In light of my post about Frank Holbrook, I decided to take a closer look at Iowa’s first conference: the Western Interstate University Football Association, which Iowa was a member of for six seasons from 1892-1897.

According to my research, the WIUFA – along with the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the Northwest, which was also founded in 1892 – was the first interstate football conference between what are now Division I-A schools.  At least three football conferences predate the WIUFA, but these leagues were single-state conferences with schools in Illinois, Indiana, and Kansas, respectively.

The Western Interstate University Football Association

Membership in the Western Interstate University Football Association was consistent across its entire life span.  The University of Nebraska, the University of Missouri, Kansas University, and the University of Iowa were the four schools that formed the league in 1892.  It made logical sense: these four schools were located relatively close to each other in the heart of the United States.

Iowa had played both Nebraska and Kansas for the first time in 1891, and both were at neutral sites.  The Hawkeyes claimed a 22-0 victory over Nebraska in Omaha on Thanksgiving Day, which was memorable for Iowa fans in that it was not only the first contest against neighboring Nebraska but also the first Hawkeye game staged outside of the Hawkeye State.  The 1891 game was also particularly notable in that it started a streak of eight straight Thanksgiving Day games between Iowa and Nebraska from 1891-1898.

The 1891 Hawkeyes ended their season the following week with an 18-14 triumph over Kansas in Kansas City.  That was Kansas’ only loss in 1891, as they compiled a 6-1-1 record that year.  The Jayhawks had opened the 1891 season playing Missouri for the first time, winning in Kansas City by a 22-10 score.

Those were the gridiron connections between the four schools when the WIUFA was formed in 1891.  Missouri had never played Iowa or Nebraska, and Kansas had never faced Nebraska either.  But the regional connections between the four schools made an association seem like a natural fit…at least on paper.

1892 Western Interstate University Football Association Season

WIUFA Standings

School WIUFA Record Overall Record
Kansas 3-0 7-1
Nebraska 1-1-1 2-2-1
Missouri 1-2 1-2
Iowa 0-2-1 3-2-1


Nov. 5:
Kansas 24, Iowa 4 – Kansas City, MO
Nebraska 1, Missouri 0 – Omaha, NE (forfeit)

Nov. 12:
Kansas 12, Nebraska 0 – Lincoln, NE
Missouri 24, Iowa 0 – Columbia, MO

Nov. 24:
Nebraska 10, Iowa 10 – Omaha, NE
Kansas 12, Missouri 4 – Kansas City, MO

1892 Season Notes

The most controversial game of the season was the first-ever meeting between Nebraska and Missouri.  The Tigers, furious that Nebraska refused to sideline their star African-American halfback George Flippin for the game, forfeited the match.  The WIUFA quickly installed a league rule that any cancellation of a scheduled conference game would result in a $50 fine, which was a steep penalty back then.

Taking the forfeit into account, Missouri only played two WIUFA games in 1892, and those were also the only two contests the team played all season, shutting out Iowa before losing to league champion Kansas.  The Jayhawks rolled to the first WIUFA title in 1892 and only lost one game all year, to instate Baker University.

1893 Western Interstate University Football Association Season

WIUFA Standings

School WIUFA Record Overall Record
Missouri 2-1 4-3
Kansas 2-1 2-5
Nebraska 1-2 3-2
Iowa 1-2 3-4


Nov. 4:
Kansas 35, Iowa 24 – Kansas City, MO

Nov. 11:
Missouri 30, Nebraska 18 – Kansas City, MO

Nov. 18:
Kansas 18, Nebraska 0 – Lincoln, NE
Iowa 34, Missouri 12 – Iowa City, IA

Nov. 30:
Nebraska 20, Iowa 18 – Omaha, NE
Missouri 12, Kansas 4 – Kansas City, MO

1893 Season Notes

The game of the 1893 WIUFA season took place on Thanksgiving Day between Missouri and Kansas.  The Jayhawks, who claimed the first WIUFA league title in 1892 with a perfect 3-0 record, were strolling toward another outright championship with a 2-0 conference record in 1893.  But Missouri ambushed them in Kansas City, claiming a 12-4 victory and a share of the WIUFA title themselves.  Interestingly, those two conference wins by Kansas were the only two by the school that year; they dropped four non-conference games to Michigan, Minnesota, Denver Athletic Club, and their old nemesis, Baker U.

Missouri shared their first WIUFA league title in 1893, but they couldn’t claim it outright.  Iowa got to host the Tigers for the first WIUFA game held in Iowa City, and the Hawkeyes responded with their first conference win in school history by knocking off Missouri, 34-12.  With Missouri’s win over Kansas, Iowa could have clinched a share of the 1893 WIUFA championship themselves by beating 0-2 Nebraska on Thanksgiving.  But the Nebraskans edged the Hawks, 20-18, to keep the 1893 title a two-way affair.

1894 Western Interstate University Football Association Season

WIUFA Standings

School WIUFA Record Overall Record
Missouri 2-1 4-3
Nebraska 2-1 6-2
Iowa 1-2 4-4-1
Kansas 1-2 2-3-1


Nov. 3:
Missouri 18, Nebraska 14 – Kansas City, MO
Iowa 14, Kansas 12 – Iowa City, IA

Nov. 17:
Nebraska 12, Kansas 6 – Lawrence, KS

Nov. 19:
Missouri 32, Iowa 16 – Columbia, MO

Nov. 29:
Nebraska 36, Iowa 0 – Omaha, NE
Kansas 18, Missouri 12 – Kansas City, MO

1894 Season Notes

The previous season, Missouri upset Kansas to deny the Jayhawks an outright WIUFA championship.  In 1894, Kansas returned the favor.  Missouri was cruising to an outright WIUFA title with a 2-0 league record in 1894 when Kansas stepped in on Thanksgiving and dealt the Tigers their first conference loss, 18-12.

Because of Kansas’ upset of Missouri, the winner of the Iowa-Nebraska game would claim a share of the 1894 league title with the Tigers.  Nebraska earned their share of the title without dispute, hammering the Hawkeyes, 36-0.  The 1894 WIUFA title is the first conference championship in the illustrious history of Nebraska football.  At least the news wasn’t all bad for the Hawkeyes…after two years of playing Kansas in Kansas City, the schools moved to a home-and-home format; Iowa kicked off their new arrangement with Kansas by upending the Jayhawks in Iowa City, 14-12.

1895 Western Interstate University Football Association Season

WIUFA Standings

School WIUFA Record Overall Record
Missouri 2-1 7-1
Kansas 2-1 6-1
Nebraska 2-1 6-3
Iowa 0-3 2-5


Nov. 2:
Nebraska 12, Missouri 10 – Omaha, NE
Kansas 52, Iowa 0 – Lawrence, KS

Nov. 16:
Kansas 8, Nebraska 4 – Lincoln, NE

Nov. 18:
Missouri 34, Iowa 0 – Columbia, MO

Nov. 28:
Nebraska 6, Iowa 0 – Omaha, NE
Missouri 10, Kansas 6 – Kansas City, MO

1895 Season Notes

The 1895 WIUFA season featured three excellent football teams…and Iowa, which went a woeful 0-3 against the conference and allowed the other three teams to all clinch a share of the 1895 WIUFA title.  For the first and only time in WIUFA history, three teams shared the conference crown.  Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska all earned a share of the championship by walloping Iowa and going 1-1 against each other.

Iowa nearly didn’t field a team in 1895, requiring emergency fundraising just before the season to keep the program from going bankrupt.  A team was assembled, but the university couldn’t afford a head coach, so Iowa played without on.  The results were apparent on the field…counting their 1894 conference finale against Nebraska, the Hawkeyes suffered the three worst losses in WIUFA play to that point, all in a row: 36-0 to Nebraska, 52-0 to Kansas, and 34-0 to Missouri.  Althout Iowa was competitive in their last game against Nebraska, losing by just a 6-0 score, the 1895 Hawkeyes became the first team to go through a WIUFA season without scoring a single point.

Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska all shared the 1895 WIUFA championship.  Of these teams, Missouri appeared to be the strongest.  Despite an upset loss to Nebraska, 12-10, the Tigers swept through the rest of their schedule without a blemish, including impressive non-conference victories over Vanderbilt, Purdue, and Northwestern.  They clinched a share of the conference title in their final game, when 7-1 Missouri toppled 6-0 Kansas, 10-6.

Kansas was undefeated and a game away from a perfect season and an outright conference title before taking a season-ending loss to Missouri.  But the teams they played outside of the conference were overmatched and unimpressive, and their head-to-head loss to Missouri gives the Tigers the edge as the league’s strongest club.

Nebraska, on the back on their upset over Missouri, snuck away with a share of the 1895 title as well, despite not having a particularly strong club.  The 1895 Nebraskans lost three games, including a 24-0 walloping by Grinnell College of Iowa.  Add in a narrow victory over the aforementioned rudderless Hawkeyes, and Nebraska proved to be the weakest of the three co-champs.  But their upset of Missouri gave them a claim at the championship.

1896 Western Interstate University Football Association Season

WIUFA Standings

School WIUFA Record Overall Record
Iowa 3-0-1 7-1-1
Kansas 2-1 7-3
Nebraska 1-2-1 6-3-1
Missouri 0-3 7-5


Oct. 25:
Iowa 6, Kansas 0 – Iowa City, IA

Oct. 26:
Nebraska 8, Missouri 4 – Columbia, MO

Nov. 8:
Kansas 18, Nebraska 4 – Lawrence, KS

Nov. 9:
Iowa 12, Missouri 0 – Columbia, MO

Nov. 26:
Nebraska 0, Iowa 0 – Omaha, NE
Kansas 30, Missouri 0 – Kansas City, MO

Nov. 28:
Iowa 6, Nebraska 0 – Omaha, NE

1896 Season Notes

Personally, I think this was the strongest year for the collective group of WIUFA schools – it was the only season in which every team finished with a winning overall record.  It was a magical year for the University of Iowa, which went from having the only team in WIUFA history to go 0-3 with three shutouts in 1895 to winning the only WIUFA championship in school history in 1896…and winning it outright at that.  The Hawkeyes were led by African-American star halfback Frank Holbrook, whose 1896 game against Missouri was the stuff of sports legend.

With a 2-0 record in the WIUFA, the Hawkeyes faced 1-1 Nebraska in their final contest of the conference season.  The two teams played annually on Thanksgiving, but weather conditions resulted in a scoreless draw between the two clubs in 1896.  Iowa could have claimed the conference championship outright on the basis of the tie and their now 2-0-1 record, but they decided to put their championship on the line and give Nebraska another shot.  In a highly unusual move, the two schools decided to rematch two days later in Omaha.  This time, Iowa clinched the WIUFA championship without dispute by clipping Nebraska, 6-0.

1897 Western Interstate University Football Association Season

WIUFA Standings

School WIUFA Record Overall Record
Nebraska 3-0 5-1
Kansas 2-1 8-2
Iowa 0-2 4-4
Missouri 0-2 5-6


Oct. 30:
Kansas 56, Iowa 0 – Lawrence, KS
Nebraska 41, Missouri 0 – Lincoln, NE

Nov. 13:
Nebraska 10, Kansas 5 – Lincoln, NE

Nov. 25:
Nebraska 6, Iowa 0 – Council Bluffs, IA
Kansas 16, Missouri 0 – Kansas City, MO

1897 Season Notes

Due to the unpleasantries surrounding Frank Holbrook’s participation in the 1896 Iowa-Missouri game, the Hawkeyes and Tigers cut off athletic relations.  With two of the four schools refusing to participate in a round-robin, the four school league was doomed.  The Western Interstate University Football Association played its sixth and final season in 1897, with Nebraska and Kansas playing three league games and Missouri and Iowa two each.

As it turned out, Iowa and Missouri refusing the round-robin format made little difference, since those two schools weren’t a factor in the 1897 WIUFA title chase.  Both schools suffered two shutout losses at the hands of Nebraska and Kansas, putting Nebraska and Kansas head and shoulders above the field.  One note of interest is that the annual Iowa-Nebraska game was played in Council Bluffs, across the river from Omaha, after six years of playing on Nebraska turf.  The location made little difference for Iowa, as they suffered a 6-0 defeat.

As mentioned, the 1897 WIUFA championship came down to Nebraska and Kansas.  The two schools clashed in Lincoln, and Nebraska won their first outright conference championship in school history thanks to a 10-5 victory over the Jayhawks.

Breaking Up and Getting Back Together…and Breaking Up Again

Due to the severed relations between Iowa and Missouri, the Western Interstate University Football Association faded into history after six years.  In the end, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas each claimed three shared or outright WIUFA championships, while Iowa only claimed one – the outright 1896 title.  Interestingly, however, the Hawkeyes were the only school in the WIUFA that never suffered a home loss in their six seasons in the league, posting a perfect 3-0 record in conference games held in Iowa City.

Iowa and Missouri would resume athletic relations in 1902, and ten years after the demise of the WIUFA, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska would reunite again.  The four schools joined Washington University in St. Louis to form a five-school football league called the Missouri Valley Conference.  A year later, two more Iowa football schools, Drake and Ames, joined the league to increase the number to seven.

The University of Iowa, at that time, was also a member of the Western Conference (now known as the Big Ten).  The Hawkeyes maintained membership in two separate athletic conferences for four years from 1907-1910.  However, in 1910, racial tensions flared between Iowa and Missouri again, this time around Missouri’s objection to the presence of Iowa’s African-American tackle, Archie Alexander.  The unpleasantries surrounding the 1910 Iowa-Missouri game led to the University of Iowa becoming the first school to withdraw from the Missouri Valley Conference, leaving Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas behind and putting Iowa’s future solely in the hands of the Big Ten.

Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas, on the other hand, remained together for over a century.  First in the Missouri Valley Conference, and then in the Big Six, Big Seven, Big Eight, and Big XII Conferences, these three schools continued to forge the common bond they had held since their joint membership in the WIUFA beginning in 1892.  That relationship finally came to an end in 2010, when Nebraska left the Texas-centric Big XII for the stable arms of the Big Ten and rekindled a century-old rivalry with Iowa.  Missouri also left the Big XII for their culturally-likeminded brethren of the SEC.  And Kansas was left marooned deep in the dark shadow of Texas and what remained of the Big XII Conference.

Iowa and Nebraska are back together, while Kansas and Missouri have gone their separate ways.  Yet these four schools will forever be connected by the joint history of a shared conference that started over 120 years ago – the Western Interstate University Football Association.

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