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The NCAA splits its decision
John Underwood
January 23, 1978
The big boys didn't score a knockout over the smaller schools, but they did take a cautious step toward autonomy
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January 23, 1978

The Ncaa Splits Its Decision

The big boys didn't score a knockout over the smaller schools, but they did take a cautious step toward autonomy

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Some headline writers called it the birth of "a new super football conference"—the lions at last rising up and moving away from the lambs. Father Edmund Joyce of Notre Dame, more in touch with the soil, perhaps, called it the natural "division of apples and oranges." Opponents (those oranges who saw themselves being squeezed out) rallied behind the eloquence of San Jose State Athletic Director Bob Murphy, their principal spokesman, and predicted "second-class citizenship" and doom for their programs, and Sodom and Gomorrah for the spendthrifts up in first class.

It was none of those things. After heated debate, the vote to subdivide Division I football into I-A and I-AA at the National Collegiate Athletic Association convention in Atlanta last week was no more than the first (albeit most important) step in structuring the game so that it can serve everyone along compatible lines—i.e., legislative lines that join schools with similar philosophies and economic and physical commitments. It was neither a massive elixir nor a massive knockout drop. It will neither solve all the problems of the strong nor start a funeral march for the weak.

But because several misconceptions of what happened abound, they need examination:

?"A super conference of elitists has been formed by the haves of college football at the expense of the have-nots."

Not even close. The Texases and the Tennessees, with their $4 million athletic budgets and 80,000-seat stadiums and the goals and problems those things imply, were simply split away from the Ball States and the Marshalls with their more modest aspirations. And the Nebraskas and the LSUs, with their costly 10-sport programs highly dependent on football money, were extricated from the peonage of voting one-on-one on key issues with such schools as Oral Roberts and Oklahoma City, where football is not played.

At the same time, within the mixed bag of schools which now qualify for I-A membership under the criteria laid down, there still is enough disparity to keep the democratic process humming. These are the criteria for a school's admittance to I-A: 60% of its games against other I-A teams; either a 30,000-seat stadium and an average attendance of 17,000 for one year in the last four, or an average of 17,000 over the last four years—if a school has either of these, an eight-sport program will do; if not, it must have a 12-sport program.

?"Then what do the big guys want? They've got the crowds, the television money, the bowl games—what else?"

This was Murphy's litany in Atlanta. He repeated it often, as if the question were not being answered. But it was answered, in the context of Murphy's own logic. In the past, when the bigger football schools were asked to swallow still another piece of unpalatable legislation—the " Robin Hood plan" to disperse television money across the board; the periodic moves to base scholarship grants on financial need (a move with vast potential for cheating)—they somehow managed to vote down the offending legislation. Well, that is exactly what the big football schools want: an end to having every NCAA meeting turned into an exercise in nitpicking by schools with which they have nothing in common; an end to having to face a threat a year. They want autonomy.

?"The bigs will rip down all the restraints on spending, open the lid on scholarship limits, coaching staffs and recruiting costs."

Patently absurd. Apparently accepted at face value in many corners, Murphy characterized this prospect as a "return to the meat-on-the-hoof college football philosophies of a decade ago." His colleagues on the floor hammered at it relentlessly. Surprisingly, they were allowed to go virtually unchallenged until Dr. Edwin Cady, the faculty representative from Duke, got up to say he was "weary" of the notion that if you were a smaller school you somehow qualified as "wiser or more moral." Cady pointed, out that the integrity of some very prominent institutions was being questioned.

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