The Rich Rodriguez chapter of Michigan football history is over, and it won’t be remembered fondly. Rodriguez will be recalled not only for losing games, but for getting his program placed on probation for practicing too much. What most Michigan fans don’t know, however, is that their team has endured a much more drastic form of discipline. The Wolverines were actually kicked out of the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives -- the forerunner to the Big Ten -- in 1907.

Why? Well, for playing too much football.

With player safety a chief concern in the first decade of the 20th century, what was colloquially called the “Western Conference” or “Big Nine” at the time decided to limit its members to five football games a season. Michigan had played as many as 13 games in the 1905 season and didn’t take kindly to cutting non-conference schools such as Oberlin and Drake from its slate. These days, Michigan’s approach would be commended for “strength of schedule.” But a century ago? Not so much.

Then, as now, The New York Times was on the case:

CHICAGO, April 13 — Michigan University was to-day ruled out of the Western Conference
athletics because of its refusal to observe conference rules, and all athletic relations between the
university and the other colleges composing the conference were severed. It was insisted by the
other members of the intercollegiate conference that the rules adopted at the close of the football
season of 1905, limiting the time of all athletes to three years, and the number of football games
to not more than five, should be observed by Michigan, or that university should be left out of
the conference. The representatives of Michigan declined to promise that the university would
observe these rules, and it was then announced that all athletic relations had been terminated.

Michigan had earned at least a share of the conference title in five of the six seasons from 1901- 1906 under coach Fielding Yost (pictured at the top of the post).* With Michigan out of the picture, Amos Alonzo Stagg’s Maroons at the University of Chicago benefited with back-to-back conference titles. Later, Ohio State -- which had to give up its rivalry with Michigan when it joined the conference in 1912 -- won its first conference championship in 1916.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of Michigan’s leaving the conference, though, were its in-state rivals. Since the Wolverines couldn’t schedule any of their old conference mates, they searched for new opponents, beginning an annual series with Michigan Agricultural – soon to become Michigan State -- in 1907. The two schools have met in all but three years since. The existence of the rivalry was one reason the Spartans were chosen to fill Chicago’s place in the conference in 1950.

Ten years after leaving, Michigan rejoined the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, pushing its membership to 10 for the first time and prompting its by now familiar (and official) name. Yost and the Wolverines were back on top of the conference with a shared title by 1918. Michigan can only hope Brady Hoke can return it to the top of the Big Ten just as quickly.

* The Wolverines lost out on the conference title in 1905 when they dropped their
13th and final game of the season, 2-0, to Chicago. The deciding safety was the only score Michigan
allowed during a season in which it outscored its opponents, 495-2.

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The Seattle Seahawks took a lot of heat for making the NFL playoff with a losing record. But where do they stack up among history's worst post-season qualifiers?

These days, you need 16 wins in the playoffs to win the NBA championship. Fifty-eight years ago, that’s all the Baltimore Bullets needed to get into the playoffs.

With just 16 wins in 70 regular-season games, the 1952-53 Bullets earned the ignominious distinction of being far and away the worst professional team to make the playoffs in any of the four major North American sports. This was in the early days of the NBA, back when eight of the league’s 10 teams advanced to the postseason. And 16-54, as bad as it was, was still enough to nab fourth place out of five in the Eastern Division -- a slim 29.5 games out of third.

The Bullets were a bad team by almost any measure. They lost their first three games of the season – the only ones they’d play under Chick Reiser, who was replaced by Hall of Famer Clair Bee – by a combined 68 points.
They lost 16 of 17 in one stretch, and 12 in a row a month after that. After posting stunning back-to-back wins over the Celtics, they were blown out by Boston, 131-87, the next night. Bee, credited with the invention of the 1-3-1 zone, couldn’t help Baltimore’s defense, which allowed 90.9 points per game – three more than any other team.

Want more? Nine of the Bullets’ 16 wins came against the only two teams that didn’t make the playoffs that season. They beat the West-worst Milwaukee Hawks three times and the East’s Philadelphia Warriors six times. Baltimore, in fact, clinched its spot in the playoffs by sweeping a home-and-home with the Warriors in the season’s final week. The Bullets finished 3.5 ahead of 12-57 Philadelphia that season.

How bad was Baltimore’s .229 winning percentage that season? In a modern 82-game schedule, it translates to a 19-63 record, which in most years is good -- or shall we say bad -- enough to land a team the best odds in the draft lottery. There have been NBA teams that won three times as many games as the ’52-’53 Bullets and missed the playoffs.

A .229 winning percentage is barely half of the worst ever put up by an NFL playoff team, and that came in the strike-shortened 1982 season, when the league took 16 of 28 teams to an expanded playoffs. The 4-5 Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns were the only sub-.500 teams to advance to the NFL’s postseason until the Seahawks beat the Saints.

The NHL, with its extended playoffs and one-time divisional setup, has often taken playoff teams with records under the equator. But even the worst that it has conjured up is the 1987-88 Toronto Maple Leafs, who went 21-49-10 for a .325 winning percentage.

And let’s not even talk about baseball. Due to its limited postseason, Major League Baseball has never seen a playoff team dip below .500, with the 2005 San Diego Padres coming the closest at 82-80. MLB has never seen a team – any team – log a winning percentage as bad as .229. The worst team since the World Series began play in 1903 is the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, who went 36-117 for a .235 percentage.

Once the Bullets got to the postseason, their momentum from the regular season carried over into a two-game sweep at the hands of the first-place New York Knicks. The Knicks took all 12 of the team’s meetings that season and eventually lost in the NBA Finals to George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers.

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In celebration of the Buffalo Sabres’ 40th season in the National Hockey League, the Queen City’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery is hosting “Forty: The Sabres in the NHL,” a multimedia exhibit highlighting the franchise’s rich (if not always winning) history. If you can’t make it up there, here are 10 need-to-know nuggets of Sabres hockey:

1) The name “Sabres” was chosen by founding co-owner Seymour Knox from a fan contest.

2) The Sabres are one of 13 NHL franchises yet to win a championship. Buffalo is tied with Vancouver for the fourth-longest title drought in the NHL, behind Toronto, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

3) The city of Buffalo hasn’t celebrated a championship since the Bills won the 1965 AFL Championship. Among cities with multiple sports franchises, only San Diego and (of course) Cleveland have endured longer title droughts. (Ironically, the Chargers, Browns and Bills won AFL titles in 1963, 1964, and 1965.)

4) The Sabres won the first pick in the 1970 NHL Draft over their fellow expansion team, the Canucks, based on a spin of a roulette wheel. Vancouver was assigned wheel Nos. 1-6 and Buffalo got Nos. 7-12. The Canucks mistakenly thought they had won when the ball landed on 11, as it looked like Roman numeral II. With the pick, Buffalo selected future Hall of Fame center Gilbert Perreault, who fittingly wore No. 11.

5) One season later, Perreault teamed with Richard Martin and Rene Robert to form “The French Connection,” one of the top-scoring lines in the league for much of the 1970s.

6) Perreault is one of seven former Sabres in the NHL Hall of Fame. He’s joined by Tim Horton, Dale Hawerchuk, Clark Gillies, Grant Fuhr, Pat LaFontaine and Dick Duff.

7) Perreault is the Sabres’ leader in most offensive categories, but current Thrashers’ head coach Craig Ramsay is Buffalo’s all-time leader in plus/minus, at plus-328.

8) Legendary coach Scotty Bowman led the Sabres for parts of seven seasons, but he never got them to the Stanley Cup Finals. Bowman, who won a total of nine Cups with the Canadiens, Penguins and Red Wings, was 210-134-60 as head coach in Buffalo.

9) In 1997, Dominik Hasek became the second goaltender (and first in 35 years) to win both the Hart and Vezina trophies in the same season. He repeated the achievement the following season, and he remains the only goalie to win back-to-back Hart Trophies. (A pair of Canadiens, Jacques Plante and Jose Theodore, are the only other netminders to win the Hart and Vezina in the same season.)

10) The Sabres won perhaps the most unusual game in Stanley Cup Finals history in 1975. In Game 3 of their series with the Flyers, Rene Robert’s overtime goal lifted Buffalo to a 5-4 win -- its first ever in the Finals. But the game is remembered more for its, shall we say, atmosphere. Early in the contest, a bat that was flying low over the ice at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium (better known as “The Aud”) was killed by the Sabres’ Jim Lorentz.
We believe this was the only time an animal has been killed on the ice during an NHL game. (We’re assuming all the octopi in Detroit were dead when they entered the arena.) As if to lend that moment more significance, The Aud was enveloped in heavy fog later in the game, making it difficult for fans, coaches and even the players to see the puck. Some believe Lorentz cursed the Sabres when he killed the bat. Philadelphia won the series in six.

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We’ve all got one in the closet. It’s out of fashion and out of date, but it might be the best article of clothing we own: The throwback jersey. Homage to better times and tribute to the past, the throwback jersey is only one way we celebrate history in the world of sports.

In this space, I’ll go digging through sports’ own closet for throwback stats, facts, obscurities and arcana. While world history may just be a set of lies agreed upon (Napoleon), sports history has a whole lot of data to justify itself.

And just in case you’re wondering, my throwback is royal blue with red trim and a big No. 11 in white. Record-breaking Super Bowl performances never go out of style.

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