Joe Williams, who is now the basketball coach at Furman University but who a year ago coached a $1,500,000 player, Artis Gilmore, at Jacksonville, makes another vital point: loss of the four-year rule would change college recruiting. "This would take a great deal of incentive out of recruiting good players," he says. "The amount of time it takes to sign a good player is unbelievable, and the constant signing by pros of underclassmen with eligibility left will ruin your incentive for developing superstars, since they wouldn't be with you more than a couple of years."
Even though there is this deep concern, there was also emerging last week on the part of college athletic officials a surprising recognition that their undergraduate players do have some rights as potential professional athletes. The dubious nature of the "Do or Die for Old Siwash" attitude was being recognized for what it was, at least in the case of the truly talented player, the potential pro star whose career could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to him. Jack Kraft, Villanova's basketball coach, says, "I think a player owes it to himself to complete college, but I can't blame a boy who signs an early contract. I've been into some of these fellows' houses and believe me, if I put in a life of 17 or 18 years there and somebody offered me a contract, how do I know I wouldn't accept it? You just can't blame the boy at all."
Fred Shabel, the athletic director at the University of Pennsylvania, has made a complete about-face on the issue. "A few years ago I absolutely thought it was a healthy rule that undergraduates should finish their education," he says. "But now I don't see where I can sit here and deny a young man that kind of choice. I think their education is very important, but I don't think I can put myself in a position of denying anyone his right to chart his own life."
Press Maravich, LSU's basketball coach and father of Pete, puts it in straight enough English: "If there's a lot of bread to the situation, I don't see how any coach can recommend that a kid not sign. I would have told Pete to sign if he had been a sophomore. I tell you, it's all survival of the fittest. Like the jungle. Nobody worries about a kid after he graduates. You can always get the education, but you can't always get the money."
Marquette Basketball Coach Al McGuire has a prime target for undergraduate recruiters in sophomore Jim Chones and suggests he would advise Chones to turn pro if the price were fair. "I've looked in his refrigerator and in mine, and mine had meats, pastries and other goodies. There are two sides to this street."
Dean Smith, basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, says flatly, "A lot of coaches won't agree with me, but kids do go to college for financial security, and if they get a chance at a good contract they should take it. To me, it's just like a student majoring in business administration having a chance to leave school and become a vice-president at General Motors."
In all the discussion of Judge Ferguson's opinion, there is a constant, wistful hope voiced by what might be called the firm traditionalists among the college coaches and administrators that somehow, someday there will be some agreement, some understanding, something arranged between the professionals and the colleges which will again assure a university that when it gets a star who can pack its stadiums or field houses, it can hold on to him for four years. Usually, it is the NCAA whose name is invoked as the potential keeper of the collegians' turf. However, it turns out that Walter Byers, executive director of the NCAA, has not the slightest intention of getting his organization involved in this particular situation. At least, not if he can avoid it.
"I don't propose to fight this," Byers says. "I think Judge Ferguson was on sound legal ground. Remember, the four-year rule was not put in by the colleges, but by the pros to enable them to secure talent for themselves with a minimum of inconvenience. I suppose I might have fought this 10 years ago, but not now. Some of our schools want us to go to Congress if Judge Ferguson's ruling holds up. That's just whistling up a wind tunnel. If a student athlete signs professionally, we wish him well. If they put enough zeroes on the price tag, I suppose he has to take it. I've been up and down this street for 21 years, and I've never found more than two or three professional owners who thought the first thing about the welfare of college athletics—and we've made a lot of millionaires of athletes and owners." So much for using the NCAA as a go-between with the pros. Walter Byers declines, with reason.
As the leaders of college sport discuss the situation, there has emerged a pattern of remarkable bitterness—even downright hatred—toward the moguls of professional sport. For example, Pete Peletta, athletic director at the University of San Francisco, says, "It's a prostitution of athletes and athletics: these moneybags should go on trial." UCLA Athletic Director J. D. Morgan snaps, "This is a grave danger to all athletics. It's a very disturbing thing. It's the parents eating their young, so to speak, before they develop maturity." And Wayne Duke, the normally serene commissioner of the Big Eight, is on the point of rage as he speaks of the savage rivalry between the NBA and the ABA: "It's basically the same pattern as followed by pro football—the AFL wanted a merger with the NFL so it went around dangling big sums of money before college players. A lot of clamor arose over the signings, the merger was achieved, both leagues abandoned the big offers and everybody said aren't the pros great guys to stop doing what they had been doing. The same thing will happen in basketball—they'll merge and go back to signing seniors only and everyone will say how decent they are, when really all they are ever thinking about is their own selfish interests. We in college athletics should show up the pros for what they are. I'm for going to war against them, using legal and all other means."
Even if the colleges were to declare war, it is a little difficult to know just what weapons they would use—or even whom they would attack, for their difficulty is now not only with the pros, but with the Sherman Antitrust Act. But the pros are at least an enemy they can see, and some doughty types advocate firing away. John McKay, USC's football coach, says the colleges could put up Keep Off signs around campuses. "If pro football takes undergraduates," says McKay, "you can be sure their people would never be allowed on college campuses. You know, you just might even see a fan boycott of the pros if they invade the college ground too much. I feel that pro fans are first college fans. But the real solution to it is for those pros to act like decent people."