The NCAA convened in Chicago last week and before the cigar smoke had cleared, its familiar and often tedious struggle against other major alphabetical powers—AAU, USOC, ABA—now included itself. As Pogo once declared, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
There were high purposes and complicated matters to be considered at this NCAA convention, even though they may prove much ado about little. Doddering lettermen were better left nodding in the Palmer House lobby than led to the fray in the mirrored, chandeliered Red Lacquer Room. Nowadays, athletic directors need to be more familiar with Robert's Rules of Order than the rules of games.
For one, the conventioneers were asked to consider reorganizing the NCAA into two divisions with separate bylaws according to the scope of their programs and level of competition—in other words, separating the Alabamas from the Bowdoins—but the prospect of making a distinction between haves and have-nots made agreement on divorce impossible. Nor did the convention show much inclination to follow administrative pressures back home and accept measures aimed at cutting the cost of athletics.
What it did accomplish, if that be the word, was repeal of the 1.6 scholarship rule in favor of less restrictive criteria based on high school performance, a move which NCAA Executive Director Walter Byers considered mistaken. "It is considerably easier to score 2.0 in high school than to predict 1.6 for your freshman year in college," he said.
And, while increasing the number of candidates who can qualify for aid, the NCAA limited the number of grants which can be given. The new numbers permit no more than 105 scholarship football players or 18 basketball players on any one squad. This will more evenly distribute the available playing talent but, together with the 1.6 repeal, significantly reduces the chances of an average prospect winning an athletic grant. Previously, colleges with top football teams could have as many as 180 football players on scholarship.
Scholarship limitation was only one item aimed at lowering the cost of college athletics, which rose 108% in the 1960s. Revenue has risen, too, but it cannot match what has become a $40 million annual deficit. College presidents do not like this kind of athletic loss. "Our administrators are very aware of what we're doing here," Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Bob James said early in the week. "There can be no more procrastination. We must not go home empty-handed."
Other proposed cost-cutting legislation included coaching-staff limitations, granting scholarships on a partial-need basis and restricting spring practice to noncontact drills. That none of these items passed suited the American Football Coaches Association just fine.
The AFCA was meeting a few blocks away at the Conrad Hilton, and its executive director, Bill Murray, encouraged the coaches "to get involved in what they're doing over at the Palmer House, because if you don't get your point across these things will be approved."
"Cutting costs by cutting football is the most ridiculous notion in the history of America," thundered USC's John McKay, who is occasionally given to overstatement. "I think that what some of these people really want to do is bring us down to their level. They don't understand that football has to do well for the other sports to survive. It can't do well if they put limitations on it. They talk about reducing coaching staffs. Well, I think we're over-secretaried."
The fact is, however, that institutions with huge stenographic pools like USC do not have the same problems, interests or ambitions as most other NCAA members. This was largely the rationale for the reorganization legislation. "We very much need to create a situation where people involved with a particular problem, no matter what their level of competition, are able to solve it themselves," said Big Eight Commissioner Chuck Neinas.
Even though reorganization was recognized as an idea whose time should have come—81% of schools that participated in a survey a little over a year ago favored the concept—the measure failed. The proposed legislation was the work of a committee chaired by a University of Oklahoma law professor, Dave Swank, who tried to convince opponents that while his was not the best possible proposal, at least it was a first step. The particulars bothered too many people, however. Swank's plan recommended two divisions when at least three seemed more appropriate. It banished 30% of the 243 current University Division schools, including Mississippi, Utah State and Miami, into the new Division II class. And it incurred the wrath of the Eastern College Athletic Conference. The ECAC includes 211 schools of the 665 in the NCAA, and it supports institutional autonomy and self-determination the way Southerners did in the 1860s. "We wanted reorganization as much as anyone, but that includes changing the council also," said ECAC Commissioner Scotty Whitelaw, who marshaled about 120 negative votes in Chicago. "The ECAC represents a different philosophy from most of the NCAA. Only a few of us are really interested in competing for the national championship in football. We don't want to be controlled by a super elite of those who do."
Swank, who never did express confidence about his proposal's chances, was no better at answering arguments than his committee was at drawing up an acceptable solution. "Being from the University of Oklahoma, perhaps I don't understand the problems of the smaller schools," he admitted.
A major objection to the recommendation was that it promised autonomy while prohibiting one division from passing less restrictive proposals without the consent of the other. "How can you have self-determination with a rule like that?" asked Delaware Athletic Director Dave Nelson. "We don't believe in self-determination," answered Swank.
Both at a round-table discussion and on the day of the vote, opponents rose in force to speak against the proposal. "We're supposed to be trying to save money," said Ernie McCoy, Miami's athletic director, "but for us to stay with the major schools where we've always been, we'd have to add two sports to our curriculum." (One criterion for belonging to Division I would have been that a school field teams in eight sports.) Grambling's C. D. Henry said he would be satisfied with Division II status, but not if Grambling was unable to compete on the same basis for football players as Division I schools.
Had the measure passed, the two divisions would have considered the other proposals separately, actually voting with different colored paddles. "It took me days to get those paddles ready," said one NCAA staffer. "Now they have all the usefulness of McGovern-Eagleton buttons."
Except for the passage of scholarship limitations, fears of a restructuring of big-time athletics proved quite unfounded. "I can tell you that basically the Big Ten is very, very pleased with the outcome of this convention," said the conference commissioner, Wayne Duke. "We wanted reorganization, of course, and I personally feel that repeal of the 1.6 rule is a step backward, but we like the position we're in. The scholarship limitations will put us in line with conferences like the Big Eight. We've done things like this all by ourselves before, and it was always a disaster. We won't again. The Big Ten will return as a major power, you better believe it."
The scholarship-limitation rule will have an adverse effect on the Southeastern and Southwest conferences, although Georgia's Vince Dooley felt that'? "the top schools should always be able to attract the top players no matter how many scholarships are allowed. The best thing is that we're no worse off than anyone else."
Dooley could also join the other football-oriented schools, University and College Division alike, in expressing relief that the proposal allowing scholarships on a partial-need basis did not pass. Arguments against it were persuasive. UCLA's faculty representative predicted "cheating of all kinds" under need system and Notre Dame's Rev. Edmund Joyce detailed them. "There would be great pressure on the part of coaches and enthusiastic alumni to get around something like this," he said, "and I think families might be encouraged to cheat a bit, too. There is a feeling across the country that a blue-chip athlete should get a full ride and I don't know how we'd change it."
Byers thought such matters as need and spring practice limitations might be accepted by the smaller schools operating on a separate legislative and competitive basis. "That's why reorganization is important," he said. "Larger and smaller schools see the money situation differently. With, our diversified membership it is difficult to make progress in dealing with detailed problems. I had thought two-divisional reorganization would pass this year and we could expand to three next year, but I did not anticipate the united strength of the ECAC or the discontent among the College Division schools."
Reorganization will be presented again, but the support of Whitelaw's Eastern bloc will be crucial for passage. "It's obvious," said Pacific-8 Commissioner Wiles Hallock, "that anything we propose will have to take the ECAC into serious consideration." Another reorganization proponent added, "I think our best hope is that next year we meet in San Francisco. Not as many of those Eastern schools will show up."
Don't bet on it.