Make no mistake. The real issue in the conflict between the NCAA and its 61 rebellious Division I-A football schools—collectively known as the College Football Association—was never over which of the TV networks would be allowed to heap millions of dollars on the big-time football powers. Sure, it may have seemed that way, what with all those reports that the NCAA had struck a $263.5 million, four-year deal with ABC and CBS and that the CFA had worked out a conflicting $180 million, four-year arrangement with NBC. But those were mere diversionary tactics; in fact, neither side had finalized a television contract. What the two outfits were really arguing about was whether there would be a reorganization of the NCAA that would give the big-time schools firm control of big-time football.
Well, for all practical purposes the battle has ended, and to determine who won, one needs only to know that two weeks ago the NCAA put in a rush order for a special convention of all 907 of the association's members in December to consider, you guessed it, reorganization.
And the NCAA Council has endorsed what Executive Director Walter Byers, himself a longtime advocate of reorganization, calls a "well-thought-out" plan that presumably will sift from Division I-A (currently composed of 137 schools) those institutions that don't have any philosophical or fiscal business playing Big Football—at big expense and for big bucks. At the same time, the new scheme will make Division I-AA, which would grow from 50 schools to about 90, a bigger and better place to play. In other words, the arrangement will bring compatibility and a measure of ballot-box consistency to the divisions. And a new harmony all around. One hopes.
Byers is the first to admit that the plan isn't new; it's the same old NCAA 1978 reorganization scheme stripped of the provisions, notably the so-called Ivy Amendment, that thwarted its passage three years ago. After the smoke had cleared from the '78 convention, the Penn State and Ohio State and Louisiana State lions were still lying down with the Appalachian State lambs. And hating it. There's nothing wrong with Appalachian State's having a stadium that seats 18,500 and drawing an average of 14,192 spectators a game, as it did in 1980, but the figures reflect all too clearly what amounts to a modest commitment to football. Compared with, say, Penn State with its 83,770-seat stadium and $9 million athletic budget, Appalachian State is a lighted match next to a forest fire.
The issue isn't whether Penn State's or Appalachian State's approach to football is better; there are arguments in favor of both. The issue is control. "Too many of the matters that affect us are voted on by people who have no empathy for us," says Joe Paterno, Penn State's football coach and athletic director. Indeed, as the workings of the NCAA stand now, Penn State and Appalachian State have the same voice, despite the great disparity in the size of their football programs, in how the sport is conducted at its topmost level and how the TV loot is divvied up.
It was out of frustration with this system and the failure of the drive to reorganize the NCAA in the late '70s that the CFA, as a group within a group, was born. But the association made little headway toward getting the NCAA to redress CFA grievances until July of this year, when NBC-TV offered its contract to televise CFA games beginning in 1982.
Despite threats of punitive action by the NCAA, which contended that the CFA was about to act in violation of the NCAA constitution, not to mention about to undermine the NCAA's deal with ABC/CBS by drawing off 61 of the 81 really big football schools to play on another network, the CFA membership voted to accept the NBC contract on Aug. 21. But final approval was postponed, ostensibly to give CFA schools a chance to weigh the merits of the two TV deals, but effectively to give the NCAA an opportunity to ponder the consequences of an all-out, blood-guts-and-lawyers confrontation.
Three CFA conferences, the Big Eight, WAC and ACC, then called for a special session of the NCAA to implement reorganization immediately. And to cover the CFA's flanks, one member, Texas, filed a class-action suit in state court in Austin, and two others, Georgia and Oklahoma, filed a similar action in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City. Each suit called for a ruling that the individual schools, not the NCAA, hold the property rights to football games and, therefore, may sell those games to TV. In each court the plaintiffs also asked for a temporary restraining order to prevent the NCAA from taking punitive measures against the CFA members who went through with the NBC deal.
The NCAA quickly quit harrumphing and threatening and got busy. On Sept. 2 Byers wrote to a select number of NCAA leaders. He urged the calling of a special convention and the necessity of a reorganization, and stated his belief that "football television policies should be determined by the institutions who conduct intercollegiate football programs." In other words, that Division I-A football schools alone should have the say on I-A football contracts—within the NCAA framework, of course. NCAA President Jim Frank then called a meeting of the NCAA governance committee, which he chairs, to begin the formal procedure to implement Byers' suggestions.
The 22-member NCAA Council, a ruling body that has always been a bone in the throat of the Big Football schools, because it seems to be made up mostly of guys from Pomona-Pitzer and Southwest Missouri State, voted by conference call to approve the governance committee's recommendations: 1) to hold the emergency convention, 2) to sponsor the reorganization proposals and 3) to seek a restructuring of television jurisdictional rights by division.