, and whether or not Bert Coan, KU’s star halfback, was eligible to play in that game. This article commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Coan affair by providing a detailed account of the controversy.
Bert Coan was one of the one of the most celebrated stars in Texas high school football history. As a high school senior, Coan stood 6-4, weighed 190 pounds, ran a 9.5 100-yard dash, and broad jumped over 24 feet. Many college football teams recruited this unique blend of size, speed and athleticism, but Coan signed with TCU, a football powerhouse that won the Southwest Conference championship four times in the 1950’s. In the fall of 1959, after having played his freshman year at TCU, Coan transferred to KU under questionable circumstances. TCU head coach Dutch Meyer was irate and declared, “I definitely feel someone has tampered with the boy and I don’t mind saying so.”  TCU announced it would press for an NCAA investigation of the matter and punishment of KU for the transfer. Meyer succeeded in getting the NCAA to look into Coan’s transfer, but NCAA investigations apparently weren’t any faster in those days than they are today. There was no word from the NCAA as Coan sat out KU’s 1959 season, nor as Coan became a starter and star running back over the first half of the 1960 season. Finally, mid-way in the 1960 season, the NCAA issued its findings.
“WHEREAS, the Council has found the University of Kansas to have violated the provisions pertaining to excessive entertainment of prospective student-athletes (Article VI, Section 2, (c), of the Bylaws), in that a representative of the university's athletic interests transported a student-athlete of an NCAA member institution from his Texas residence to Chicago for purposes of viewing an All-Star football game during the summer of 1959, this alumnus being identified as a representative of the athletic interests of the University of Kansas in that he recruited other football prospects for the university and within a week or ten days following the aforementioned trip, he telephoned one of the university's coaches and arranged for such student-athlete to visit the University of Kansas.” 
While not named in the NCAA ruling, the player was Bert Coan, and the alleged KU representative was Bud Adams, a Texas oilman, millionaire, sports enthusiast, and former KU student. The NCAA put KU on probation for two years, and banned KU from bowl games and television appearances for the first year.
While the NCAA did not declare Coan ineligible to play, the NCAA in those days was not the pre-eminent authority that it is today. In 1960, the NCAA had held enforcement authority for only about a decade, and individual conferences still retained considerable autonomy on recruiting rules and enforcement.  The Big Eight had its own rules to consider, and these rules included provisions with a direct bearing on Coan’s eligibility:
“Off-campus trips for prospective students may not be provided or arranged for by a member school, its alumni, or by any other means”.
“Any violation of this section by a member school, alumni, or friends of the institution, with or without the knowledge of the institution, will render the individual or individuals concerned ineligible for competition at that institution.” 
At the time the NCAA released its finding, Nebraska was next up on KU’s conference schedule. Shortly before the game, the KU faculty representative on the Big Eight Conference’s governing committee received a phone call from his Nebraska counterpart, who questioned Coan’s eligibility in light of the recent NCAA finding. The same issue was raised in a special delivery letter from the MU faculty representative that was received by KU on November 5. The letter reminded KU of the NCAA’s conclusions regarding Coan’s recruitment and stated, “Since we are all member schools of the NCAA, it would appear to be incumbent upon us to apply the Big Eight rules” (which would render Coan ineligible). The letter suggested to KU “It would seem to be more appropriate for your institution to rule on his eligibility now, than to have the matter brought up after the season ends and your contests be placed in jeopardy under the possibility of forfeiture.” 
In response, KU organized a November 8 conference call with the conference’s governing committee, and sought a quick ruling on Coan’s eligibility. Instead, the committee instructed KU to present the case for review at the regular post-season conference meeting on December 8. Considering the earlier letter from MU, the message to KU from the other conference members was clear – take care of your business with Coan now, or risk having the conference take care of it after the season.
Coan had not played against Nebraska due to a shoulder injury, so KU now faced a choice on whether or not to play Coan in the remaining conference games against Colorado and Missouri. If the NCAA ruling was valid, Coan had been recruited via an off-campus trip, and Big 8 conference rules were clear that Coan was ineligible under those circumstances. If KU was going to play Coan, it would have to reject the NCAA finding or disregard conference rules.
KU rejected the NCAA finding. Coan stated that he had not been recruited to KU during the trip. “I just knew this (Adams) fellow, and I ran into him on the street in Houston. He mentioned he was going to Chicago to the all-star game. He asked me if I wanted to go…He’s not a recruiter for Kansas. Or, if he is I don’t know about it.” Adams gave the same story as Coan, insisting he did not try to recruit Coan for Kansas. The essence of KU’s position was that, while the facts cited in the NCAA gave the impression of impropriety, the evidence was strictly circumstantial, and in reality there had been no discussion of Coan transferring to KU either before or during the trip. KU’s athletic director stated, “Our whole contention was that at the time of the ill-fated trip, Coan was not a prospective KU student.” And if Coan was not a prospective student during the trip, then the trip was not a violation of NCAA or Big Eight rules.
Perhaps KU was simply taking Adams and Coan at their word. On the other hand, maybe KU was not being quite so naïve. KU was undefeated in conference play to that point in the 1960 season, and Coan had been a key factor in KU’s success. If KU could win its remaining games against Colorado and Missouri, it would claim its first outright conference championship since the 1930 season. KU was experienced in games of brinkmanship with the conference on player eligibility matters, and to a cynical ear, KU’s announcement must have sounded familiar to the position taken by KU on a similar dispute during their 1930 championship season.
KU’s outstanding 1930 team was paced by star halfback "Jarring Jim" Bausch, an exceptional all-around athlete that later won a gold medal in the 1932 Olympic decathlon. Midway through the 1930 season, charges surfaced that Bausch was receiving a monthly check from a booster, thus explaining his earlier transfer to KU from Wichita State (then called Wichita University). Evidence was presented to the conference (by an MU professor crusading against professionalism in college athletics) that Bausch was receiving payment from a Topeka insurance man as “against future commissions” from an insurance job that Bausch would take after graduation. Such an arrangement was clearly against conference rules. After KU refused to declare Bausch ineligible, the other members of the Big Six conference notified KU that, “In view of the practices at the University of Kansas in violating the rules of this conference relating to recruiting and subsidizing athletes, the other five members of this conference decline to schedule any athletic games, not now under contract, with the University of Kansas…”  In essence, KU was being kicked out of the conference over their alleged failure to address the rules violations surrounding Bausch. In response, KU announced they would conduct an investigation, but as they considered the current evidence inadequate, they would allow Bausch to continue his play. Only after KU had their first Big 6 conference title safely tucked away did KU declare Bausch ineligible.
KU butted heads with the conference (then the Big Seven) on player eligibility again in 1948. In a rule that doesn’t sound controversial at all today, the conference announced in May of 1948 that previous seasons spent playing freshman or junior college football would count against a player’s eligibility limit. Under this rule, five of the Big Seven member institutions would lose varsity players that otherwise would have remained eligible, but Kansas would lose more than any other school (a total of five football players, including future KU coach and icon Don Fambrough). KU basketball coach Phog Allen complained the rule was deliberately designed to weaken the KU football team. In early July, Kansas announced their intent to defy the new conference rule and play all previously eligible student athletes in the coming football season. On July 10, the Big Seven responded with an announcement of their own, giving KU two weeks to comply with its rules or face having all of its conference games cancelled. KU quickly capitulated.
As KU sparred with the Big Eight over Coan in 1960, the local press speculated on KU’s ability to prevail in this latest round of confrontation. A KU hometown sports columnist wrote, “The understanding is that it takes a 6-2 vote to pass a measure like an illegibility move. KU, believing Coan is and has been legitimately eligible all along, is sure to vote for itself. If it can scare up two more friends in might be able to block such a move.” K-State had quickly sided with KU in the 1948 dispute, it was assumed they would take KU’s side again, and confidence was expressed that at least one more school would side with KU. 
If the local press was counting votes, one suspects that some in the KU administration may have been doing the same. At the time of the 1948 dispute, a KU hometown newspaper columnist observed, “Tottering on the edge of a gangplank is nothing new in the athletic fortunes of the University of Kansas. If that had been true in 1948, it was doubly true in 1960. The full details of KU’s decision-making process on whether or not to play Coan will probably never be known, but no matter the details behind it, KU came to its decision. On November 10, KU wrote a letter to the president of the conference stating KU had investigated the allegations surrounding Coan’s recruitment, judged Coan to be eligible, and intended to play him in the two remaining conference games against Colorado and Missouri.
The 1960 MU-KU game was the first in the rivalry with national title implications. Missouri was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the both the AP and UP polls. If the Tigers could beat the Jayhawks in the regular season finale, they would not only win the conference championship, but would almost certainly also claim the national championship. (In those days, the final poll was released before the bowl games.)
The Tigers’ strengths were their powerful running game and stingy defense. MU’s power sweep was an innovation that combined the T-formation with old-fashioned single wingback blocking. A five-man blocking wedge would lead the way around end for Norris Stevenson or Mel West, MU’s speedy halfbacks. While the terms “student body right” and “student body left” are most commonly associated with the USC offense that produced two Heisman Trophy-winning running backs (Mike Garrett in 1965 and O.J. Simpson in 1968), the terms were originally coined to describe the MU power sweep. On the other side of the ball, the Tigers’ defense pitched three shutouts during the 1960 season, and did not allow more than one touchdown in a game until their ninth, against Oklahoma. The Tigers broke a 24-game losing streak against OU and in the following week rose to No. 1 in the polls.
KU’s 1960 team was also very good, and came into the game ranked No. 11. Their only losses were to Syracuse and Iowa, both of which had been ranked No. 1 at the time they faced the Jayhawks. KU arguably had the finest offensive backfield in the nation. KU’s entire starting backfield (John Hadl at quarterback, Doyle Schick at fullback, and the tandem of Bert Coan and Curtis McClinton at halfback) would go on to play in the NFL. Hadl had led KU in all-purpose yardage from his halfback position in 1959, but was moved to quarterback in 1960 to make room for the tandem of Coan and McClinton. Hadl went on to become a two-time All-American. McClinton had led KU in rushing in 1959 and would become a two-time all-conference selection. McClinton’s hobby, it was joked, was maiming linebackers. Even though he missed two games with an injury, Coan was KU’s leading ground gainer in 1960. 
The 1960 game was played in Columbia, before a then-record crowd of 43,000. KU’s superb play on defense would prove to be a key factor in the game. Taking a chance on MU’s passing game, KU went with a 9-man front to stop the vaunted Tiger power sweep, and it worked to near perfection. MU did not make a first down till late in the third quarter. But MU also put up a stiff defense, especially on back-to-back KU scoring threats near the end of the first half. One KU possession started on the MU 11 after a fumble recovery, but KU turned it over on downs after Hadl was twice stopped at the three. When MU was unable to move the ball and was forced to punt from their own goal line, KU returned the punt to the MU 38. KU was able to advance the ball down to the 12, but MU sacked Hadl for a big loss, and KU missed on the ensuing field goal attempt. The half ended with the rivals locked in a scoreless tie.
KU got onto the scoreboard with a 47 yard field goal early in the second half. After another MU fumble deep in their own territory, KU took possession on MU’s 19. KU’s first two plays were stopped for no gain, and it looked like MU would once again keep the Jayhawks out of the end zone. But on third and long, Hadl passed to Coan for the game’s first touchdown. Then, near the end of the third quarter, Kansas mounted its only long, sustained touchdown drive, going 69 yards in 13 plays. Coan had the biggest play on the drive, a 26 yard run, and he capped it off with a two-yard TD plunge.
When MU finally scored with 5:24 left in the fourth quarter, the score stood at 17-7, with both KU touchdowns having been scored by Coan. The game’s final points came after KU picked off a desperation MU pass, and then passed for a touchdown with 37 seconds left. KU missed the extra point, resulting in the final tally of 23-7. Kansas had defeated Missouri, and had apparently won the conference championship.
After the game, Devine tipped his hat to the Jayhawker squad. “Kansas just out-classed us. They played a terrific ballgame. Those backs were as fine as anything we have seen all year. Coan probably hurt us more than anyone.”  In fact, Coan both out-scored and out-rushed the Tigers (67 yards for Coan to 61 for MU). Sportswriters across the country voted Coan national back-of-the-week for his performance. In the final AP poll, MU fell to No. 5.
With the game over and the post-season conference meeting approaching, the dispute over Coan began to heat up. A sports writer for the KU hometown newspaper contacted MU officials to investigate who was responsible for the Coan case being on the conference agenda . The matter had been put on the agenda in response to KU’s petition back in November, but the sports writer was not having any of that. “Prof. Arthur Nebel, Missouri University’s faculty representative, denies that MU instigated the eligibility action against KU’s Coan. You’ll have a hard time selling that to a lot of Kansans today. They don’t doubt the veracity or motives of Nebel, perhaps, but they surely have their doubts about the role MU director Don Faurot, long a hateful anti-Jayhawk, played in the proceedings, either directly or indirectly. The fact of the matter is that Faurot started the whole thing about mid-season when he wrote Nebraska trying to get something started on the Coan case.” 
The specific proceedings of the conference meeting are a subject of controversy. Many accounts of the meeting state that MU finagled an unprecedented change in the voting rules (from a three-fourths majority to a simple majority) that cleared the way for a subsequent vote to declare Coan ineligible. Some accounts also report that Coan was declared eligible in the initial committee vote, only to be voted ineligible on a second vote. However, these accounts do not firmly square with the facts. 
While conference rules required a three-fourths vote for certain specified matters (for example, enacting new rules, suspending a member of the conference), the rules did not specify voting procedures for all committee rulings. KU’s official account of the affair admits that after the meeting opened with testimony from some of the principles in the controversy, “The faculty representatives then voted 6-2 that the question of Coan’s eligibility would be settled by the vote of a simple majority, 5-3, as had been the case in some other decisions by the conference in the past (emphasis added).” , 
Following the opening vote on procedure, the committee voted 5-3 that KU was in violation of the ban on off-campus recruiting, thus concurring with the mid-season NCAA finding. By a corollary conference rule, this determination automatically rendered Coan ineligible. The next step for the conference committee was to determine the period of ineligibility. Prior to the KU-MU game, speculation in Lawrence was that “If the league fathers rule Coan ineligible, that probably will mean the forfeit of all the conference games he has played in, as well as meaning he won’t be able to play his junior and senior season.”  However, the conference was more lenient. After two motions to make Coan ineligible for the 1961 season were defeated, the committee voted 6-2 that Mr. Coan would be ineligible to participate in intercollegiate competition in football only for the period October 26, 1960 through October 25, 1961 (a one-year period starting from the date of the NCAA ruling).,
KU had gambled that the Big Eight would not back MU on the actions threatened in MU’s November letter, had lost, and they now had to pay the price. KU was ordered to forfeit its victories over CU and MU, and the conference championship was awarded to MU.
Reaction to the committee ruling varied depending on college affiliation, as could be expected. In the words of the KU hometown newspaper, “At first there was disappointment, then resentment, and then outright anger on behalf of KU followers and Kansans.”  Not surprisingly, the anger was directed more at MU than the miscalculations of the KU administration. East in Columbia, there was not much jubilation among the Tiger team and fans. Danny LaRose, the Tigers’ All-American, stated “The honor of winning the championship is great, but we would have liked it better if we had won in on the field.” LaRose also expressed his admiration of the Big Eight “for standing up for what was right – enforcing its own rules.”  An editorial in the MU hometown newspaper observed, “How much better it would have been for both schools if Kansas had seen fit to stay within the law, or if the conference faculty group had seen fit to act promptly on the issue and had kept Coan out of the Colorado and Missouri games…Kansas had a lot more to lose by using Coan than by not using him. And Kansas lost it all.” 
KU’s stated its official position on the Coan affair in a “white paper” it issued shortly after the conference ruling. KU objected that in “not disproving but merely disbelieving” the denials of recruiting improprieties, the conference’s decision was “counter to the American traditions of justice and its foundation on the rule of law, not of men.”  In regards to the determinations of the NCAA and the Big Eight, the paper stated “The University of Kansas feels that is has no alternatives to accepting the decisions of these associations, no matter how sincerely it may question the wisdom and fairness of these decisions.” Well, KU had at least some choice in the matter, as it chose to continue to claim the 1960 KU-MU game as a victory, in defiance of the conference’s edict. (Interestingly, KU does not claim the associated conference championship.)
Until 2007, the 1960 game was the undoubtedly the biggest in the history of the MU-KU rivalry. MU had been one victory away from being the national champion. With KU banned by the NCAA from the post-season bowls, MU represented the Big Eight in the Orange Bowl. The MU defense fared much better against Joe Bellini, Navy’s Heisman Trophy winner, than they had against Coan, holding Bellini to only 4 yards rushing, and MU beat Navy 21-14. MU fans took pride in the Orange Bowl victory, but even the luster of that Orange Bowl win did not totally soothe the sting of falling to the arch-rival in a regular season finale with the No. 1 ranking on the line, and the national title up for grabs. (In light of what happened at the end of the 2007 season, MU fans can now actually take some solace in that.)
Years later, Bert Coan had the courage to admit the truth in the affair. “I guess it’s safe to say now, but I was illegally recruited off the TCU campus.” Regarding Bud Adams and the trip to Chicago, Coan says, “I had no idea he was going to talk about Kansas the entire time.”  It turns out that TCU head coach Dutch Meyer, the NCAA, and the Big Eight had gotten it right. Coan had indeed been tampered with in violation of NCAA and Big Eight rules. Coan’s admission has not changed KU’s position; they continue to claim the victory.
Ironically, KU eventually declared Coan ineligible over a trip to an all-star game, but it wasn’t the trip to Chicago with Adams. After KU’s 1961 season, Coan travelled to the AFL all-star game in San Diego. Questions arose over who had paid for the trip, and rumors spread that the NCAA was looking into the matter. A KU committee quickly stepped in and ruled Coan ineligible. The KU hometown newspaper declared, “The committee is to be commended for acting as promptly as it did. If this had been left up to the NCAA and Big Eight the matter would have been dragged through public scrutiny much longer and KU would have appeared in a position of begging for leniency. This was clearly the best way to do it.” KU had apparently learned its lesson.
One can only speculate as to what would have happened had KU done the same thing in 1960. Would KU have won without Coan, and secured its only outright conference championship in football since 1930? Would MU have won, and secured its only national championship in major college sports? About the only thing that can be said with certainty is that KU and MU would today be in agreement, not only on the overall rivalry record of 55-54-9, but also on which school is on top with the 55 wins.
Somehow, after all these years, that wouldn’t seem quite right. Not in this rivalry.
November 21, 2010
 The team moniker was later shorted to the Jayhawks. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayhawker . Accessed on September 15, 2010. The story that the team was named after a mythical bird was invented at a later date.
 Statement by the University of Kansas in Regard to the Transfer and Eligibility of Elroy Bert Coan. University of Kansas. December 14, 1960. Copy provided courtesy of University Archives, University of Kansas. The document lists conference rules applicable to the Coan situation. The rules cited are Paragraphs 14.f and 14.g from Section 14, Principles Governing Recruiting.
 Statement by the University of Kansas in Regard to the Transfer and Eligibility of Elroy Bert Coan. University of Kansas. December 14, 1960. Copy provided courtesy of University Archives, University of Kansas.
 Bert Coan is Back of the Week, The Fort Scott Tribune. November 23, 1960.
 Ibid, page 8.
 Bill Mayer’s Sport Talk, Lawrence Journal-World. March 2, 1962.