The death of the Amateur Athletic Union (first reported as imminent in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED on Sept. 25, 1961) came a step nearer last week in Chicago during the 56th annual convention of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. At an orderly and well-attended session in "the gym-sized Williford Room of the Conrad Hilton Hotel, the college track and field coaches of the nation formed the United States Track and Field Federation, which will represent the majority of runners and field-event men and women in America.
The vote in favor of federation was only one of a series of developments that further eroded the rapidly diminishing power of the AAU. Coaches of basketball and gymnastics at the NCAA meeting voted to form separate federations for their own sports. It is likely that their lead will be followed soon by coaches of swimming and wrestling. If the AAU survives in any form, it will be as an equal or pro-rated shareholder with the big and small colleges, the high schools and the armed services.
The movement toward federation did not begin with the track coaches. Basketball men had been quarreling with AAU leadership longer. In 1920 they formed a national basketball council, which is even now petitioning the international governing body of the sport for recognition. But the USTFF, organized by the National Collegiate Track Coaches Association, is the first organization of any importance to formally challenge the authority of the AAU.
The track coaches have a wonderfully potent weapon with which to do battle: the means and the men to stage a national championship in track and field in direct competition with the AAU National Championship on June 22-23. The AAU championships are scheduled for Walnut, Calif., on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The coaches authorized their officers to plan their own championships on the same days in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The federation championships thus would follow the NCAA and NAIA (small colleges) meets and would be open to all athletes who qualify by time or distance for entry.
The Coliseum, with the Los Angeles Dodgers moving to Chavez Ravine, is installing what may be the finest running track in the country. It is expected to be ready long before June. "Some of the federation people have talked to me about this meet," says Bill Nicholas, chairman of the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission. "The Coliseum is available on those dates and there is no reason why the U.S. Track and Field Federation cannot use it."
If the USTFF and AAU meets do indeed come off on the same days, it is likely that the AAU entry list will read like a "who's nobody" of American track. In addition to all the college and high school athletes, the federation meet should attract the best of the postgraduate athletes, 50 of whom already are on record (SI, Sept. 25) as having endorsed the track and field federation. The NAIA has not yet placed its seal of approval on the new federation, but it is expected to do so when it meets in Kansas City in March.
Al Duer, the executive secretary of the NAIA, said last week, "I cannot speak for the NAIA as a group but I have talked to coaches and officials and I know that they favor this kind of organization. Some kind of democratic organization for the administration of track and field must come soon. We want to be assured that we will be given proportionate representation. If we are, we are for it I am sure."
Some postgraduate athletes are stronger in their support of the track federation meet than Duer. Harold Connolly, the world-record holder in the hammer throw, said last week, "I would compete for the federation rather than the AAU tomorrow. This is the best news I've heard in a long time." Connolly and his wife Olga had just returned home from a long cold afternoon's training when Connolly was interviewed. Olga, who is one of the best women discus throwers in the world, said, "I was very cold when I heard this, but now I am warm. I may begin competing again."
"I would certainly run for the federation and not for the AAU," said Jim Beatty, who, with Oregon's Dyrol Burleson, is one of the two best milers in the country. Parry O'Brien, senior citizen of the shot, was not as impetuous or as positive as Connolly or Beatty, but he did say that he would compete for the federation. "By the time this thing comes up," O'Brien said, "the AAU should realize it can't beat the federation. It would be a stupid and senseless thing for the AAU not to join the track and field federation."
At present, there is no indication that the AAU will join the federation. No AAU official was present at the NCAA or the track coaches' meetings in Chicago last week. Louis J. Fisher, the new president of the AAU and an attorney in High Point, North Carolina, said that the AAU had no intention of joining. He warned that the AAU was the only U.S. organization that was recognized by international authorities. When it came time to deal with the Americans, he said, the international groups would pick the AAU because that organization's members are led by unpaid people. He added that he believed a small group within the NCAA "is out to destroy the AAU for the interests of just a few selfish individuals." He declined to name these individuals.