To understand, however, why the situation is so tense and why so many voices on both sides speak in guarded tones and in much less than absolute terms, one must be able to grasp what the NCAA is, essentially.
It is not a central office in Mission, Kans. dictating moves and decisions.
It is a big, brawling, proud, sensitive, testy, talented family of prodigies and prodigals. Like all big families, it's loaded with factions. But it's still committed to being family, and at a time when all its members are feeling a financial pinch, they realize the need for commitment to the family. In all discussions about the rift, CFA spokesmen consistently say, "We still want to be in the NCAA."
The reason the CFA went to court, Neinas says, is not because it advocates "no controls" over college football on TV, as some NCAA leaders would have the public believe. And not because the CFA would permit Notre Dame, say, to beam its games indiscriminately around the country on cable TV. The suit is intended only to establish who owns the property rights to college football games, and the temporary restraining order was filed, says Neinas, "to keep the NCAA from having that threat [of punitive action] hanging over our heads."
The most popular misconception of what the rift is all about, however, is the one that depicts the 61 CFA schools as a madcap group seeking to turn back the clock on restrictions and let the coaches run their football factories at full capacity. Not even Byers believes that.
Closer to the truth is the view that the rift has provoked unprecedented interest in athletic issues on the part of college presidents and academic leaders. They suddenly are making their presence felt, "being more involved than ever, and that's good," says Paterno. With the recent sad history of criminal acts and shameful academic abuses connected directly to big-time athletic programs and with inflation eating away at revenues, it's likely that tighter controls will be part of the restructuring. Don't look for a return to 120-man squads and 15-man coaching staffs. Or for lower standards.
The CFA's posture, in fact, has been quite the opposite. It has advocated stricter recruiting rules and stricter academic requirements. The membership has supported a revision of the 1975 NCAA decision that lowered minimum entrance standards to a 2.0 grade-point average. Since then, athletic programs have had to cope with a steady stream of scholastic misfits. The CFA has lobbied for a tougher minimum. Its recommendation and support resulted in a "normal [academic] progress" rule being established for the first time last year.
But over the years the CFA's interests within the NCAA have consistently run afoul of the voting blocs consisting of those whose budgets were so infirm that they felt the need to impose absurd prohibitions on the rest of the brotherhood: no blazers issued to members of the traveling squad; laundry money, etc., etc. Confused and confusing rules on recruiting—the. ever-changing number of allowable visits, and who could do the visiting, and when, etc., etc.—have made that part of the business even more of a swamp than it already was.
Scream all the CFA might, it did no good. "We got no real attention until the TV contract came up," says Dr. Fred Davison, president of the University of Georgia and chairman of the board of the CFA. "And when we realized how little control we had over some matters, such as property rights, it made us all begin to think about how these things hurt us financially. We have to have more of a say, because Byers isn't going to come down here and bail us out if we fail."
Reorganization will not change everything, of course, but it will "help put priorities in order," Paterno says. And it will allow those most heavily involved to get a better grip on the financial structuring of their sport, instead of being manipulated by it all the time. A congestion has grown in the chest of the NCAA and caused it to emit some noises that sound suspiciously like a death rattle. Reorganization could break that congestion loose. It might happen. It should happen. If it doesn't happen, what will break loose is all hell.