SI Vault
Who controls Big Ten football?
Jack Olsen
December 14, 1959
The question burned white-hot again as athletic directors meeting in secret and irate faculties had at each other
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 14, 1959

Who Controls Big Ten Football?

The question burned white-hot again as athletic directors meeting in secret and irate faculties had at each other

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Beneath the placid surface of the Big Ten, a roaring subterranean battle was joined last week. The battle was traditional and classic, like rats and cats, or Turks and Armenians. It pitted athletic directors, those staunch advocates of the blessings and vast cultural advantages of allout football, against faculty members, most of whom would like to see big time football slimmed down from its larger-than-life size. The issue was some hefty blue-penciling of the rules of the conference, a creative effort indulged in by a bunch of the boys in secret convention assembled. The news got out when the Daily Northwestern, an enterprising student publication, bannered: ATHLETIC DIRECTORS REACH FOR CONTROL.

Trumpeted the paper in an editorial: "To be as polite as possible, it would seem that this entire matter smacks quite distinctly of the corner fish market.... High-powered, professional athletics have virtually ruined more than one of the nation's colleges.... We should not be willing to allow the ticket takers to replace faculty direction."

It must be recorded that the athletic directors did not make their power grab alone. They were aided and abetted by the 10 faculty representatives of member schools, a body of men who, with hardly an exception, sympathize with Fritz Crisler, athletic director at the University of Michigan, and other frank advocates of big football. All are not free, however, to vote their sympathies, since they are held responsible to the full faculties of the schools they represent. Now, some of these faculties are up in arms. And so are some alumni. As one put it: "The athletic directors operate under the maxim: 'If you can't win, change the rules.' "

The changes made by the joint group of faculty representatives and athletic directors are so complex that an entire haggle of Philadelphia lawyers would hardly be equal to the task of decoding them. But one change all but jumps off the pages: the old rules left all important decisions up to "the faculty." The new rules leave all important decisions up to any "institutional agency" that has a majority of faculty members. In other words, the athletic directors will no longer have to deal with entire faculties, which are hard to stack. They can deal with an "institutional agency," which is far more manageable. Thus would faculty control be weakened.

Purists within the Big Ten argue that the basic axiom of faculty control should not be diluted by one drop. They maintain that the faculty, not the president or an athletic committee or an "institutional agency," should have the last word. This, they say, has been subverted by the three sotto voce meetings in Chicago's University Club October 11, October 21 and November 1.

At the meetings the joint group of Big Ten athletic directors and faculty representatives carefully rearranged the rules to give the athletic directors more power. The group once had a total of 10 votes. Although each school was represented on the joint committee by two men (the faculty representative and the athletic director), each school had only one institutional vote, usually determined by the faculty representative. Under the rules as "edited" in the secret meetings there are now 20 votes in the committee—10 for the individual faculty representatives, 10 for the individual athletic directors. In one slash the faculty representatives doubled the votes in the committee, awarding half of them to athletic directors.

But that wasn't all. Under the old rules any "substantive legislation" had to be presented to all schools in the Big Ten, and if a single school registered an objection, the matter was sent back for reconsideration. The decision, under the old rules, as to what was substantive and what was not was made by the faculty representatives alone, with the athletic directors neither present nor voting. But the new rules, approved last month, provide that the joint council, now packed with the votes of the 10 athletic directors, may decide for itself what is substantive.

Why did the faculty representatives on the joint group allow this to happen? The answer goes to the heart of faculty objections throughout the conference. Although some Big Ten faculties elect their own representatives, most representatives are still appointed by the presidents. The appointees must burden their minds not only with faculty wishes, but also with the presidents' special problems of budget, mortgage debt and enrollment. Thus they almost inevitably gravitate to a position of big "fill-the-stadium" football.


Crisler, who helped draft the rule changes, clings doggedly to the position that the meetings produced only "editorial" changes in the rules, "much ado about nothing," in Crisler's words. The official Big Ten attitude, expressed by Assistant Commissioner Bill Reed, is that nothing important has happened except that "the athletic directors have been given a small place in the sun, a chance to be heard...." According to Reed, the rule changes resulted from "a feeling by the athletic directors peculiar to their position in life. There are things they want done about the athletic programs but they can't get them done. So they went to the faculty representatives and pointed out that they had the responsibility for administering the athletic programs without having strong enough authority in developing policy. It was not a grab for power, but a simple human problem. And on the subject of faculty control, the athletic directors have a lot of gripes. They don't object to the principle of the faculty's having the last voice. But they are resentful about an entire faculty, with no insight into the problems of athletic directors and with all the prejudices born of the inflammatory field in which they work, passing judgment on them and setting up the rules."

Continue Story
1 2