Ohio State football has unrivaled tradition and history. Now, it’s time to relive those epic moments once more. Each Monday over the coming weeks, you can listen to a new episode from Season Two of I Want to Go Back — Land-Grant Holy Land’s exclusive podcast series that brings to life the greatest lost stories from Ohio State football history. This season, we’ll go back to OSU’s rise to power in the early days of the Big Ten Conference.
On this week’s episode — Chic Harley Goes for the Repeat in 1917
In the 1916 season, Ohio State claimed the Western Conference championship. Under the leadership of coach John Wilce, Ohio State had taken a seat among the big players in college football. The landscape of the sport as ever was changing. Two events entirely out of Ohio State’s control would shape the fortune of the program moving forward.
The first was the rejoining of the Western Conference by a team that had been kicked out years before — Michigan. The Western Conference kicked out the Wolverines in 1907 due to compliance issues. The breakup left some bad blood. As the 1917 season approached, the Wolverines rejoined the Western Conference. Schedules had already been made up for the season, so Michigan would only play a single conference foe in Northwestern. Nevertheless, coach Wilce took note that the school in Ann Arbor would square off against his Buckeyes in the coming seasons.
The second event that shaped Ohio State’s future was outside the sport. World War I raged on across the Atlantic. Some of the biggest powers in college football — Harvard, Yale, and Princeton— canceled their football seasons in deference to the war effort. OSU Athletic Director Lynn St. John committed the Buckeyes to playing and scheduled two benefit games at the end of the year to raise money to support the troops.
With war raging and future clashes with Michigan looming, the 1917 Buckeyes turned to junior All-American halfback Chic Harley to lead them. Could Harley help OSU capture their first ever back-to-back conference championships?