The 1960 proceedings to get the NCAA football package were a marvel of skulduggery, and the episode has come to be celebrated as The Affair of the Man in the Corner, or How NBC and the NCAA Faced No-Face. Television rights to college football were up for bidding that year, and, as was the common thing then, offers were to be made through sealed, secret bids. This practice has since been discontinued in nearly all sport negotiation in favor of option clauses and a more gentlemanly, civilized and less dramatic method of openly discussing new terms together. The NCAA football package was one of TV's true prizes, and NBC had held the rights since 1956. A cozy relationship had arisen between the network and the NCAA, and it was rather common knowledge that non-NBC bidders for the rights would not be hotly pursued. This applied to ABC most of all for it was considered to be a rinky-dink operation; it had boxing, which was in bad repute, and it had a film golf show and some bowling. One of ABC's top TV-sport consultants at the time, Ed Scherick, recalls the situation: "The NCAA would as soon have had a Martian descend and bid as give their games to ABC. They were accustomed to NBC, the crème de la crème. ABC was a guttersnipe operation to them, third-ranked, to say the least."
What NBC and the NCAA did not know was that ticky-tacky old ABC had suddenly come up with financial help to back a substantial bid for college football. A few months earlier the Gillette company, then one of TV sports' essential advertisers, had approached ABC because NBC was no longer interested in continuing Gillette's beloved Friday-night fights. ABC, desperately anxious to crash the sports business, warmly welcomed Gillette's boxing show and managed also to get a promise from the razor-blade makers that they would underwrite a major ABC bid for NCAA football.
ABC had the invaluable element of surprise going for it because no one suspected it was about to come leaping out of the weeds. It was vital to ABC that nobody find out, for the network's master plotters—Ed Scherick and Tom Moore, then the programming boss—knew they could advance only in the dark of night.
The time set for submitting bids was noon Monday, March 14, in a suite at the Manhattan Hotel. "We assumed CBS would not bid since it was tied up with the NFL," recalls Tom Moore. "And we figured that Tom Gallery [then NBC Sports Director] would bid around $5.5 million or so—maybe a standard 10% increase over the year before." ABC also reasoned that Gallery, wily trader that he was, would bring with him two envelopes (actually, Gallery sometimes brought three), perhaps of different size or different color so he could tell them apart readily. One would contain his low bid, the other his high one. Gallery's strategy, as ABC's high command envisioned it, would be to hesitate a few seconds after the call for bids came from the NCAA officials. Gallery would be waiting to see if anyone stepped forward. No one? Then he would look about the room to see if he could spot anyone from another network. No competition? He would drop his low-bid envelope upon the desk. But was there a rival in the room? The high-bid missive would fall. Clean, neat, simple, efficient and effective.
Every precaution was taken at ABC to avoid a leak or a misstep of any kind. To be certain that everyone would legally believe ABC actually had the money to make the bid, its lawyers came up with an antiquated legal move called "affixing of the seal." Scherick recalls, "It was like the Magna Charta—attested with wax and stamp or something, I think—to prove we were good for the money. And we were so secretive about it that we didn't even let a secretary type the letter. A producer did it. We left a blank where the amount would be until the morning of the bidding."
There remained the major tactical problem of how to get the bid into the Manhattan Hotel and on the desk of NCAA officials without someone from NBC or the NCAA or the press noticing the lurking presence of ABC and sounding the alarm to Gallery. "If Tom Moore or I had gone within five blocks of the lobby," Scherick says, "the word would have spread in a flash. So our decision was to find someone unknown, someone innocuous, someone practically faceless to sort of insinuate himself into that suite without being seen. And we had somebody, Stanton Frankle. Frankle was a cost control administrator. We knew if anyone could melt into wallpaper, Stan was the man." Frankle is a tall, thin, balding fellow with the forgettable appearance of a Midwestern depot agent. At first, a masquerade was considered for Frankle—the old put-him-in-a-tuxedo-and-send-him-in-with-a-pitcher-of-water-as-if-he-were-a-waiter trick. That was discarded in favor of a plain business suit, because, as Scherick says, "We did not want to do anything dishonest, immoral or overtly misleading. We had to be clean as a hound's tooth in this caper." Scherick gave Frankle his instructions. At 11:45 a.m. a Carey limousine would pick Frankle up at the office entrance and take him to the Manhattan Hotel, where he would proceed directly to the NCAA suite. There, Frankle would find several men in the room and some chairs. He would drift quietly toward a corner in the back of the room, preferably snuggling into the drapes at that point and, ever so quietly, he would wait. "I told Stan that if anyone asked who he is, he should tell the truth," recalls Scherick. "I said, 'You will see a man there who is obese, balding, with a fringe of black hair. That is Tom Gallery. He is your enemy, and the longer you stay hidden from him, the better chance we have of winning our just rewards.' Then we shook hands. We were very emotional about the whole thing—as if Stan were Sergeant York about to infiltrate the enemy lines."
As in true high-style espionage, the ABC command also dispatched on the heels of Stanton Frankle a second Carey limousine with a second ABC man carrying a second sealed envelope. Scherick told the backup agent: "If you see Stanton hit by a cab or run over by a bus or knocked down by a bicycle or involved in an accident of any kind, let him lie. Do not touch him. Do not stop. Do not even slow down. Go to the Manhattan Hotel and do the deed."
Moments before Frankle was to leave the ABC office the blank space in the bid letter was filled in for $6,251,114 ("I thought the small change added personality," says Scherick). The figure would hardly overwhelm NBC's high bid but ABC was confident it would beat NBC's low bid, and anyhow it was all the money ABC felt it could put up.
When Stanton Frankle reached the Manhattan Hotel, he entered the NCAA suite and saw Tom Gallery in a chair up front. Yes, it looked like he had two envelopes. Frankle sidled toward the drapes, passing numerous men he did not know, and stood inconspicuously in the back of the room. In a few minutes Asa Bushnell, TV program director of the NCAA, announced from his seat at a table at the head of the room that all bids should now be brought forward and presented.
True to ABC briefing officers' predictions, Gallery looked around, glanced at his envelopes, then checked the room once more. No one moved. At last Gallery rose and put an envelope on the table—presumably his lower bid. And now Stanton Frankle stepped forward to introduce himself and present ABC's bid. Astonishment reigned, along with ashen faces and barely concealed rage. But the bids were opened, and ABC was the proud possessor of NCAA football for 1960-61. The margin of victory over NBC was $1,051,114. The NCAA was not overjoyed, but it had no choice. "That was the beginning of the big sports breakthrough for ABC," recalls Tom Moore.