Prop 48 Players Were Major Contributors on NU’s 1995 Team
Story by Shane G. Gilster
It’s safe to say Nebraska will benefit this upcoming season from the NCAA’s transfer portal and name, image and likeness policies. But in the 1990s, it was a regulation known as Proposition 48 that enabled Nebraska to bring in players who, otherwise, probably would not have been Huskers.
Nebraska built some of its best teams with the help of Proposition 48, which enabled it to enroll players who were partial or non-qualifiers academically.
Husker stars such as cornerback Michael Booker, defensive tackle Christian Peter, cornerback Tyrone Williams, receiver Reggie Baul and defensive end Jared Tomich all started for the Huskers during the 1995 championship season. All were “Prop 48s.”
At the time, partial qualifiers were prospective athletes who met only one of two minimum academic requirements – grade point average or standardized test score. The minimums were a 2.0 GPA with a 900 on the SAT or 21 on the ACT or a 2.5 GPA with a 700 SAT or 17 ACT. A non-qualifier met neither standard. If a school accepted a partial or non-qualifier, the athlete was ineligible for athletics for one year.
The NCAA enacted Proposition 48 in January 1986, which allowed schools to enroll partial or non-qualifiers, and Nebraska took advantage, bringing in players who spent a year not playing but getting their grades in order. Many would then be eligible to play. But on Dec. 20, 1995, the Big 12 presidents voted unanimously to limit each school to four partial qualifiers per year (two men, two women) and no more than one in a single sport. That effectively ended the Husker success with a high number of Prop 48 players.
Some say minimizing Prop 48 numbers was one of the main reasons Nebraska’s championship streak ended. That reasoning has some merit considering the five Prop 48 starters on the 1995 squad thought by many to be the greatest college football team of all time.
Tomich was a first-team All-American who led the team with 10 sacks. Peter, a first-team All-Big Eight pick, led the defensive line in tackles. Williams was a first-team All-Big Eight selection, and Booker was the team-leader in interceptions and the player-of-the game in the Fiesta bowl against Florida.
Other prominent Prop 48s on that team were outside linebacker Jamel Williams, who was the third-leading tackler; Eric Warfield, a backup safety; and running back Clinton Childs, who started one game at I-back and was the fourth-leading rusher and top kickoff returner.
In all, Nebraska had 12 partial and non-qualifiers on the 1995 roster. A coach from another high-profile team at the time commented: “Among elite schools, Nebraska is a true haven for partial and non-qualifiers.
That coach wouldn’t get any argument from Childs.
“I think Nebraska knew how to use Prop 48 players more than other teams,” Childs said. “For the state of Indiana to lose a player like Jared Tomich and the state of Florida to lose Tyrone Williams was crazy. It is a credit to the University of Nebraska because we had very successful Prop 48 players that played key roles on the team.”
Childs was a highly recruited running back out of Omaha North and could have gone most anywhere in the country if he had fully qualified academically.
“I got recruited by everyone in the Big Eight except Oklahoma,” Childs said. “My top choices were Kansas and Kansas State, but I also liked Miami, and when I didn’t qualify, Miami offered James Stewart who later became their starting running back.”
Childs had the necessary grade point average but was short on his ACT score. Nebraska offered a scholarship and he was part of the 1992 recruiting class but since he wasn’t going to qualify academically, he had to decide between junior college or take the Prop 48 offer from NU and sit out from competition for a year.
“The junior college route wasn’t as glorified as it is today,” Childs said. “It didn’t appeal to me to go junior college and then go to Nebraska. Knowing that you had a full ride at Nebraska after your first year just seemed like the best route to go.”
Once he arrived on campus, Childs felt like part of the team, even though he could not play. He had workouts, study table and meal plans that were the same as the rest of the team.
“The way it was constructed for Prop 48 guys made it seem like you weren’t missing a whole lot of stuff,” Childs said. “We had access to numerous things. We just couldn’t practice, suit up and play with the team on game days.”
It was Nebraska’s academic support that was monumental in helping Childs make the grades and become eligible after his first year. He said he specifically remembered working with a woman named Pat Engelhardt. “She was a phenomenal person,” he said.
Like Childs, Baul, from Papillion-La Vista, was another Prop 48 player who flourished in Nebraska’s system during that time. And like Childs, he had plans to go out of state to play college ball, if not for his grades.
“Nebraska offered me a scholarship but I told them no because I was going to go to Colorado State,” Baul said. “Their head coach was Earl Bruce and he sold their school. They passed the ball because they were in a pass-friendly conference.”
Baul signed a letter of intent with CSU but he didn’t make the grades and fell under Proposition 48. The school released him from that commitment.
“I didn’t have issues with the ACT score, but there were some core classes I didn’t know I needed. But coach Osborne and Nebraska kept in contact with me, even after I committed to Colorado State,” Baul said. “They were accepting Prop 48 players and asked me to be a walk-on with a chance to earn a scholarship.”
After sitting out the 1991 season, Baul earned his scholarship the following year due to good grades and a fast 40-yard dash time (4.4). He also performed well in practices. He didn’t play in 1992 as NU decided to redshirt him. He became the Huskers’ second-leading receiver in 1995 and a second-team All-Big Eight pick as a punt returner.
Warfield, who was from Texarkana, Arkansas, wasn’t a starter but played in every game in 1995. Like Childs and Baul, he could have gone to a lot of places if he had qualified academically. His top schools during the recruiting process were Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, but after he found out his ACT score was not high enough, a Prop 48 offer from NU was his best choice.
“The year I sat out, I made the necessary grades with ease,” Warfield said. “I played basketball and got to know the guys on my dorm floor and on the team. I was there to get an education and to play football and ease my way into adulthood and develop independence. I was accepted into an environment I didn’t grow up in and learned how to adapt.”
Would Nebraska have won the 1995 national championship if there wasn’t Proposition 48? That debate is hypothetical. It is possible NU still might have gotten some of those players eventually after they qualified academically.
The bottom line was Proposition 48 benefited NU and the players who fell under its guidelines. It gave high school athletes like Childs a chance to prove themselves after being denied – sometimes by a single test score.
“Probably 80% to 90% of people don’t even utilize stuff from those ACT and SAT tests, and those (tests) don’t determine if you can be successful in college,” Childs said. “You have tests made up by a bunch of people who probably have no idea the impact it has on kids’ lives.”
Yes, Nebraska won championships with Prop 48 players, but as time has gone on, perhaps it’s more important that a lot of good football players also received elite academic support and ultimately received degrees.
Either way, it’s a good legacy.