The Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC), formed in the early 1900s, oversaw athletic relations among most of Illinois’s colleges and universities. At one point, the so-called Little Nineteen had over twenty members. In the 1930s, though, the conference fell apart, largely due to internecine conflicts over freshman eligibility. The IIAC’s fracture is a case study illustrating the impact of the Great Depression on small-college athletics. In particular, it shows how private schools sought to distinguish themselves both athletically and educationally from publicly funded institutions, including teachers colleges and junior colleges. Ultimately, by forming a new conference in 1937—and by limiting competition against public institutions or nonaccredited colleges—these small, private “liberal arts colleges” helped conceptualize a distinctive type of small-time intercollegiate athletics that rejected big-time athletic commercialization.

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