As the air thickened with parliamentary rhetoric at last week's NCAA convention in St. Louis, less and less progress was being made on more and more issues. "Our problem," said one of the 548 voting delegates, "is too much democracy." This may smack of heresy in a Bicentennial year, but such seemed to be the case. Opposing views and divergent interests collided like bumper cars all over the convention floor.
A highly publicized proposal for a national championship football playoff in Division I was not even voted on. Plans to create a "super" division of the NCAA for major college football powers (or schools hoping to become powers) were put off until next year. Also deferred were measures dealing with the NCAA's responsibilities in women's athletics. And finally, after lengthy debate, a proposal to replace full athletic scholarships with grants based partly on need was voted down. If this sort of legislative daring had obtained in 1776, we would still be saluting the Union Jack.
Even some of the approved legislation had the taint of negativism. The delegates rescinded several money-saving rules that they had adopted at a special convention only five months before. The most significant action at St. Louis was the removal of the restriction on the number of team members who may travel to away games and suit up at home. This takes third-stringers out of the stands and puts them on the bench, where their morale will be higher even if they can't see the action as well.
Although appeals for economy measures were largely unheeded, if not rebuked, the long-standing tradition of full-ride athletic scholarships among Division I schools was very nearly ended. Offered in their place were grants conferring free tuition but basing room and board on the parents' ability to pay. Although the small Division III schools had accepted "need" in 1974 and the Ivy League has lived comfortably with it for years, it has never enjoyed much support among Division I and II members. When the August convention resolved that a need formula be presented in January, its chances for passage seemed nil.
Nil, that is, until 75 university presidents showed up in St. Louis, many of them to speak in favor of need, most to vote for it. This was three times the number of presidents attending last year's convention and some 73 more than in 1974. "We're not here to be adversaries," said Stephen Horn of Long Beach State, "but to do something about the cost of college athletics."
College presidents are about as popular at NCAA conventions as chaperons at a ninth-grade party. Never mind that they look and sound better than most of their athletic directors; when they step to the microphone to speak of "integrity," as Glenn Olds of Kent State did, the lights come on and the music stops.
Because opposition to need is strongest among Division I's football-playing elite, the appearance of several Pacific Eight presidents was noteworthy. "Need scholarships are essential for the financial preservation of a strong intercollegiate athletic program," Charles Young off UCLA told the convention. As to how much money could be saved, estimates ranged from $65,000 a year at Washington State to $150,000 at Stanford.
The anti-need forces had been caught off guard. Unable to argue dollars and cents effectively, they invoked history, philosophy and Mark Spitz. "I would hate to think that Mark Spitz couldn't have gotten a scholarship because his father was a dentist," said one delegate with more emotion than accuracy. The elder Spitz is an engineer. Speaking for 30 Division I independents, Penn State Athletic Director Ed Czekaj said, "We've lived with scholarships for a long time and I think it's a good system."
University of the Pacific President Stanley McCaffrey retorted, "Need doesn't discriminate and it's fair in its provisions. The thing which students and faculties criticize most is making athletes special. When we give athletic scholarships, it's very difficult to defend against that criticism."
The athletic director of a small Eastern school rose to observe, "There seems to be a difference of opinion between big football schools and the college presidents. I say we support the presidents."