San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey broke the NCAA’s all-time record for rushing yards in a career on Saturday, going for 115 yards in the Aztecs’ 34-10 win against Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl. The senior finished his career with 6,405 yards, topping the previous mark of 6,397 yards held by Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne since 1999.
If you’re thinking to yourself, ‘gosh, Dayne had more yards than that,’ you’re not wrong. While the NCAA says Dayne’s career total was 6,397, the Wisconsin record book puts it at 7,125 yards. Why the discrepancy? Well, the NCAA didn’t start counting bowl stats until 2002, meaning the 725 yards Dayne ran for his four bowl games, including three 200-yard outings, aren’t counted in the official stats.
Many have wondered why the NCAA can’t go back and add Dayne’s bowl stats into the record to accurately reflect the real record-holder, so we asked them. And in a series of emails, the answers they gave won’t leave everyone satisfied.
The biggest issue for the NCAA is that their official statistics, which date back to 1937, didn’t track bowl stats officially until 2002. And while there would be no issues in going back and finding Dayne’s stats or any number of other players hurt by the change, it may not be as easy to find complete records for every bowl and every play.
“We are and have been very consistent that, while the policy or rule may change how a statistic or set of statistics is calculated for a current and/or subsequent seasons, we don’t change what was official from a previous season,” wrote Jeff Williams, the NCAA’s associate director of Media Coordination and Statistics.
“Would we be able to get all of Rudy Mobley’s statistics from the two bowl games he played in for Hardin Simmons in the late 1940s? If so, would we be able to get all the punt return yardage or kick return yardage or interception return yardage from every player in every bowl game, so we had the most accurate possible information for all career records, etc.”
Yet, even if the NCAA was able to do that, Williams wrote it’s still very unlikely they would.
“The bigger obstacle would still be that the official NCAA Statistics for those years did not include the bowl games,” Williams wrote. “The NCAA Statistical Records, in our view, should match the Official Final NCAA Statistical Rankings from each of the years a specific student-athlete competes.”
When guys like Pumphrey make a run at a well-known record like Dayne’s, Williams wrote there are conversations in the office about whether they would consider changing the policy. Similar conversations took place when former Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon was challenging Barry Sanders and his single-season rushing record in 2014.
“The previous leadership of the NCAA’s statistics staff took the position that they didn’t want to re-write history,” wrote David Worlock, the NCAA’s director of Media Coordination and Statistics. “That, along with what (Williams) outlined, are the reasons we have not gone back and added statistics from bowl games played prior to 2002. For example, if Player X or Team Y was recognized as the 1964 single-season rushing leader, the staff didn’t think it was prudent to change that record 30+ years later.”
So Pumphrey is now the leading rusher in FBS history, and he’s likely to remain that way barring some unforeseen change on the part of the NCAA.