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The trouble with TV money is that schools which get it four or five times begin to rely on it. Business Manager John Reed Holley says that "television has been a lifesaver" at Ole Miss, which realizes about $200,000 a year from SEC slices of the various TV pots. "If it weren't for TV we'd almost always be in the red," says Holley.
Well, just up Interstate 55 and west a bit from Ole Miss is Memphis State. Its last—and only—TV game was in 1966. It doesn't count on another. Memphis State's program has been in the black every year since 1958. San Diego State doesn't even have a television highlights show, but it has surpluses that will keep it going "for at least another 10 years," according to Dr. Ken Karr, the athletic director. Karr holds his $1 million all-sports budget in line by limiting road trips to one night out, by never leaving California to recruit, by discontinuing on-the-spot scouting in favor of film exchanges and by cutting down on training-table privileges. Can such terrible austerity work? San Diego State is 17-3-2 in the past two seasons under Claude Gilbert, and won more than 100 games in fewer than 12 seasons before that.
Boston College has a $240,000 check coming this fall for next week's TV date with Notre Dame, the first meeting of the Catholic schools. It has sold out 61,000-seat Schaefer Stadium. But Boston College's program has been in the black year after year without TV money, Notre Dame or 61,000-seat sellouts. It plays a representative schedule—Texas, Pittsburgh, Tulane, et al.—and wins, and watches its budget, and succeeds despite living in the same hutch with a popular pro team.
Q. Is it possible, then, for a big-city school to find happiness in the shadow of the NFL?
A. It is, if sometimes belatedly. There is no doubt the pros intimidate the colleges when they invade an area. Miami has been suffocated by Dolphinmania for years. The University of Tampa dropped football last February after 38 seasons, not because of current losses but because of what it expected to lose when the NFL comes in next year.
The proved formula to solve this kind of crisis is a heavy dose of victory, with a side order of fan re-education. Fans do not always realize how good college football is. At USC John McKay gave a deflated budget a transfusion of advanced offensive stylings and victories galore, including four national championships. In no time he had Los Angeles eating out of his hand. "Who ever heard of the University of the Rams?" says McKay.
At a more modest level, the University of Pittsburgh is winning back its fans. And so is Georgia Tech in Atlanta. And Maryland, which sits in the trough between pro-mad Washington and Baltimore. Maryland, under Jerry Claiborne, went to its first bowl in 18 years in 1973.
It is possible that these big-city fans have discovered some basic facts about the college game. That it offers more action—many more plays per game, more diversified offenses, more points. It is possible. But it is probably more basic than that. Probably more to do with the heart than the head. Also the pocketbook. It's usually cheaper to watch the colleges play, as any harassed college business manager would be quick to point out these days. Hold your flowers. College football ain't down yet.