Skip to main content
Original Issue

A narrow defeat for "need"

At the NCAA convention the major sports schools just did turn back a determined move to base athletic scholarships partly on ability to pay

As the air thickened with parliamentary rhetoric at last week's NCAA convention in St. Louis, less and less progress was being made on more and more issues. "Our problem," said one of the 548 voting delegates, "is too much democracy." This may smack of heresy in a Bicentennial year, but such seemed to be the case. Opposing views and divergent interests collided like bumper cars all over the convention floor.

A highly publicized proposal for a national championship football playoff in Division I was not even voted on. Plans to create a "super" division of the NCAA for major college football powers (or schools hoping to become powers) were put off until next year. Also deferred were measures dealing with the NCAA's responsibilities in women's athletics. And finally, after lengthy debate, a proposal to replace full athletic scholarships with grants based partly on need was voted down. If this sort of legislative daring had obtained in 1776, we would still be saluting the Union Jack.

Even some of the approved legislation had the taint of negativism. The delegates rescinded several money-saving rules that they had adopted at a special convention only five months before. The most significant action at St. Louis was the removal of the restriction on the number of team members who may travel to away games and suit up at home. This takes third-stringers out of the stands and puts them on the bench, where their morale will be higher even if they can't see the action as well.

Although appeals for economy measures were largely unheeded, if not rebuked, the long-standing tradition of full-ride athletic scholarships among Division I schools was very nearly ended. Offered in their place were grants conferring free tuition but basing room and board on the parents' ability to pay. Although the small Division III schools had accepted "need" in 1974 and the Ivy League has lived comfortably with it for years, it has never enjoyed much support among Division I and II members. When the August convention resolved that a need formula be presented in January, its chances for passage seemed nil.

Nil, that is, until 75 university presidents showed up in St. Louis, many of them to speak in favor of need, most to vote for it. This was three times the number of presidents attending last year's convention and some 73 more than in 1974. "We're not here to be adversaries," said Stephen Horn of Long Beach State, "but to do something about the cost of college athletics."

College presidents are about as popular at NCAA conventions as chaperons at a ninth-grade party. Never mind that they look and sound better than most of their athletic directors; when they step to the microphone to speak of "integrity," as Glenn Olds of Kent State did, the lights come on and the music stops.

Because opposition to need is strongest among Division I's football-playing elite, the appearance of several Pacific Eight presidents was noteworthy. "Need scholarships are essential for the financial preservation of a strong intercollegiate athletic program," Charles Young off UCLA told the convention. As to how much money could be saved, estimates ranged from $65,000 a year at Washington State to $150,000 at Stanford.

The anti-need forces had been caught off guard. Unable to argue dollars and cents effectively, they invoked history, philosophy and Mark Spitz. "I would hate to think that Mark Spitz couldn't have gotten a scholarship because his father was a dentist," said one delegate with more emotion than accuracy. The elder Spitz is an engineer. Speaking for 30 Division I independents, Penn State Athletic Director Ed Czekaj said, "We've lived with scholarships for a long time and I think it's a good system."

University of the Pacific President Stanley McCaffrey retorted, "Need doesn't discriminate and it's fair in its provisions. The thing which students and faculties criticize most is making athletes special. When we give athletic scholarships, it's very difficult to defend against that criticism."

The athletic director of a small Eastern school rose to observe, "There seems to be a difference of opinion between big football schools and the college presidents. I say we support the presidents."

The first opportunity to do that came just before lunch on Friday. Playing their ace, the presidents pushed through a procedural requirement that final consideration of need be made by roll call. Thus, any athletic director under orders from back home to vote "yes" could not hide a negative vote behind an anonymous show of the paddles the delegates used to signify aye or nay when a show of hands was asked.

During lunch the big schools all but conceded defeat. "I think it's going to pass," said Michigan's Don Canham. Arkansas Coach (and athletic director) Frank Broyles was already anticipating a deterioration of discipline. "When a boy's daddy is paying his way," said Broyles, "I'm not sure the boy would want to run 15 wind sprints in 100-degree weather. Need is a very bad thing for schools that emphasize winning."

The long interruption between morning and afternoon sessions worked against the presidents, however. The Rev. Edmund Joyce of Notre Dame, a persuasive spokesman, had time to prepare a strong case in opposition. "I feel something like Daniel did in the lion's den," he began. "I am a mere vice-president venturing against a phalanx of presidents." With that he was off and away.

Agreeing that the need requirement had merit for some schools but insisting that major college football and basketball constituted a "unique situation," he said financial disclosure by parents would be "demeaning." And he asked the convention to imagine the problem of the coach whose right guard was getting a larger grant than his right tackle.

Joyce spoke for 14 minutes. When he sat down the applause was loud and long. More parliamentary razzle-dazzle followed and the anti-need forces managed to override the earlier decision to vote by roll call. This seemed to ensure defeat for need, but when the paddles were raised the vote was 119-119. Overtime. The chair ordered a roll call and, lo and behold, the vote was now 112 for need scholarships and 120 against. Need had been defeated, but ever so narrowly.

After the convention recessed for the day, one delegate after another came by to congratulate and give thanks to Joyce. "That's as fine a presentation as I've ever heard," said Broyles.

The need vote was much closer than anyone had anticipated because conferences such as the Pacific Eight and Atlantic Coast and some major independents—like Georgia Tech and Syracuse—voted for it. The most surprising "yes" came from Maryland, though it was a grudging affirmative. "No, I don't like it," Athletic Director Jim Kehoe said, "but my president does."

Presidential influence may also have much to say about the formation of a "super" spinoff from Division I. President Richard Lyman of Stanford is "not too happy at all about a division where the sky is the limit. The NCAA should not be like an amoeba, separating forever and ever."

That is what the upper echelon of the Division I football-playing schools want, however. They can almost be identified by their votes against need. Their only need, they say, is to be left alone, to play the game the way they want to play it. "We can afford it," said a Big Eight spokesman, "so why don't the other schools let us do it?"

When reorganization is presented again next year, perhaps they will. The Division III schools may support the football powers if only to keep their television revenue in the association. Possibly Division II as well. The strongest opponents are those Division I schools that do not want to be shunted off to a lesser status. The very hint of this brought cries of dissent from the Southern, Mid-American and Missouri Valley Conferences. Several members said talk of a possible loss of status had already cut alumni contributions. Appalachian State, which earned Division I recognition only in recent years, felt it was unfair to have to start over. A spokesman for Marshall said, "We've been slapped in the face."

No action was taken on a football playoff because it had been tied to reorganization. Ernie Casale, the committee chairman and Temple athletic director, was not confident of its chances, anyway. "A lot of schools are in favor of it but won't vote that way because of opposition by the bowls," he said.