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September 22, 1958
The PCC dies and the Big Four is nearly stillborn
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September 22, 1958

The West

The PCC dies and the Big Four is nearly stillborn

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(1957 scores):

SEPT. 26

at Detroit, N (19-12)

OCT. 4

at Iowa (no game)

OCT. 11

Colorado State at Denver (7-20)

OCT. 18

at Stanford (no game)

OCT. 25

Utah at Denver (0-34)

NOV. 1

at Oklahoma State (no game)

NOV. 8

at Denver (14-26)

NOV. 15

Wyoming (7-7)

NOV. 22

at New Mexico (31-0)

NOV. 29

at Colorado (no game)

In recent years, the West has offered football spectators nearly as much excitement and breath-catching action off the playing field as on. The biggest sideline spectacle was, of course, the three-year death dance of the Pacific Coast Conference caused by scandals over illegal financial aid to athletes. Sadly, the PCC, which throughout most of its almost 43 years of existence was truly big league, was dissolved August 10, 1958 in Portland, Ore.

The blame can be laid directly at the feet of those over enthusiastic alumni booster clubs which have latched on to college football so eagerly in recent years. At California, UCLA, Southern California and Washington, this enthusiasm ignored all common sense as well as the best interests of the undergraduates. On their own initiative—but with the knowledge and passive endorsement of university authorities—the boosters were proselyting the outstanding football players in the West with offers that violated all conference strictures on financial aid to athletes. At UCLA and USC "payoff stations" were operated where players picked up the extra-legal expense money provided by the boosters.

It was inevitable that this state of affairs would sooner or later lead to grief. It did when the boosters themselves began to spill stories to the press about their rivals' misdoings, and pretty soon the whole tawdry business was public property and too unpleasant to ignore.

The memory of these scandals has been kept vividly and unhappily alive through a set of unprecedented penalties invoked upon the offending colleges by the PCC. All four schools received stiff fines and varying periods of probation which affected their Rose Bowl eligibility anywhere from one to three years. Players from USC and UCLA who had accepted illegal aid had to forfeit one year of playing eligibility. The penalties were the stiffest punishment ever handed out by the PCC, and the four penalized schools immediately reacted like mistreated children and started making plans to leave home.

Last month, less than two weeks after the Pacific Coast Conference had been formally dissolved (effective June 30, 1959), the four dissenters announced they had joined together to form a new conference, the Athletic Association of Western Universities, which was quickly nicknamed The Big Four. Dr. Glenn Seaborg, Chancellor of the University of California, spelled out The Big Four's plans for policing recruitment: "If a member institution has reason to believe that another is violating either the letter or spirit of [the new rules], it may undertake to resolve the differences by discussion with that institution.... You might say a man-to-man challenge."

At the very moment Dr. Seaborg was describing the new rules in San Francisco, UCLA's George Dickerson, who had just succeeded to the head coaching job of the late Red Sanders, was putting them into effect. Dicker-son busted into the office of the University of California's head coach, Pete Elliott, who was interviewing a high school athlete and his mother. Dickerson interrupted the interview to charge with a roar that California was trying to steal young athletes who had promised to come to UCLA by making under-the-table cash offers. An embarrassed Elliott promised to investigate the charge after receiving Dickerson's assurance that there would be no publicity. However, it wasn't long before the West Coast newspapers were happily splashing the story across their pages, and California, its dignity wounded, tried to look like Charlie Chaplin trying to pretend nothing has happened.

Curly Grieve, sports editor of the San Francisco Examiner, took a righteous, regretful view of the incident. He wrote that "UCLA has virtually torpedoed the so-called Big Four...the group is likely to be known as the Big Fourflushers...and may be stillborn.... The PCC, with a resounding death rattle, could conduct its own investigation of Dickerson's wild charges and UCLA's own recruiting and proselyting practices, or ask the NCAA to do it for them. In that event, one, both or all four schools just might be put on the shelf again for a long time."

Nonetheless, it is quite clear that—regardless of the stigma resulting from the scandals—USC, UCLA, California and Washington have been able to use them as a very convenient excuse for ridding their schedules of three unprofitable opponents. The PCC required its members to play a round-robin schedule on a home-and-home basis, and neither Oregon, Oregon State nor Washington State drew well in the stadiums of The Big Four.

While PCC football suffers through this organizational chaos, the situation on the field this season may be equally topsy-turvy. For this year it is not The Big Four but their lesser brothers of the Northwest that appear the most likely to succeed.

Oregon State, now in its fourth year under Coach Tommy Prothro, has the best chance of winning the PCC and being the conference's last official representative in the Rose Bowl. With Red Sanders gone, Coach Prothro now becomes the high priest of single-wing football on the West Coast. It was as a Sanders assistant at UCLA that Prothro learned The Method, and he employs virtually all of Sanders' tricky spinners and reverses—a very scintillating kind of football for the fan.

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