Football biggies grumble

By , Sports writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Darrell Royal, the former football coach at the University of Texas, once said he didn't want Hofstra determining how his Longhorns played the game. What Royal really meant was that Texas, a large state school with a big-time football team, shouldn't have to live by rules smaller schools were instrumental in passing.

This sentiment, shared by many coaches and athletic directors, has given rise to a controversial lobbying group called the College Football Association. Membership in the CFA is restricted to colleges "with a similar philosophy and approach to the conduct of a major intercollegiate football program" -- which is to say, the football biggies. Among the CFA's 61 members are all those schools under the banner of the Big Eight, Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Southwest, and Western Athletic conferences, plus such independents as Notre Dame and Penn State.

Big Ten and Pacific-10 schools are notably absent from the group for reasons to be discussed later.

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Where the CFA hopes to wield its influence is within the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), a body of some 700 institutions that collectively governs college sports. At one time the NCAA pigeon-holed these schools into "university" or "college" classifications, a simplistic approach for such a diverse membership. In 1973, a three division approach was authorized (Divisions I, II, and III). Later the top division was divided into two tiers, I-A and I-AA, the latter representing something of a mini-major category which, as it turned out, few schools wanted to belong to.

The problem, as the CFA sees it, is that this breakdown doesn't effectively weed out schools with less ambitious football programs. Voting right alongside heavyweights like Nebraska and Alabama at the NCAA's annual conventions are such other I-A designees as Harvard, Appalachian State, and Central Michigan.

The biggies, making no apologies for the size of their football programs, want to control their own gridiron destinies -- a right they feel is being eroded by increased national legislation passed largely by schools that share none of their problems.

The theme should be a familiar one, since it is paralleled by those who argue that an expanding federal government is sometimes ill-attuned to local needs.

In the case of CFA members, the overriding need is to keep the athletic department solvent, since it pays the freight for all sports out of generated revenues.

"Football is the bell cow of the intercollegiate athletic scene," says CFA executive director, Chuck Neinas, "and if college football declines in its popularity and support, the entire spectrum of intercollegiate athletics will be affected."

Such a decline, of course, wouldn't have the same impact on schools which underwrite their athletic programs out of general university funds and aren't as dependent on gate receipts and TV moneys.

Those schools that of necessity run rheir football programs as a big business don't feel much kinship with the Ivy League institutions, for example, yet they both pack equal legislative clout. The CFA would like to see the Ivies and a number of other I-A institutions reclassied I-AA, leaving a core of about 80 income-minded biggies left to chart their own course (there are currently 139 I-A and 46 I-AA schools). The NCAA membership has balked at such a scheme, however. This raodblock, in turn, has given rise to the CFA, which conducted its first annual meeting in 1977 and made Neinas its first salaried officer earlier this year.

The CFA is not a super conference, and despite what some critics have said, there is no indicationit plans either to bolt the NCAA or replace that body.

In fact, one of the association's stated objectives is to operate within the NCAA. A step in that direction is the CFA's plan to propose legislation aimed at halting recruiting excesses and prodding student-athletes toward graduation at next January's NCAA convention.

"We're trying to be responsible," says Neinas of the proposals, which may or may not convince smaller schools of their good intentions.

Some will probably see such legislation as merely a smokescreen -- an effort to hide less noble efforts at throwing their weight around. The skeptics are convinced that the CFA wants to monopolize TV dates and bowl bids.

The CFA hasn't actually proposed changes in the NCAA's television package, but Neinas indicates "there are reasons to examine it." Of primary concern are rating declines, possibly brought about by share-the-air policies that limit a team's TV appearances.

What CFA schools find particularly repulsive are "Robin Hood" plans, which would divvy up TV appearance money evenly among NCAA schools. Currently, most colleges either pocket the TV money or share it with others in their conference.

Big Ten and Pac-10 schools have to be just as wary of Robin Hood-type proposals as CFA members, yet these prestigious leagues have refused to join their big-time brethren.

Mike Slive, assistant executive director of the Pac-10, indicates that joining the CFA overemphasizes football while neglecting the health of the overall athletic program. The Big Ten is concerned the CFA might withdraw from the NCAA or attempt to relax rules aimed at putting collegiate sports in perspective.

Wayne Duke, commissioner of the Big Ten, says membership in the CFA stamps schools clearly with a big-time image, one which is none too attractive.

That Notion amuses Neinas, who points out the lengths the Big Ten goes to in publicizing their nation-leading attendance figures.

The former boss of the Big Eight Conference believes that the unity of the major football schools is essential. "In view of what may lie ahead," Neinas says, "it becomes important for us to heed Patrick Henry's warning that 'If we don't hang together, we shall certainly hang separately.'"

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