The Generals of Washington and Lee have fared well on the gridiron over the past 150 years. They were pioneers of the sport in the late 1800s, and soon became a force to be reckoned with in the NCAA. The first half of the twentieth century saw many examples of W&L’s athletic prowess, especially on the football field, but that all came to halt in 1954.
W&L’s honor system has been a defining facet of the university since the mid-19th century and a representation of mutual trust between the student body and faculty. The honor code continues to hold sacred status in the eyes of those associated with the institution. In 1954, an academic cheating scandal that involved multiple football team members severely challenged this honor system and ultimately brought an end to subsidized athletics on W&L’s campus. At that time, university officials felt that athletics were detracting from the school's academic mission. W&L athletes past and present are glad that sports were eventually brought back in the aftermath of the scandal, and that W&L is now a proud member of the NCAA Division III.
Some people have argued that the 1954 decision was unfavorable for the university, as it pushed W&L out of the NCAA Division I and out of the national athletic spotlight. We find that this is not the case, and rather that the 1954 scandal was a blessing in disguise. The events directly following the scandal, specifically those leading to W&L competing in the NCAA Division III, helped the university prioritize academics and a small liberal arts school atmosphere while allowing for their students to achieve athletic excellence and compete on a level playing field against similarly sized colleges and universities.
The Honor System: Washington & Lee. Washington and Lee University. Retrieved December 2, 2021, from https://my.wlu.edu/executive-committee/the-honor-system.