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Other men have endowed English professorships, zoology and anthropology chairs. What did they do on such an autumn Saturday afternoon? Think of it: Without ever touching the $1.75 million principal that Elerding had donated, USC could use the interest ad infinitum to cover the coach's salary and the punter's tuition, room, board and books, with enough left over each year to fold back into the fund and allow for inflation. Wealthy men have endowed head football coaches at a handful of universities, including Cornell, Yale and Princeton, but only USC, among the schools in the land, has its players endowed as well. All it takes is a one-time gift of $250,000 and a donor can attach his name forever to a starting position; if the university's investors are able to earn 10% on that money, it will be more than enough to cover the $17,500 that a scholarship currently costs.
In the Aug. 26 Los Angeles Times, a full-page ad ran that showed Trojan helmets aligned, defensively and offensively, as if in a scrimmage, with the names of donors beneath the positions they had funded. JOIN US IN ENDOWING THE USC STARTING FOOTBALL TEAM IN PERPETUITY urged the headline in the ad. But one would have to act swiftly. Only five helmets—the strong safety, the two defensive tackles and the two cornerbacks—remained orphans in the two-year-old program; as of now, only the cornerbacks remain, and the athletic department plans to have guardians for them, as well, at which point it will begin offering assistant coaches and second- and third-stringers to the public. "All 95 football scholarships endowed, that's our goal," says USC associate athletic director Don Winston. "And then there's basketball...."
How in the world did anyone ever think of endowing a college football team? The first endowment ever made to an American college was �100 sterling from Lady Mowlson (otherwise known as Anne Radcliffe) to Harvard in 1643. The first college football game on record, between Princeton and Rutgers, took place in 1869. In America one must consider this question from a slightly different angle: How in the world did it take so many years for someone to think of endowing a college football team?
"Yeah, we might as well punt," sighs Elerding in the press box. "A good one here and we can pin 'em down near their goal line...."
Another question arises. Exactly what kind of man would endow a football position? The president of Occidental Petroleum, Ray Irani, for one, as well as the late Chester Dolley, a founder of Atlantic Oil. The retired president of a company selling contraceptive sponges did it, too. Not to mention five attorneys, a dentist, an insurance company owner, a stockbroker, a chemist and a dermatologist, Elerding. Three of them happen to live in the same 107-home waterfront community in Newport Beach; two are next-door neighbors; six are themselves former USC football players. Can I borrow a cup of sugar? No, but how about a split end? Simply by digging a quarter of a million dollars out of his wallet, retired lawyer and former executive vice president of the Hughes Corporation Richard Alden, a third-string center on the 1943 Trojan roster, had climbed to first-string center forevermore.
A man who endowed a linebacker, and who asked that his name not be used here, explains, "I did it because I like the conservative political environment at the school, its belief in the entrepreneurial system and the education it gives."
Consider the financial burden these men have removed from their alma mater. In 1988 it cost USC, a private institution with no state funding, $4.1 million to finance the 239 men and women on athletic scholarships. Over the past decade, that figure has grown an average of nine percent every year. The prospect had become frightening: Each year the school would have to start from scratch and pray that it could beg roughly $370,000 more from its alumni than the millions it had raised the year before. Did anyone out there understand how fragile was the footing beneath the athletic program at one of the country's most upright institutions? It was unthinkable and yet possible: Rose Bowls in the next century without Mike Garretts, O.J. Simpsons and Marcus Allens sweeping right end, turning upfield and racing off into Trojan mythology.
Whose eureka! was the endowment plan? To Don Winston, who had spent much of his career soliciting funds for academic chairs at USC before he was named associate athletic director in 1983, the hybridization seemed only logical. "Forever," he knew, was a powerful word to sell to mortal men. "Imagine," says Winston, "40 years from now their great-grandchildren can look up at that plaque with all the endowers' names on it, and say, 'My great-grandfather funded the scholarship of the player who scored the winning touchdown against UCLA today.' "
Would the pipe-smokers in the economics and linguistics departments feel affronted, finding themselves feeding from the same silver platter as the noseguard and linebacker? "Why should they complain?" asks Gary Caffey, a sportswriter for the Daily Trojan, USC's campus newspaper. "After all, the other departments all have their own sugar daddies."
Even if Elerding borrowed his wife's hands, he would not have enough fingers to count all his millions—most of them accumulated by buying and selling California real estate. Sure, mark him down for a quarter of a million, he told Winston last year. Could he have the quarterback? Sorry, doc, the quarterback was taken—how about a tackle? Who in hell could tell what a tackle was doing? Tailback? No, that was the one position reserved for small fry, an endowment made up of many gifts of $25 or $100 or more—but not too much more—from ex-players, friends and fans in memory of late Trojan tailback Ricky Bell. Placekicker, wide receiver? Gone. The punter.... Yeah, why not the punter?