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The NCAA convened in Chicago last week and before the cigar smoke had cleared, its familiar and often tedious struggle against other major alphabetical powers—AAU, USOC, ABA—now included itself. As Pogo once declared, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
There were high purposes and complicated matters to be considered at this NCAA convention, even though they may prove much ado about little. Doddering lettermen were better left nodding in the Palmer House lobby than led to the fray in the mirrored, chandeliered Red Lacquer Room. Nowadays, athletic directors need to be more familiar with Robert's Rules of Order than the rules of games.
For one, the conventioneers were asked to consider reorganizing the NCAA into two divisions with separate bylaws according to the scope of their programs and level of competition—in other words, separating the Alabamas from the Bowdoins—but the prospect of making a distinction between haves and have-nots made agreement on divorce impossible. Nor did the convention show much inclination to follow administrative pressures back home and accept measures aimed at cutting the cost of athletics.
What it did accomplish, if that be the word, was repeal of the 1.6 scholarship rule in favor of less restrictive criteria based on high school performance, a move which NCAA Executive Director Walter Byers considered mistaken. "It is considerably easier to score 2.0 in high school than to predict 1.6 for your freshman year in college," he said.
And, while increasing the number of candidates who can qualify for aid, the NCAA limited the number of grants which can be given. The new numbers permit no more than 105 scholarship football players or 18 basketball players on any one squad. This will more evenly distribute the available playing talent but, together with the 1.6 repeal, significantly reduces the chances of an average prospect winning an athletic grant. Previously, colleges with top football teams could have as many as 180 football players on scholarship.
Scholarship limitation was only one item aimed at lowering the cost of college athletics, which rose 108% in the 1960s. Revenue has risen, too, but it cannot match what has become a $40 million annual deficit. College presidents do not like this kind of athletic loss. "Our administrators are very aware of what we're doing here," Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Bob James said early in the week. "There can be no more procrastination. We must not go home empty-handed."
Other proposed cost-cutting legislation included coaching-staff limitations, granting scholarships on a partial-need basis and restricting spring practice to noncontact drills. That none of these items passed suited the American Football Coaches Association just fine.
The AFCA was meeting a few blocks away at the Conrad Hilton, and its executive director, Bill Murray, encouraged the coaches "to get involved in what they're doing over at the Palmer House, because if you don't get your point across these things will be approved."
"Cutting costs by cutting football is the most ridiculous notion in the history of America," thundered USC's John McKay, who is occasionally given to overstatement. "I think that what some of these people really want to do is bring us down to their level. They don't understand that football has to do well for the other sports to survive. It can't do well if they put limitations on it. They talk about reducing coaching staffs. Well, I think we're over-secretaried."
The fact is, however, that institutions with huge stenographic pools like USC do not have the same problems, interests or ambitions as most other NCAA members. This was largely the rationale for the reorganization legislation. "We very much need to create a situation where people involved with a particular problem, no matter what their level of competition, are able to solve it themselves," said Big Eight Commissioner Chuck Neinas.