After winning the 1994 race, Cambridge formally introduced a bursary which offered two annual awards of up to £5,000 for "oarsmen of the highest calibre" who had already been admitted to the University and required financial support.
In Oxford's eyes, this was a significant and damaging step beyond the acceptable brinkmanship which has traditionally accompanied the event.
"It's not a level playing field any more," said Jeremiah McLanahan, this year's president of the Oxford University Boat Club, who will row at five in the Dark Blue boat today.
"We think it is absolutely appalling. Cambridge are using a systematic method of buying in international rowers, and that is unfair . . . we think it is contrary to the spirit of the Boat Race."
Meetings had been held between the two, but an impasse had been reached. If the situation continued, Mr McLanahan said, "we could decide not to offer Cambridge a Boat Race challenge. There has been a lot of talk about that within the club". Robert Breare, the donors' representative on the Alf Twinn bursary committee, described the Oxford complaint as "sour grapes".
He said: "Anyone applying for the grant must pass the University examination in a perfectly ordinary way. Nobody is making a place that didn't exist before."
The Oxford art of rowing, page 15
Photograph: David Ashdown