UTEP celebrates the 50th anniversary of 1966 NCAA championship

utep 1966 game

EL PASO, Texas - The UTEP Miners basketball team faces off against Western Kentucky Saturday. Making this game special, it's the 50th Anniversary of the 1966 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship.

UTEP President Dr. Diana Natalicio said while many universities are struggling to add diversity, UTEP is succeeding at giving minorities access to education and opportunities. Natalicio said this is something UTEP has always done, just look at 1966.

When five black players stepped onto Cole Field House court in College Park, Maryland, coach of the University of Kentucky Wildcats, Adolph Rupp, thought it'd be an easy NCAA championship to win.

"The team that we defeated in that game was all white," Natalicio said. "And the coach had been very outspoken about not recruiting black players. He was proud he didn't recruit black players. It was kind of a classic moment in history where the forces came together."

Controversy surrounded the Mar. 7, 1966 game. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. locked in a space race, Vietnam was at its most unpopular, race riots broke out in cities across America. Blacks were fighting for civil rights, and whites were pushing back.

"I think that game in 1966 had a profound impact on intercollegiate sports," Natalicio said. "I think it was the catalyst. By 1969 even Kentucky was recruiting black players."

Kentucky and the rest of the country though was years behind Texas Western, the first college to desegregate in Texas in 1955. Coach Don Haskins though has said his decision to start five black players wasn't a social statement. He saw past skin color, measured their skills, and believed them to be the best.

"If we had not won, we would have reinforced a stereotype," Natalicio said. "It was like you could have three black players, maybe four. We changed that."

That game forever changed college athletics. Afterward, teams throughout the south began aggressively recruiting black athletes, ending years of segregation.

Attend a live panel discussion with members of the 1966 championship team at Memorial Gym at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5. Footage from the event will be incorporated into the CBS Sports Network documentary "1966 Texas Western: Championship of Change," which will air later this winter. Buy tickets for the event here.

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