Not so freely admitted, but still very much present in the reasons for the new conference is the competition college football is beginning to feel from the professionals. The new collegiate conference would, in geographical distribution and in its method of scheduling, nearly duplicate the setup of the highly successful National Football League.
"Some of the independents are beginning to feel a little pinch—in the areas where professional football has become very popular," Cutter said. "I think, too, that all the recent publicity about the excellence of professional football as compared to college football is out of balance. We can't fight that by crawling into a hole and playing football which is the equivalent of high school football, as some colleges are doing. This conference, I believe, can be a real shot in the arm to college football by proving that the college game, too, is good. By forming a conference of schools with uniformly high academic standards and uniformly good football teams we can prove that academic excellence and football strength can go hand in hand."
The new conference would ease the scheduling headaches of some of the member colleges and would be no problem to the others. "As a service school, we like to play schedules which pretty well cover the United States," Colonel Roberts points out. "This conference meets that requirement. Besides, we have been playing all these schools anyway. The scheduling will not be difficult, although I should imagine it would be the mid-'60s anyway before a real conference schedule could be worked out."
Another advantage to the member schools—and an important one—was underlined by several of the athletic directors. George Briggs of Washington probably explained it best: "My own feeling is that the primary factor in favor of the idea is the opportunity such an organization would provide for combining the effectiveness of our common feelings on such matters as national intercollegiate legislation. We've gone too far already in sacrificing institutional autonomy; this could be a device for preserving and strengthening it. From the standpoint of having an organization in formation and capable, let's say, of influencing NCAA-type legislation affecting intercollegiate athletics, my hunch is that agreement by 1960 would be quite possible. To be operational in terms of scheduling is quite another matter, though."
All in all, the new conference would be an advantage to the member schools. Since it is made up of independents, it does not disrupt any conference now existing. None of the athletic directors made direct mention of one of the biggest advantages—the increased gate receipts to be expected from participation in a conference which will be the strongest in the nation, or the advantage to be expected in recruiting boys to play in that conference. It is easy to see, too, what a tremendously attractive TV package this conference would have to offer. And, if it can be worked out, a playoff between the eastern and western division would very likely outshine any current bowl game in popular appeal. These are very real reasons and very strong ones for the acceptance this idea has picked up so quickly. The fact that these reasons carry weight is no criticism of the schools involved, any more than it is a criticism of the Big Ten schools to say that similar considerations have long applied there, too: the Big Ten is a strong and attractive conference for spectators and for athletes.
The dissolution of the nine-member Pacific Coast Conference will clear the way for the creation of the proposed new airplane conference. The athletic directors of the four big West Coast schools—now suddenly independents—all considered that the achievement of a strong voice in NCAA affairs would be one of the valuable results of the new Togetherness. The same thought was, if not so dominantly, a factor with the experienced independents of the East.
Incidentally, if the new conference should use its undoubted strength to try to ease the strict but just rules of the NCAA, then it would be better for collegiate athletics if it never comes into being. No prediction is made here that anything like this will be attempted, but it is no secret that some of the proposed members—notably on the West Coast—have squirmed under the NCAA penalties.
Also, incidentally, and probably without being conscious of it, the conferees in Room 1016 in the Netherland-Hilton were outlining a college football program for the 1960s in direct challenge to the thesis of that tireless old opponent of college football, Chicago's Robert M. Hutchins, whose advice to other college presidents has long been: "Give it up and let the pros have it."
In his sternest manner, Hutchins has written (see below) that college football can never be as good, as entertaining and solvent as the professional game. The athletic directors of a dozen or so of the nation's finest colleges are out to prove Hutchins and his disciples wrong. And they just might do it.