While the sporting public's very back was turned last week, another one of those catchy numerical references, One Point Six, crawled into the American vocabulary and threatened, unfortunately, to become as familiar as the Two-point Conversion, the Final 18 or No. 51. It is unfortunate because One Point Six deals with an academic rule rather than a pass, a putt or a puck, and because every institution from Harvard to Sweatshirt U. seems to be debating it.
Athletic debates are far more interesting when they occur between goalposts or backboards, but this one rages on. Already it has caused one school, the University of Pennsylvania, to miss the chance it had earned to play in this week's NCAA basketball championship. Other NCAA championships are coming up almost immediately, and athletes who would normally compete now find they are ineligible. The controversy has also resulted in strong talk from usually calm men. Princeton President Robert F. Goheen has charged that One Point Six "would appear to be the product of people more knowledgeable about athletics than the life of the mind." The New York Times, in an editorial, accused the NCAA of "rule-or-ruin" ways. The issue is important, for it could lead to the wrecking of the NCAA.
The debate is primarily between the NCAA, which conceived the One Point Six rule, and the Ivy League, which defied it. One might hastily assume that in such a controversy the Ivies must be right. But when the welfare of the entire collegiate community is considered, the Ivies, despite scattered good points and splendid intentions, are dead wrong.
All high-principled, philosophic, idealistic shouting about academic freedom and institutional autonomy aside—running your own joint, in the language of the bleacher fan—the basic issue is a simple one. Should the NCAA try to insure that every varsity athlete is a student? Indeed it should. The Ivy League argues, in essence, that schools should police themselves, which is an admirable theory. But the realities of life—consider the major conference university that is attempting to recruit two basketball players whose high school transcripts show almost nothing but strings of Ds—are something different, and the Ivies, of all people, should be the first to admit it.
One of the main purposes of the much-maligned NCAA, as set forth in its constitution, is to assure exemplary control in the admission and eligibility of student athletes, through legislation if necessary. The One Point Six rule is a long-overdue piece of legislation designed to guarantee that every student athlete in all of the NCAA's 571 member schools maintain at least a C minus average. A mark of C minus amounts to 1.6 on the 1-to-4 grading system. Failure to maintain this average will keep the athlete out of all varsity competition and all varsity practices, assuming that his school wants to compete in any NCAA-sponsored championship events or postseason bowl games. In reality, the 1.6 level is quite low. One conference, the Big Ten, and many individual schools already have set higher standards for athletes. But others have not set any standards or are willing to bend double the ones they have for the sake of a good linebacker. It is toward these schools that the rule is aimed. It is designed to eliminate the tramp athlete, the transfer type, the snap-course clod.
To suggest, as the Ivies have done, that the NCAA has no business in this area is to say that the NCAA has no reason for existing. In order to regulate sound intercollegiate athletic programs, the NCAA must be concerned with admissions and eligibility just as surely as it must be concerned with recruiting and financial aid to athletes.
What, after all, is the NCAA? For one thing, it is not what the eastern press would have its readers think, nor is it what the Ivy League, as represented by Princeton's Goheen, is content to have its friends believe—namely, a group of guys in gym shoes constantly hoodwinked by the persuasive powers of a Bear Bryant, or an organization whose executive director, Walter Byers, is a power-hungry dictator shooting from the hip way out in wild Kansas City.
The NCAA is all of the schools, Ivies included, communicating with each other, primarily through academic people. It includes a lot of university athletic directors, yes, but these athletic directors represent the wishes and interests of their school administrations. The NCAA essentially is governed by deans and presidents and professors of law, chemistry, history, English—men in the cultural areas in which the Ivy League, especially during this debate, claims preeminence.
What finally climaxed the fireworks display in the One Point Six dispute was the NCAA's decision to bar Penn, the Ivy League champion, from the NCAA basketball playoffs. It did so after the Ivies said they would not comply with the One Point Six rule. The NCAA was not eager to disqualify Penn. In fact, it even tried to allow the Ivies to comply without literally complying, but the Ivies were still unhappy. They stated publicly and defiantly that the rule was bad and they would ignore it. After that, the NCAA had no recourse but to rule Penn out of championship competition.
The Ivy League's foremost objection to the One Point Six rule—an objection, curiously, that it failed to voice on the floor of two NCAA conventions—is that the NCAA is a society to govern athletics, not education. The Ivy League says that when the NCAA sets a minimum grade requirement for a student it is meddling with academic freedom. If a student falls below 1.6 and still wants to play football or something else to be a "well-rounded" man, he should be allowed to do so if his school is willing to let him participate. It further argues that athletes should not be treated differently from other students, that an athlete-student would be discriminated against if he had to maintain a C minus average when other students did not (SI, Feb. 14) and that athletes would take easy courses to be sure they could keep their grades up. These are high-minded, legitimate concerns and might be determining ones if this were the best-of-all-possible-Ivy-League worlds. But....