After passing away on Tuesday, Ross Perot’s legacy has largely — and often rightly — been lionized across the media. There are heartwarming stories like this one told by former Texas Governor Rick Perry and this Newsweek remembrance that notes both Perot’s immense talent with one-liners and, “one page attention span.”
Yet there’s a group of people in his native Texas that will think back on Perot’s work and note how much harder it made their job. It’s Texas high school football coaches, not tax collectors or accountants.
As noted in this story from Texas Public Radio, Perot had an immense influence on the state of Texas’ education policy thanks to his chairmanship of a state education task force in the mid-1980s. One of the most significant impacts he delivered was the state’s first-ever “no-pass, no-play,” policy, which barred any athletes who failed a class from taking part in any extracurricular activities.
That policy still stands today and is now codified in the state’s standards. While it impacts all extracurricular groups — each school’s marching band is often just as impacted by no-pass, no-play failures as the football team — Perot specifically cited football when formulating his plan.
“He was a villain to coaches, I can just tell you. And to a lot of school superintendents because he was attacking the system that had been in place for at that time about 75 years and they didn’t want to change. But we did change,” Charles Breithaupt, the executive director of Texas’ sports-governing University Interscholastic League (UIL), told Texas Public Radio. “The fact that he attacked football, which everyone considered the sacred cow — no one would ever touch football in Texas — but he did. He tackled football, pun not intended.”
Breithaupt admitted that Perot’s plan impacted his own team — “it ruined our season,” he told Texas Public Radio — but other coaches reminisced about even more drastic impacts from no-pass no-play’s initial months.
“Academics is the most important thing, but those kids don’t get up in the morning excited about going to math class,” Todd Howey, the athletic director for the San Antonio Independent School District, which allegedly lost nearly 1,000 football players to no-pass no-play in 1984, told Texas Public Radio. “They’re excited about being around their friends, you know playing football, practicing football or going to band.
“The premise is right, and it’s a good thing to have, and I think how we have it now is perfect. But when you kick at kid out of athletics and you say you can’t be around your teams anymore, you can’t be around your coaches anymore, you’re supposed to go home and study — well that’s not going to happen.”
The current, changed no-pass no-play rules Howey refers to have provided more motivation for players to improve — they can return to competition after three weeks if their grades have improved — which in-turn provides a carrot in addition to Perot’s rather weighty stick.
Now that no-pass no-play has become an accepted part of Texas high school extracurricular life, even the coaches once impacted by the rule have come to respect it for its goal of emphasizing more class time and improved educational performance.
“I don’t think any school person, I being one of them, wanted to be told that what we were doing was not sufficient,” Breithaupt said. “But as you took a hard look at it, sometimes our rules were the problem.”