War, flu canceled Missouri Homecoming, entire football schedule in 1918

Thursday, October 13, 2011 | 11:05 p.m. CDT; updated 10:53 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 14, 2011

COLUMBIA — So why is Missouri celebrating its 100th Homecoming when it should be the 101st occurrence since the first Homecoming in 1911?

It's not because of a smudge in the record book or a faulty math department abacus. To learn the real reason, you'll need to take a ride in the black and gold DeLorean.


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Back in 1918, the world was fighting a war in Europe. At the same time, the world was going through one of the worst pandemics ever: the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918.

Because of the war, the U.S. War Department tightened the rules on what members of the Student Army Training Corps were allowed to do. An announcement from the department said that “intercollegiate athletic schedules would be abolished” at schools with SATC units, which included Missouri. A further explanation came via a letter to university presidents from Colonel R.I. Rees, the chairman of the department’s committee on education and special training.

“Athletic sports, as formerly pursued, involving extended trips and specialized training, are inconsistent with the soldiers’ program of drill and study,” Rees wrote.

This set off a back-and-forth regarding whether or not football would be played at all in 1918, and if it was to be played, exactly how would it be played. Many members of the Missouri football team — and most other schools’ teams for that matter — were also SATC members. Kansas was reportedly the worst-affected school in the Missouri Valley Conference, getting in just an hour of football practice a day because of the military’s schedule.

Eventually, a decision was made. The War Department announced that teams would only be allowed to travel to games if the game and travel to and from could be completed in one day. After Nov. 1, that would be expanded to situations when the game and travel could take place in 48 hours, only from Friday to Sunday.

While decisions based on the war were being made, the flu had spread to Columbia. On Oct. 7, MU was closed and the city suspended activities at churches and schools. There were 70 known cases of influenza among students. The next day, 50 more cases were reported in the city. Students were not allowed to leave the city. Oct. 9 saw the city’s first death from the disease, the start of days of reporting on the rising death toll. By the end of the week, the University of Kansas had announced it would close until at least Oct. 21 because of the flu.

“War conditions” canceled Missouri’s first game of the season, and the remaining October schedule was canceled one game at a time because of either the war or the flu. Days later, MU was ordered closed. The state of Missouri had 10,000 cases of influenza.

Perhaps it was for the well-being of Missouri’s record that there hadn’t been a game yet. The Missourian published an article Oct. 30 describing what the war had done to the Tigers’ lineup.

“But nearly all the men on the team were within the new draft law or were awaiting to be called into service. … Since the beginning of school an entirely new team has been formed.”

As November began, Columbia’s city quarantine remained in effect. The city also had a ban on public gatherings, leading to the cancellation of Missouri’s game with Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, in Europe, World War I ended Nov. 11, but the flu raged on. The game scheduled for Nov. 17 against Washington University was canceled because of the flu.

Nov. 22, the game with Kansas was canceled. For the first time in 28 years there would be no Thanksgiving game between the two rivals. Missouri’s entire season was wiped out, and it was the only team in the conference not to play at all. Only five conference games were played that season.

With the eight-game season canceled and the city enforcing a ban on public gatherings, one can conclude that Homecoming was canceled, as well. It was the year without football, the year without Homecoming.

Now you have a little bit of a leg up on the competition when it comes to MU trivia. It might even help you pass your Missouri Homecoming midterm. At the very least, you'll be able to win a bet at Harpo's on Saturday night.

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