The 1951-52 Aggies & Our Shot at The Olympics

I’m working on adding game data to USUStats, and just scrounged up enough information about the 1951-52 season to add it to USUStats here:

Dr. James Naismith, inventor of the sport of basketball in 1891.

The USU Media Guide is wildly inaccurate for the 1951-52 season. My theory is that end of season records were kept by hand (I’ve seen copies of these) and the writer had very sloppy handwriting (I’m not kidding). Out of 31 games, 13 of them had inaccurate scores, sometimes both teams, sometimes just one team. Two of those games had inaccurate outcomes as well, ironically games against Utah and BYU. The USU media guide lists the BYU game on Feb 2, 1952 as a win and the Utah game on March 1, 1952 as a loss. In reality the opposite happened in both of those games. Our media guide also does not list game dates or whether the games were home, away, or neutral that far back, so that is information I have to find elsewhere.

The process of adding these games includes finding media guides for other teams, cross referencing them, and then searching through archives of 70 year old newspapers from various websites to validate any discrepancies. I am confident that my information is now 100% accurate for that season, but it does take a lot of time.

Anyway, at the end of the season I saw that we played several small colleges that we normally don’t play. Such as Regis, Clarion State, and Lawrence Tech. Our media guide didn’t indicate anything special about these games. Regis and Clarion State actually have online media guides with historical game data, and one of them listed the game against Utah State as an NAIA Playoff, while the other listed it as part of the NAIB Tournament.

I had heard the term “NAIA” referring to smaller colleges, but this was the first time I had heard of “NAIB”.

In 1937 Doctor James Naismith, the founding father of the sport of basketball put together the very first National College Basketball Tournament. It was held in Kansas City, Missouri at Municipal Auditorium. The goal of the tournament was to give smaller colleges and universities the ability to play to determine a national champion. A year after this tournament began, the NIT was formed, and the NCAA Tournament was formed the following year. In 1937 the tournament consisted of 8 teams and expanded to 32 teams in 1938. In 1940 the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (NAIB) was formed in association with this tournament, and in 1952 the name was changed to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and expanded to include other sports.

Cartoon about All-American candidate Bert Cook who led the Aggies to the postseason in 1952. Credit: Deseret News, January 13, 1952

Fast forward to 1952. The Aggies had a surprise season finishing tied for 2nd in the Skyline Conference led by Bert Cook who was an All American candidate that year. We somehow garnered what appears to be a “play-in” game against Regis college for a berth to the NAIB Tournament. We won the game and were invited to the tournament. That year the tournament was changed from the NAIB Tournament to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Tournament and they shortly thereafter expanded to include sports other than just basketball.

The tournament consisted of 32 teams, mostly small colleges, though it did include some recognizable schools like Utah State, Indiana State, Montana State, Portland, Murray State, and New Mexico State (then known as New Mexico A&M). The Aggies won their opening match-up before losing to Lawrence Tech in the sweet 16.

An interesting tidbit about this tournament (besides the fact that it was founded by Dr. James Naismith himself) was that the champion of the NAIA tournament and the champion of the NCAA Tournament were both invited to the Olympic Trials for the chance to represent the United States in the 1952 Summer Olympics. This was mentioned in a couple of articles I read, and you can read up more on it here.

While the Aggies ultimately fell short in that tournament, I found it very interesting that had they won a few more games they could’ve been invited to the 1952 Olympic Trials. I have to believe that Bert Cook would have had a good shot at making the Olympic squad considering his accomplishments that year and talk of All-American candidacy.

It was very interesting to me to find all of this information out from 70 year old newspaper clippings and some research. USUStats is now updated and now properly reflects our participation in the NAIA Tournament in 1952.