The sprawling Amateur Athletic Union of the United States, long in iron control of almost every amateur athlete in this country, began to die last week in a small room on the fourth floor of the Olympic House on Park Avenue in New York City. This room was the scene of the fourth meeting between AAU and National Collegiate Athletic Association officials. The NCAA is the governing body for major college athletics in the United States.
While the AAU will not die overnight, it cannot survive long. Walter Byers, executive director of the NCAA, told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED at the conclusion of the New York meeting: "The NCAA's articles of alliance with the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States were canceled some time ago. Since then we have met four times with the AAU in an effort to reach agreement on what our future relations will be. Our meetings have not been successful, and no additional meetings are planned."
At this moment members of the National Collegiate Track Coaches Association are being polled by their powerful executive committee on the advisability of severing relations with the AAU and forming a United States Track and Field Federation, which would have complete control of that sport in the U.S. Within the next few weeks, the NCAA basketball coaches are expected to leave the AAU and form their own autonomous basketball federation.
Says Byers of these movements: "Naturally, we are keenly interested in the action of the National Collegiate Track Coaches Association. This group is representative of the national interest in track and field and is an affiliated organization of the NCAA. In the area of basketball, we feel strongly that a new basketball federation should be organized, with the AAU only a part of it instead of the controlling body. We see a clear parallel between the situations in basketball and track and field."
September 24, 1961
The action of the track coaches was backed strongly by 50 of the best track and field athletes in the U.S. (see page 23), all of whom agreed to desert the AAU for the new body when it is formed. These athletes were polled by Dick Bank, an editor of Track & Field News, who, admittedly, is no admirer of the AAU.
The Coaches Association (NCTCA) sent out its own questionnaire to 800 members. The questionnaire was preceded by a fierce indictment of the AAU, drafted by members W. J. (Bill) Bowerman, head track coach at the University of Oregon, and Don Canham, track coach at Michigan and executive vice-president of the group. The statement, which reflects the growing dissatisfaction of track and field athletes as well as coaches, was endorsed by the 12-man executive committee. It read as follows:
"We, the executive committee of the NCTCA, in association with the athletes who have signified willingness to join the United States Track and Field Federation, feel that we will be better fitted to implement the physical fitness program advocated by President Kennedy and better able to prepare the track and field athletes of this nation for local, national and international competition by operating as an autonomous body. Hence, the members of this executive committee recommend that NCTCA no longer recognize the right of the AAU to suspend, penalize or levy dues upon any member of this organization, coach or athlete; nor recognize the right of the AAU to select track and field teams for international competition representing the United States. We intend to pursue this new program through existing collegiate bodies.
"This action is taken in order to place in the hands of those best fitted to assume it the responsibility for the development of track and field athletes of the United States.
"We feel that the AAU has failed in its obligation to further understanding and good will between the United States and foreign countries by its careless, often arrogant disregard of requests and invitations by foreign countries for American teams and by its poor handling of relations with foreign officials upon tours. We pledge the utmost cooperation now and henceforth with the U.S. State Department in furthering the good will and understanding between this and other nations which is so much a part of international competition.
"We pledge, too, the inauguration of a comprehensive program for the development of junior athletes in this country similar to the programs already put in operation by some of the members of this body."
The questions asked by the coaches were loaded, but they seemed eminently pertinent to a majority of members. Among them were the following:
"Are you satisfied with the method the AAU uses to select coaches for foreign trips (i.e., where one man accepts nominations from AAU committeemen only, takes a postcard vote, counts and announces the selection)?"
"Are you in favor of the present method of selecting Olympic coaches (whereby the AAU appoints an Olympic Committee, the members of which are allowed to vote for themselves)?"
"Do you think it would be better if the National Collegiate Track Coaches Association selected coaches for foreign trips?"
For or against?
The final question, and the most far-reaching one, was in the form of a ballot. "The National Collegiate Track Coaches Association of the United States, acting through its executive committee," it read, "hereby announces the formation of the United States Track and Field Federation, an organization composed of track coaches, friends of track and field and athletes. Are you in favor of the organization, or opposed?"
According to Bowerman, one of the principal reasons for the widespread dissatisfaction with the AAU is the fact that the organization is controlled by a small group of men in New York and New Jersey. "They seem to be more concerned with perpetuating themselves in power than with the development of track and field," Bill Easton, coach of the University of Kansas track team, said recently. "This has become a political operation—in the selection of coaches for foreign trips, in the selection of sites for track meets and certainly in the selection of AAU officials. We've had the same ones ever since I can remember."
Dan Ferris, who is now the paid honorary secretary of the AAU, is a case in point. Ferris was made honorary secretary several years ago, after having served as secretary-treasurer of the organization for 30 years. Surely no more restrictive bylaw was ever drafted than the one that created the post of honorary secretary—for Ferris alone. Paragraph IV of Section 1 of the bylaws of the AAU reads: "The Honorary Secretary shall be elected by ballot by a majority vote at the annual meeting of the Board of Governors in the year 1957, and quadrennially thereafter, provided that one [the honorary secretary] must have been employed by the Union for a period of 50 years and shall have served at least half of that period as Secretary-Treasurer of the Union."
Columnist Max Stiles commented in the Los Angeles Mirror, "Doesn't this kind of limit the field? The only man in the world who can qualify for the job as Honorary Secretary of the AAU under this astounding, fantastic restriction is Daniel J. Ferris. If he...stays on the job for another 21 years, Jim Simms [the present secretary-treasurer] might eventually make it. Ferris has complete jurisdiction over all American track athletes going abroad for international competition. It is also this same man who has complete control over whether foreign athletes may compete in this country, and, if so, in which meets they may participate. He is unimpeachable, unremovable and cannot be replaced...."
Bowerman, long an outspoken critic of both Ferris and the AAU, feels that the handling of requests for American athletes to compete abroad has not only been slow but often capricious.
"I've been corresponding with Arthur Lydiard ever since the Olympic Games," Bowerman said recently. (Lydiard is the coach of the New Zealand team that won two gold medals at Rome.) "I got a letter from him the other day in which he asked me to find out what had happened to his request for four American athletes to compete in New Zealand this winter. He mailed the request to Ferris in April and he has not heard a word yet. But that's typical. When I wrote for permission for Dyrol Burleson to go to New Zealand last year, I got the clearance from Ferris after Burley had already run in two meets in New Zealand."
The AAU has, in the past, been reluctant to give U.S. athletes permission to compete abroad during the winter months. Ferris turned down an application from the Amateur Athletic Union of Australia for six American athletes to compete during the Australian season. One must presume only that the Australian season conflicts with the big indoor meets in the East. Arthur J. Hodsdon, honorary secretary of the Australian group, wrote Dick Bank, after this incident:
"It is a fact that, over many years, our approaches to U.S. athletes through the AAU have been singularly unfruitful. We do feel that we have been shabbily treated, and the AAU was told just this in plain terms some time ago...."
Disenchantment of the athletes with AAU management stems from a number of sources. Bobby Morrow, the U.S. triple-gold-medal winner in the 1956 Olympics, says: "The $15-a-day expense account permitted athletes by the AAU is completely unrealistic. Let the AAU officials try and live like athletes, and they wouldn't waste any time trying to do something about it. On this kind of money the officials would have to cut out some of their cocktail parties."
Al Oerter, Olympic discus champion, voiced another of the big complaints of the athletes after the AAU championships at Randalls Island this summer. Oerter, along with eight other of the best U.S. athletes, refused to take the foreign tour sponsored by the AAU this summer. Said Oerter: "I don't want any trips where the AAU is concerned. They give you the run-around and the accommodations—for the athletes—are terrible."
The AAU is notorious for its egregious scheduling and the miserable transportation facilities it provides on foreign trips. The most recent case, which included four European meets in 16 days, was typical. Before the team left, Oliver Jackson, one of the assistant coaches, demanded that additional long-distance runners be taken. "I'll stay home if necessary," Jackson told Pincus Sober, the chairman of the AAU track and field committee. "You can use my seat for another runner. But if you do, I'd like to know why Dan Ferris is making this trip."
"Dan is tired," Sober said. "He's been working hard. He needs a rest."
Possibly the worst example of mismanagement by the AAU, according to the rebellious coaches and athletes, occurred with the Olympic team of 1960. Pursuing a jet schedule with prejet equipment, the athletes flew to Europe on a propeller plane which took 14 hours, competed in Bern, Switzerland immediately after their arrival, then were crammed six to a compartment in a train that meandered down the length of Italy through the summer heat, taking some 14 more hours to arrive at Rome.
"I was lucky I didn't have to run until late in the Olympic Games," says Max Truex, who is America's best competitor at 10,000 meters. "The guys who had to compete early died. We didn't qualify anyone in the 5,000 meters or the half mile. And the guys got eliminated on times and distances that were far less than their best."
Jim Beatty, who is probably America's best runner at distances ranging from a mile to three miles, was one of the 5,000-meter runners who failed to qualify. "I felt dead," he said. "I couldn't move. A few days before I left the U.S., I had the best workout of my life."
The international governing body of basketball—Fédération Internationale de Basketball Amateur—will consider ousting the AAU as U.S. basketball representative at its next meeting. This came about as the result of the last meeting of this group in Rome when an organization known as the National Basketball Committee, which represents most U.S. basketball groups, asked to be considered the U.S. international representative in place of the AAU. The central board of FIBA told the AAU and the NBC to go home and settle the matter of jurisdiction between themselves. The two organizations will meet in Chicago on October 2, and the AAU is clearly outnumbered.
"We have long felt a real delinquency in the leadership of the AAU," says Pete Newell, now athletic director at the University of California and the American Olympic basketball coach. "They have weakened us in national prestige. It is almost impossible to get AAU sanction for a basketball tour by a college team."
The colleges, obviously, provide almost all the basketball players for international competition, just as they provide almost all the track and field athletes. While it is a foregone conclusion that the NCAA, in combination with the YMCA and other groups, will control U.S. representation in international competition after the forthcoming October meeting, Ferris is not convinced. Following the NCAA-AAU meeting in New York, he said: "There are always people who are outs and who want to be ins. But they can't take over from the AAU. We are members of the International Amateur Athletic Federation. The NCAA is ineligible to be a member of an international group. It controls only undergraduates. The AAU is the recognized governing body of sports in the U.S. I don't believe the IAAF would oust the AAU."
Ferris spoke bravely but without much recollection of recent sports history. A precedent for the recognition of a governing body other than the AAU was established as long ago as 1947, when the ice hockey interests in this country left the AAU, and, more importantly, gained the recognition of an international group in doing so. Under the leadership of Walter Brown, hockey players and coaches petitioned the world body in control of the sport, Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace, for recognition outside of the AAU. No decision was made, and both the new federation and the AAU sent teams to the Winter Olympics in 1948. The LIHG thereupon rejected the AAU team, accepted the dissidents and since then, ice hockey has been autonomous.
Those who are backing control of individual sports by the people who play them and coach them rather than by the AAU point out that of all the nations in the world, only the U.S. has a single governing body for all of amateur athletics. In all other nations, each sport is governed by its own specialists.
"The most obvious people to instruct in track and field are the college coaches of America," says Canham. "These are men dedicated to track. They do not make much money. Their lives are spent in teaching kids how to run and throw and compete. As of now, they are under the thumb of the AAU. The deal is that the NCAA provides the coaches, the AAU provides the management. We can manage our own tours. The coaches are better fitted to manage than the AAU people. We travel first-class with college athletes. The AAU travel arrangements are something far less than first-class."
The big problem facing the rebel track and field and basketball groups is primarily one of organization. It is not enough to castigate the worn machinery of the AAU. A new and better organization must be offered, with safeguards against the abuses which are leading to the downfall of this venerable organization.
"We'll have to worry about getting money to finance a national championship meet," says Bill Bowerman. "I think we can get that in Seattle this year. They wanted the national championships a couple of years ago, but they wouldn't take it under AAU sponsorship. To guard against the AAU type of abuses we want to establish a committee of six coaches, which will be changed every four years, to pick Olympic coaches and coaches for foreign trips. And, on this committee, no member can vote for himself. Another thing. In our bylaws it will be clearly stated that once a coach has been named for the Olympic job, he's through. No more foreign tours. He can serve on the selection committee, but not on a foreign trip as a coach."
This would end one of the chief complaints about the old system. Larry Snyder of Ohio State, who was the coach of the U.S. Olympic team, also coached the team which went to Russia in 1958. Although it was not well publicized, Snyder, after his Olympic coaching job, went to Europe again this year as coach of the U.S. military team.
"We've got enough young, good coaches," says Canham. "We don't have to go back to the same guys year after year to find talent to coach our traveling teams."
Sober, after the abortive meeting with the NCAA last Friday, said: "I admit that there's lots of politicking in the choice of a coach. A lot of it is by the NCAA. But the best politician makes the trips."
Hopefully, no more.
50 ATHLETES WHO WILL LEAVE THE AAU
Dick Attlescy, 110-meter hurdles
World record 1950, 13.5
Bob Avant, high jump
AAU champion 1961, 7 ft.
Rink Babka, discus
Onetime world record, 196 ft. 6½ in.
Jim Ball, 110 hurdles
Among year's top 10, 13.8
Jim Beatty, middle distance
Am. 1,500-and 5,000-meter record
Dyrol Burleson, mile
Am. mile record, 3:57.6
Lee Calhoun, 110 hurdles
Olympic champion 1956, 1960
Al Cantello, javelin
World record, 282 ft. 3½ in.
Rex Cawley, 400-meter hurdles
Fastest mark in 1961, 49.9
Hal Connolly, hammer
World record, 230 ft. 9 in.
Cliff Cushman, 400 hurdles
Second at Rome Olympics
Dave Davis, shotput
Third at U.S. Olympic trials
Otis Davis, 400 meters
World record, 44.9
Bill Dellinger, 5,000 meters
Am. 2-mile record, 8:43.8
Dave Edstrom, decathlon
1959 Pan Am champion
Kent Floerke, hop, step and jump
Among U.S. top 10, 52 ft. 2¼ in.
Jim Grelle, 1,500 meters
AAU champion 1960, 3:42.7
John Gutknecht, 6 miles
AAU champion 1961, 28:52.6
Al Hall, hammer
Fourth, 1956 Olympics
Darrell Horn, broad jump
Among top 10, 25 ft. 9¾ in.
Bob Humphreys, discus
Fourth in U.S., 190 ft. 8 in.
Rafer Johnson, decathlon
World record 1960, 8,683 points
Stone Johnson, 200 meters
Fifth at 1960 Olympics
Hayes Jones, 110 hurdles
Fastest in world 1961, 13.6
Dallas Long, shotput
Best in world, 1961, 64 ft. 7¾ in.
Ron Morris, pole vault
Fourth best vault of all time, 15.8
Bobby Morrow, 100 and 200 meters
Three gold medals 1956 Olympics
Phil Mulkey, decathlon
Second at 1959 Pan Am Games
Bill Nieder, shotput
World record 1960, 65 ft. 10 in.
Parry O'Brien, shotput
Olympic champion 1952, 1956
Al Oerter, discus
Olympic record 1960, 194 ft. 1¾ in.
Mel Patton, 100 yards
World record 1948, 9.3
Archie San Romani Jr., mile
Sixth at U.S. Olympic trials
Bob Schul, steeplechase
Among year's top 10, 8:47.8
Jerry Siebert, 800 meters
Among year's top 5, 1:46.8
Jan Sikorsky, javelin
Among U.S. top 5, 249 ft. 4½ in.
Jay Silvester, discus
World record, 199 ft. 2½ in.
Eddie Southern, 400 hurdles
Olympic record 1956, 50.1
Larry Stuart, javelin
Best in U.S. this year, 252 ft.½ in.
Dave Styron, 100 yards
Among top 10, 9.4
Don Styron, 220 hurdles
World record, 21.9
Jerry Tarr, 120 hurdles
1961 NCAA champion, 13.9
Charlie Tidwell, 100 and 200 meters
NCAA 100, 200 champion, 1960
Max Truex, distances
Am. 3-mile, 10,000-meter record
John Uelses, pole vault
Sixth best of all time, 15 ft. 5 in.
Joel Wiley, broad jump
Third best 1959, 26 ft. 2½ in.
Chuck Wilkinson, javelin
NCAA champion 1961, 247 ft. 8½ in.
Jack Yerman, 440 yards
World record relay teams 1960
Earl Young, 400 meters
World record relay teams 1960
George Young, steeplechase
Am. record, 8:38.0