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John Underwood
September 10, 1973
John McKay of USC attacks critics of football's mounting costs, arguing that the same can be said of academics and that the game usually supports an entire athletic program
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September 10, 1973

Common Cents And Dollars

John McKay of USC attacks critics of football's mounting costs, arguing that the same can be said of academics and that the game usually supports an entire athletic program

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Southern Cal, the current idol of field and screen, spends $1.9 million to make $2 million; it does not control its budget separate from the school, but it gets what it needs. It has been in the black 12 straight years. Meanwhile, California, on a 10-year binge of dwindling attendance, dawdling gate receipts and, lately, NCAA probation, goes $538,000 over budget and into an austerity program.

The increased costs in tuition, training-table food, dormitory lodging, insurance, medical care, equipment, etc. are especially felt at a school like Ohio University. Ohio's stadium seats fewer than 18,000 and is seldom filled, and the need for budget-building revenue leads to its having scheduled such teams as Perm State, Northwestern and South Carolina on the road. It is hard for Ohio University to make ends meet.

But in the end what are costs except a measure against value? One who believes, and is outspoken in his belief, that college football is not only financially feasible but important beyond dollars-and-cents reckoning, who believes there is no such thing as a chronic loser on the field or at the gate, and who—hold onto your pompons—does not think it necessary that you spend your pockets off to succeed is John McKay of USC, the No. 1 coach of last year's No. 1 team.

The nags of college football are not trodden lightly on by John McKay:

"Very few people say, 'I'm against intercollegiate athletics.' They say, 'I'm against football.' Why? Publicity. When you're against football you get publicity. I asked [representatives of the NCAA] in Chicago, 'Why do you spend 99% of your time talking about football? What is the fascination?' Well, they say, the costs. They complain about costs. I said, 'If you had three restaurants and two were losing money would you harass the one that was keeping you in business?'

"It's ridiculous. Why undermine the one sport that holds the others up? If all we care about is showing a bigger profit, then let's cut out the sports that have no chance. I personally wouldn't want that because if it's worth having a well-rounded athletic program it's worth paying for. You can't measure those things in costs. The medical school 'costs' money. The business school 'costs' money.

"They talk about cutting football scholarships. We don't give many at USC, but what's right for us might not be right for Darrell Royal at Texas or Frank Broyles at Arkansas. But why football scholarships? We've won more national championships [in all sports] than anybody, but if we allowed ourselves what the new NCAA table calls for we would need 49 more scholarships to 'save money." We could have water polo scholarships. We could start a wrestling program and have 13 athletes on scholarship, an ice hockey team and have 16. If you tell me we would save money doing that, with sports that haven't a chance to make a dime, then I'll have to say you're insane."

There are ways to keep a program in the black, McKay says. Surprisingly enough, despite the economic cushion his football teams provide, McKay holds his purse strings as USC athletic director in a tight fist.

"Some people try to keep up with the Joneses. We don't. We don't 'always travel first class.' We don't 'always stay at the best hotels.' We don't spend a lot of money on equipment. We don't need all different color jerseys and three extra pair of pants and 24,000 dummies. We've got enough dummies coaching and playing. Our equipment costs were around $22,000 in 1960. They'll be around $27,000 this year despite prices having doubled.

"We don't have 13 or 14 coaches like some schools in the South. We have eight. We don't have four or five practice fields. In our league we don't give $15 a month laundry money or books. I'd rather we gave the books because they're the tools of an education, but that's the league rule. What does $15 a month for 180 guys on scholarship [in the entire intercollegiate program] save us? Figure $15 times 180 times nine months. That's what we save.

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