CONTAMINATION OR COMPETITION? - Sports Illustrated Vault |
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As Professor of Christian Thought at Drake University, Dr. Frank Gardner must be familiar with the Biblical text: "In my Father's house are many mansions"—a favorite for sermons deploring discrimination. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has no desire to sermonize, but it does occur to us that the text applies equally well to the house which Dr. Gardner serves, ably for the most part, in his second capacity as President of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, an organization dedicated to the preservation of the amateur status of young athletes. The question is whether Dr. Gardner feels there is room in this house for any other athletes.

This question was raised last week with the announcement that the University of Pittsburgh was about to close a deal giving the National (pro) Football League's Steelers the right to play in its stadium. In response, Dr. Gardner dispatched a hasty telegram to Pitt Chancellor Edward Litchfield decrying any such action. "We didn't warn him," said the NCAA head. "It was just in the nature of advice." However, he added, there was a strong possibility that future NCAA legislation would specifically forbid any such deal.

Why? Dr. Gardner was vagueness personified. "We're just trying," he said, "to keep intercollegiate athletics as amateur as possible." Many professional football teams throughout the land are already playing in amateur stadiums with no NCAA objection. Many more hope to. The University of Pennsylvania recently made arrangements to admit the Philadelphia Eagles to its stadium. The Pitt project is one which concerns all local sports fans vitally in that it might mean life or death for the Steelers as a Pittsburgh club since their own Forbes Field (capacity 35,000) is designed for baseball and has long proved inadequate for football. Among local civil and scholastic authorities the prevailing view is that the uses to which the university puts its stadium are just none of Dr. Gardner's or the NCAA's business.

This seems reasonable. We don't know what Dr. Gardner is afraid of. If it is only competition at the box office, that scarcely seems a fit topic for consideration on the basis of pure amateurism. If, on the other hand, the fears are mostly of possible contamination, that would seem to indicate a sad lack of faith in the principles for which the NCAA stands.

Prejudice and discrimination tend to reach a panic peak when lines of natural demarcation become faintest. If pros and amateurs are now so nearly indistinguishable that a mere sharing of premises will wipe out the difference, the distinction is only academic. This magazine believes that there is a definite distinction and that there is room for both pros and amateurs in the same world and, for the matter of that, in the same stadium.