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.
At present I have no official connection with the NCAA. But as a former college athletic director, I admittedly have strong views. I want, for one, to see intercollegiate sports preserved as they are today, because I regard them as a significant part of our national life. I think it is important for Toledo University, and hundreds like it, to be able to field a football team that can help finance a physical training program beneficial to its entire student body. More important than it is for a few schools, already doing so well that they have no attendance problems, to be given an opportunity to grab their share of $141,666.66 more than once a year. And I am particularly prejudiced against football monopolization because of what the near future holds.
PIE SLICES RICH
The NCAA's TV committees have always realized that some form of subscription-television—be it Phonevision, Skiatron or Telemeter—is inevitable. A business magazine recently estimated that 10 million sets would be tuned in on football each Saturday, at 50¢ a set, in the era of pay-as-you-see TV—which seems reasonable, considering the 20 million viewers the Game-of-the-Week now attracts. The possibility exists that very soon two college football teams will be in a position literally to split millions of dollars between them.
And a college that could televise its entire schedule might make a season's haul of $10 or $20 million. This verges a little on the commercial, and makes the million-per-season that has reportedly been offered both Notre Dame and the Big Ten look like pocket money.
Obviously, only the Brobdingnagians of football could command such revenues, while the Toledo Universities of the country would have to be content to play to 800 instead of 6,000—or, as Fordham just did, join the 70-odd colleges that have been forced to drop the game entirely since the advent of televised football.
In the light of this prospect, the NCAA's 1952 TV Committee sent a letter to its member institutions suggesting that they consider the possibility of distributing a part of current TV fees among all the football-playing colleges and ultimately distributing a part of the pay-as-you-see TV receipts in the same way. Notre Dame opposed the plan on the grounds that it was not in keeping with the principles of free enterprise. The Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame, said in a press release that "any attempt to restrict and boycott...would be thought of as un-American and illegal. Any attempt to go further and to share the honest reward for any talent would be looked upon as socialistic." The Reverend Edmund P. Joyce, executive vice president, called the committee's scheme "a share-the-wealth plan." Later, Ed (Moose) Krause, Notre Dame's athletic director, was quoted by the United Press as saying "anything like that would be socialistic and communistic." Notre Dame's firm position was backed by Dr. Allen Du Mont and the staff of the Du Mont-TV network. Du Mont had carried Notre Dame's games in the early days of TV football before the NCAA's limitations were put in effect.
Both Notre Dame and Du Mont had something more at stake than a principle. On the same day that Father Hesburgh made his statement, Krause mournfully told the press that the NCAA limitations had cost Notre Dame "as much as a million dollars last year."
That the dollar sign is much with football today is implicit in Krause's words, a fact I don't blame so much on Notre Dame and others as I do on TV, which has the money to make football a substantial commercial affair.
In 1950—in that pre-pot-of-gold era when the Big Ten banned TV—the NCAA, in collaboration with the networks, arranged for a study of the impact of TV on attendance at football games. It was the networks, then contending that TV would promote the game to the general public and thereby increase the attendance, which recommended the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center as a scientific and unbiased organization capable of making an objective statistical study of the 1950 football season. And these studies have been continued by the NORC each year by the authorization of the NCAA.
The NORC's first report, submitted in 1951, stunned everyone. It showed that unlimited football telecasting had a 40% adverse effect on attendance! And its later reports showed that even under the NCAA's controlled program the gate was still off 27%.
ORPHAN OWN BABY
The findings of the original report forced the NCAA to begin the development of the program now in effect. But the networks soon turned their backs on the research group they had recommended and joined the Radio-Television Manufacturers Association in publicizing the contrary findings which had been reported earlier in a paper entitled "The Long Range Effect of Television and Other Factors on Sports Attendance."
This was a master's thesis written by a University of Pennsylvania student, Jerry N. Jordan, son of a vice president of the N. W. Ayer advertising agency.
The Jordan Report attempted to "prove" TV couldn't hurt football by citing newspaper and magazine circulation figures, attendance figures at baseball and hockey games, and the consumer money spent on all sports.
The manufacturers also set up their own "Sports Committee," which circulated—among other things—an "analysis" by young Jordan's father called "Freedom to Decide." This "Committee" was not, incidentally, always in accord. In December 1952, it sent out a press release entitled, "Sports Had One of Best Years, RTMA Committee Reports." L. C. Truesdell, a vice president of the Zenith Radio Corporation, immediately resigned from the committee, on the grounds that he had had no opportunity to see or comment on the report, and because he had no wish to have his name attached to a misleading press release.
In the beginning, the only colleges actively opposing the NCAA program were Pennsylvania and Notre Dame, and Pennsylvania has since withdrawn its opposition. However, a couple of years ago the Big Ten proposed a "regional plan" that would have allowed the Big Ten's teams to make 20 appearances before the television cameras in a 13-week period, with the telecasts limited to a seven-state area. And the Pacific Coast Conference, this past December, officially announced its desire to go to some form of regional television that might include area blackouts.
A regional plan, if the National Opinion Research Center is to be believed, is beautifully designed to completely wreck football in the other colleges of the Midwest and the Pacific Coast. According to the NORC, all available evidence indicates that any lessening of the NCAA limitations within a geographical area would result in even greater attendance losses than those from which the game is already suffering. Among other findings, the NORC studies show that where TV is available only 3% of those who attend games travel outside their own locale. Naturally, their greatest interest is in "home" teams. Seventy per cent of the fans the NORC has polled have named games played within their own geographical area as the ones they would most like to see on TV.
What this means, concretely, was shown when Miami of Ohio and Cincinnati played for the championship of the Mid-American Conference in 1951. Weather conditions were excellent; the rivalry between the two schools is over 50 years old; and both had fine records for the season. But, instead of the usual sell-out of 30,000, the game drew only 16,000. Why? It was played the day the Michigan-Ohio State game was telecast in Cincinnati and the surrounding territory. This year, when a game from a different area was being telecast, 30,000 persons watched the Miami-Cincinnati game.
No, a regional plan isn't the answer. On the contrary, it would cut the jugular vein of many schools. Even the present plan is bad enough. In order to provide for the public interest the colleges have had to wittingly enrich a few schools—11 teams have "repeated" every year the plan has been in operation. Nevertheless the plan has offered a basic protection to the many.
But today, when the NCAA should be trying to evolve a plan to heal the wounds of those colleges that are being bled to death, what is happening? The Big Ten, Notre Dame and the Pacific Coast Conference—representing seven of the 11 repeaters—are attacking the best plan, unsatisfactory as it is, that has yet been advanced for rescuing college football from the onslaughts of television.
It must be granted that the situation has ramifications that can't be touched on in an article of this brevity. But even so, it seems to me glaringly obvious that those who already have the most cannot, in good conscience, justify their attempts to get all that's left.