College football as it is played every Saturday in the fall by over 400 teams throughout the country is in grave danger today. Very few people seem either to realize this, understand its cause, or even care. The most succinct explanation of the game's precarious state came in a letter I received from an ardent fan, which read, "Toledo University played at home last Saturday afternoon before some 800 fans, instead of its customary average of about 6,000. I attend TU's night games but certainly not the afternoon games when I can see Notre Dame, the Big Ten teams, and other top teams on television."
Less graphically, an official in the Ohio Valley Conference writes, "It is my considered opinion that football at small institutions such as ours is financially doomed without a controlled television plan administered by the National Collegiate Athletic Association," and the executive secretary of the Southwest Athletic Conference, Howard Grubbs, says that half the teams in his group "would be dead" if it weren't for the limitations now imposed on football telecasts.
Perhaps this is overstating the case. Football is a popular game in this country and certainly many institutions will keep the sport going even if they lose money. But if they do, football will survive at the expense of other sports—intra-mural and minor sports in which a majority of the two and one-half million young people now enrolled in our colleges participates. For the fact is that the athletic and physical training programs of most of the colleges in the land are from 60% to 100% financed by football receipts.
The loss of participant athletics in colleges—and that is the direct threat if Notre Dame, the Big Ten and Pacific Coast schools succeed in breaking down the limitations on football telecasting imposed by the NCAA—could have national ramifications. Lack of adequate exercise is deemed at least partly responsible for the increasing number of rejections for physical reasons by the Armed Forces. Anything that would reduce the scope of these important training programs, as a loss of athletic funds available to the colleges would, is cause for serious concern.
STAND AN ENIGMA
This is not to say that the colleges that oppose the NCAA are doing anything deliberately to hurt their country or even the athletic programs at other colleges. But the effect of the proposals which they have been advancing at the NCAA convention currently convened in New York might have one or both of these results. And unless one uncharitably assumes that these schools are inordinately interested in the sum of $141,666.66, which was the going price for a TV game this past season, their attitude remains incomprehensible.
They certainly know that the weight of opinion is heavily against them. On seven separate occasions, both in convention and by mail referendum, the 415 member colleges of the NCAA have said by a 90% vote that they recognize the dangers of unlimited TV. And yet the minority group has actually called the NCAA undemocratic and dictatorial for imposing reasonable limitations on the televising of football.
In December, the Big Ten even went so far as to imply that it might quit the NCAA if it couldn't have its own way. A spokesman said the conference was considering "the possible necessity of taking independent action" because it found the NCAA's present TV program "entirely unacceptable." Earlier, Big Ten officials had denied that the conference would pull out of the NCAA. Surely they realize that to ignore an NCAA ruling would have the same effect. They know, too, that if the Big Ten quits, taking Notre Dame and the PCC with it, it will wreck the NCAA and clear the way for a few large schools with monolithic football organizations to monopolize the pot of gold commercial television unhappily has to offer.
The minority position has received a surprising amount of support from a public that I can only believe is misinformed. Possibly, the public has been influenced by propaganda campaigns waged by some of these colleges; some TV networks; a trade association representing TV set manufacturers interested in a free-ticket-on-the-fifty-yard-line sales pitch; and a few newspapers which own or control TV stations—none of whom can be called exactly disinterested parties.
Since the NCAA retains no public relations agency it seems to me time some one got up and spoke for its position. I was a member of the NCAA TV Committee which, in 1951, first tried to devise a method of making it possible for football and commercial television to live together. I was chairman of the 1952 Committee which established the two basic limitations now in effect: 1) a team can appear on TV only once a season and 2) there must be at least one telecast a season from each of the eight geographical regions into which the NCAA is divided. These principles were established in order to reduce or dilute the impact on college football attendance which otherwise results when the colleges face the killing competition of the strongest local TV attraction every Saturday of the season.