At one point during the NCAA's special convention last week, a woebegone athletic director surfaced above the morass of verbiage (which eventually reached waist level, well over all hotel verbiage safety limits) to implore his colleagues to consider some small amendment. "There are a lot of sportswriters here," he told them, "and they're going to think we're fools." Well, you said it.
The convention, held in the grand ballroom of Chicago's Palmer House beneath seven of Betsy Ross' largest creations, had been urgently convened to deal with the depressed economic situation in which athletic departments find themselves. The results of the meeting were dubious, although so many rose-colored glasses were put on following the proceedings that it seemed as if the Elton John fan club, not the NCAA, had gathered.
The accomplishments were predictable and conservative. The substantive issues were never joined, simply because the NCAA is foremost a lobby for Big Football. And Big Football is not about to give in. This is no surprise, nor is it said harshly. It is just so.
Big Football grudgingly allowed its grants-in-aid to be reduced from 105 to 95 (in a sport the Steelers play rather well with 43 men), thereby saving a few dollars at a handful of institutions that did not want to be cut back in the first place. On the sidelines Arkansas football Coach Frank Broyles explained what a sad state things were in even before the new scholarship limit had been set. "Why, I'm down to 103 already," he groaned. "These boys drop out of school, get injured, get married."
In a grand gesture of false economy, the convention placed oppressive squad limits on a number of smaller sports—tennis, track, volleyball, wrestling, etc. In some cases, fewer athletes will be permitted to travel to matches than are required to make up a full team. The so-called nonrevenue sports had their scholarships reduced 40%, and basketball was chopped 16.6% (18 to 15), while Big Football took its token 9.5% cut.
Other piddling cost reductions included the abolition of laundry money for the athlete-student (which had been $15 a month), the imposition of modest restrictions on recruiting (although all mandatory penalties for violators were voted down) and restrictions in the sizes of coaching staffs (football teams will have to scrape by with nine full-time coaches).
Indeed, the most meaningful step was passage of a resolution that calls for the NCAA to undertake a study. The subject: Should athlete-students receive their scholarships on the basis of need, just as almost all other collegians do? The administration of need scholarships for student-students is well organized, and the Ivy League has employed this policy for years with its athletes without difficulty. But most NCAA members fear there is great potential for recruiting mischief in this idea and previously had refused even to consider it.
The amendment authorizing the study was advanced by Bowling Green President Hollis Moore on behalf of the MidAmerican and North Central conferences. A Mid-American study has indicated that athletic-scholarship costs can be reduced as much as 40% if the need factor is considered. A full report will be presented at the NCAA's next convention, scheduled for January in St. Louis. As a result, the St. Louis conference may well legislate the harsher economies that the Chicago meeting failed to produce.
For one thing, the January session will probably be attended by more college presidents, who are suddenly rediscovering the NCAA as athletic red ink spills across their desks. Only a handful of presidents attended the 1974 NCAA convention; last week, a score or more were on hand. As many as 50 presidents are expected in St. Louis, and a commensurate amount of power is likely to flow from the locker rooms back to the executive chambers, from which it originally came. "It is significant that this need legislation came out of our conference," said Moore, a dapper man in candy-apple-red loafers. "The Mid-American and the Western Athletic are perhaps the only two presidents' conferences in the country. In the others, the presidents have historically delegated too much authority, and they are having a hard time retrieving it."
The presidents were barely visible in Chicago, however, except for a revolutionary named Stephen Horn, head man at Long Beach State. The real power lay with the executives of the athletic conferences, and as the meeting wore on, relentlessly trying to deal with 73 amendments and 108 amendments to the amendments, the conference delegations took on distinct characteristics.