The bitter struggle between the Amateur Athletic Union and the various federations that have set up autonomous organizations in other sports was settled, more or less, last week—thanks to the last-minute intervention of Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
Although published reports of the closed meeting in New York between the warring factions leave the impression that the AAU walked away from the meeting with all the plums, this was not the case. The federation groups, headed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, came off far better. In fact, the AAU will no longer be the controlling body of amateur sport.
The new agreement
The argument between the two groups has been centered around selection of coaches for teams traveling to meets outside the country and international representation in track and field. The new agreement gives the United States Track and Field Federation (the NCAA-sponsored body) the right to select Olympic coaches and athletes. After the 1964 Olympics Colonel Donald Hull, the energetic new head of the AAU, has agreed that international representation will be by a "coalition" group, in which the AAU and the federation will have six men each on a governing committee. This represents precisely what the federation wanted: an equal and firm voice in the policies of amateur athletics in the U.S.
November 26, 1962
The NCAA and AAU representatives met November 12 at the Olympic House on Park Avenue and argued for some 13 hours without making any discernible progress. Informed of the deadlock, Bob Kennedy flew to New York and took over the chair from Tug Wilson, head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, at 9 p.m. He quickly directed the discussion away from the recriminations that had occupied most of the day.
"I'm not interested in the past," Kennedy said. "I'm interested in what is happening right now. Say I'm a 100-yard-dash man and I compete in a federation meet not sanctioned by the AAU. Would I be eligible for the 1964 Olympics or not?"
After a hurried huddle, the AAU officials present said, "No."
Kennedy in effect said bosh, then brought forth a proposal. He asked the AAU if it would agree to let him arbitrate the dispute if all else failed. The AAU delegation caucused, came back with a refusal. Kennedy put the same question to the federation representatives. In the federation caucus, the NCAA's executive director, Walter Byers, said, "We don't want the Government looking down our throat; let's agree." All assented, and the federation group told Kennedy that they would be most happy to let him arbitrate the difficulties.
At this point the AAU—still unwilling to accept arbitration but even more reluctant to defy the Attorney General—began to move toward a settlement. In the next few hours the principal differences were resolved. It was further agreed that the specifics of the settlement would be kept secret, so that both organizations could obtain the concurrence of their members before announcing terms. Following the meeting, however, news releases, apparently inspired by unofficial AAU sources, misleadingly indicated that the settlement represented a drastic retreat by the federation. A cautiously worded joint statement issued by Byers and Hull did little to clear up the ambiguities.
Nevertheless, Colonel Hull remarked, "If I had to say that one or the other of the groups made the most concessions, I would say it was the AAU. Both groups gave up some of their pride and I suppose neither organization likes doing that. We wanted to keep the terms secret because too much press might give our members the wrong impression. We still have some small hurdles and some fine points to decide, but I think we will be able to negotiate in the new atmosphere."
Under the new setup, the AAU will continue to perform the function it has fulfilled since its founding—providing a stage for competition among postgraduate athletes. The federation is not set up for this kind of competition and most of its activity will be at the undergraduate level.
If, in a predominantly collegiate meet, an open event is run, then the AAU will sanction the event. As the program is now envisioned, there will be three national track and field championships—a collegiate championship, an AAU championship and a coalition championship—to select the top athletes in the U.S. each year for international competition. After 1964 the "coalition" would be the certifying body for the international competition; until then, the AAU, which has always held the U.S. membership in the international governing body, the IAAF, will retain that right.
Hull, though reluctant to say definitely that the AAU has agreed to give up its absolute power on the international scene, still would not deny that a change is in the offing in two years.
"I would not say right now that the AAU will be the international representative of the U.S. in track and field after the 1964 Olympics," he said, carefully. "But the AAU certainly will be a part of whatever coalition group is the international body."
It is unlikely that the AAU could ever have brought itself to compromise under its old leadership. Colonel Hull, who retired from the Army to accept the post of AAU executive director a year ago, is a far more flexible and intelligent man than the poobahs who were replaced under pressure.
"I'm married to the daughter of an NCAA coach," he said the other day. "The guys I have been arguing with are my friends. We were diametrically opposed. Unfortunately, the arguments were based on the memory of past disagreements and on personalities. We had to stop every now and then and walk out of the room to take a smoke so that we would not do anything we would regret later. Chick and I [Chick Werner, the track coach at Pennsylvania State University who quit his job to become the first executive director of the federation] decided at the last meeting that we would keep the discussion to concrete points. But we couldn't do it until Kennedy arrived and took over the chair. He's a pistol. I'd hate to have him on the other side from me in anything.
"I don't know why we kept punching each other," he said. "Both the AAU and the federation want the same thing—the best athletic program we can come up with for the United States. We have a clear-cut responsibility. The undergraduate athlete has scholarships to keep him going. The postgraduate athlete has to work; no one wants to provide for him. I think that we must see that he is properly rewarded for his efforts and that he is given a wide opportunity for competition."
The agreement reached in New York must still be ratified by the general membership of the AAU and by the various groups that constitute the United States Track and Field Federation. If the agreement is endorsed, inevitably it would become a model for similar contracts in the other sports that have split away from the AAU—notably basketball and gymnastics.
Complete agreement in all the sports would represent the best program for the selection of U.S. athletes for international competition, either for dual meets such as those between the United States and Russia or at the Olympic level. It would also represent a giant step forward. Should the New York agreement not be ratified, then Mr. Kennedy has a perfect right to step in and use whatever muscle is at his call to make sure that it is.