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Same old song: 'Football �ber Alles'
Frank Deford
August 25, 1975
At a special convention called to cut athletic expenses, the NCAA chopped away at the minor sports but left Big Football intact. Its only important act may have been a resolution to study scholarships based on need
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August 25, 1975

Same Old Song: 'football �ber Alles'

At a special convention called to cut athletic expenses, the NCAA chopped away at the minor sports but left Big Football intact. Its only important act may have been a resolution to study scholarships based on need

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Command clearly rested with the Big Ten-Pacific Eight axis. Although seating was on a first-come, first-served basis, these two groups took positions up front on either side of the aisle. Hardly an eleventh-hour revision passed that was not sponsored by the Big Ten; and the Pacific Eight, stocked with a strikingly high percentage of rich baritones, commandeered the microphones. Far off to one side huddled the Big Eight, put-upon, stubborn, even whining near the end. On the other side was the Southwest Conference, usually emotional, sometimes shrill and, despite its traditional success with X's and O's, apparently incapable of drafting legislation requiring the use of the other 24 letters. And there were the Atlantic Coast Conference, pleasantly efficient and pragmatic in casting its swing votes; the Ivies, bivouacked far in the rear and dismissed by the lot as crazy cousins; and the Southeastern Conference, strangely quiet, even voiceless.

The convention was composed of groups of genial men of disparate self-interest. Compromise, if not the lowest common denominator, had to be pandered to or nothing would have been achieved. Sanity seemed to reside only among the extremists. They were Horn of Long Beach and his lonesome band on the left, and the stalwart Big Eight plainsmen on the right. Both groups were the heavy losers at the convention, although only the Big Eight really had anything to lose.

Facetiously called Robin Hood for his proposal that the NCAA distribute its TV revenues among all football schools, and labeled "a Socialist and Communist" by his Establishment colleagues in less jovial moments, Horn actually resembled a Republican Che Guevara. Sallow and hunched as he walked to the microphone, barbed and expressive once he spoke, he kept referring to the prevailing NCAA philosophy as "Football �ber Alles." He departed bloody but unbowed, although his plan to limit football squads to (egad!) 65 drew minuscule support, and his TV idea never got off the bench. Horn characterized the convention as a "warmup skirmish" and plans to assemble a phalanx of college presidents for St. Louis.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Big Eight, which fought valiantly at Chicago to preserve the status quo. The Big Eight states have small populations and their schools must spend heavily to attract players from such places as the populous Big Ten states, Texas and California. Feeling beaten on the primary issue of economy, the Big Eight loosed a states' rights rhetoric that was vintage Strom Thurmond, if not, indeed, John C. Calhoun. Cries for conference "autonomy" and charges of NCAA "creeping federalism" filled the hot air.

The Big Eight began its defense in advance of the regular sessions, co-hosting with the SEC a rump meeting of big powers the night before the convention started, but it obtained little support once the balloting began. The crux of the Big Eight's problem is that it is not as diversified as other leagues. It realizes more than 80% of its athletic income from football; no doubt Hershey, Pa. would be just as angry if nationwide chocolate economies were enacted.

The Big Eight commissioner and Mr. Football �ber Alles, Chuck Neinas, was as harsh in substance, if not in tone, as Horn. "The NCAA is becoming a quasi-federal regulatory agency," he said. "It is eliminating conference options, proceeding with emotionalism in the name of economy. A lot of this legislation has never even been researched."

Those who found favor with the changes believe—or at least hope—that the reductions will produce more competitive equality. But Neinas and a few others think the opposite will happen. "What is being created is a freeze," he said. "The legislation will not hurt Nebraska and Oklahoma in my conference, any more than it will hurt Michigan or Notre Dame. But it will prohibit schools from improving their programs. They've legislated away hope."

J. D. Morgan, the athletic director at powerful UCLA, volunteered the same conclusion. "It doesn't make the least difference what restrictions go through here. Every time they put in a new rule it hurts the schools in the lower-population areas and helps schools like UCLA or USC."

If Horn's TV proposals had passed, a number of the Big Football schools would have pulled out of the NCAA. "And perhaps," he said, "that might be a good thing." Meanwhile, the Big Eight and others of its persuasion want to continue playing Big Football, to suit up legions of recruits without smaller schools butting into their business. To this end, there were numerous appeals from the floor that only those colleges concerned with an issue vote on it. Thus, men such as Horn and Neinas have come around opposite sides of the issue to a meeting of the minds. The NCAA is indeed football above all. Over the long run, the only way for it to survive—economically, administratively and morally—is for the members to acknowledge this reality and figure out a way to isolate Big Football from the rest of the NCAA's concerns, yet keep it in the association. Until then, two things will continue to be damaged: one is football and the other is all the other sports.

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