While the sporting public's very back was turned last week, another one of those catchy numerical references, One Point Six, crawled into the American vocabulary and threatened, unfortunately, to become as familiar as the Two-point Conversion, the Final 18 or No. 51. It is unfortunate because One Point Six deals with an academic rule rather than a pass, a putt or a puck, and because every institution from Harvard to Sweatshirt U. seems to be debating it.
Athletic debates are far more interesting when they occur between goalposts or backboards, but this one rages on. Already it has caused one school, the University of Pennsylvania, to miss the chance it had earned to play in this week's NCAA basketball championship. Other NCAA championships are coming up almost immediately, and athletes who would normally compete now find they are ineligible. The controversy has also resulted in strong talk from usually calm men. Princeton President Robert F. Goheen has charged that One Point Six "would appear to be the product of people more knowledgeable about athletics than the life of the mind." The New York Times, in an editorial, accused the NCAA of "rule-or-ruin" ways. The issue is important, for it could lead to the wrecking of the NCAA.
The debate is primarily between the NCAA, which conceived the One Point Six rule, and the Ivy League, which defied it. One might hastily assume that in such a controversy the Ivies must be right. But when the welfare of the entire collegiate community is considered, the Ivies, despite scattered good points and splendid intentions, are dead wrong.
All high-principled, philosophic, idealistic shouting about academic freedom and institutional autonomy aside—running your own joint, in the language of the bleacher fan—the basic issue is a simple one. Should the NCAA try to insure that every varsity athlete is a student? Indeed it should. The Ivy League argues, in essence, that schools should police themselves, which is an admirable theory. But the realities of life—consider the major conference university that is attempting to recruit two basketball players whose high school transcripts show almost nothing but strings of Ds—are something different, and the Ivies, of all people, should be the first to admit it.
One of the main purposes of the much-maligned NCAA, as set forth in its constitution, is to assure exemplary control in the admission and eligibility of student athletes, through legislation if necessary. The One Point Six rule is a long-overdue piece of legislation designed to guarantee that every student athlete in all of the NCAA's 571 member schools maintain at least a C minus average. A mark of C minus amounts to 1.6 on the 1-to-4 grading system. Failure to maintain this average will keep the athlete out of all varsity competition and all varsity practices, assuming that his school wants to compete in any NCAA-sponsored championship events or postseason bowl games. In reality, the 1.6 level is quite low. One conference, the Big Ten, and many individual schools already have set higher standards for athletes. But others have not set any standards or are willing to bend double the ones they have for the sake of a good linebacker. It is toward these schools that the rule is aimed. It is designed to eliminate the tramp athlete, the transfer type, the snap-course clod.
To suggest, as the Ivies have done, that the NCAA has no business in this area is to say that the NCAA has no reason for existing. In order to regulate sound intercollegiate athletic programs, the NCAA must be concerned with admissions and eligibility just as surely as it must be concerned with recruiting and financial aid to athletes.
What, after all, is the NCAA? For one thing, it is not what the eastern press would have its readers think, nor is it what the Ivy League, as represented by Princeton's Goheen, is content to have its friends believe—namely, a group of guys in gym shoes constantly hoodwinked by the persuasive powers of a Bear Bryant, or an organization whose executive director, Walter Byers, is a power-hungry dictator shooting from the hip way out in wild Kansas City.
The NCAA is all of the schools, Ivies included, communicating with each other, primarily through academic people. It includes a lot of university athletic directors, yes, but these athletic directors represent the wishes and interests of their school administrations. The NCAA essentially is governed by deans and presidents and professors of law, chemistry, history, English—men in the cultural areas in which the Ivy League, especially during this debate, claims preeminence.
What finally climaxed the fireworks display in the One Point Six dispute was the NCAA's decision to bar Penn, the Ivy League champion, from the NCAA basketball playoffs. It did so after the Ivies said they would not comply with the One Point Six rule. The NCAA was not eager to disqualify Penn. In fact, it even tried to allow the Ivies to comply without literally complying, but the Ivies were still unhappy. They stated publicly and defiantly that the rule was bad and they would ignore it. After that, the NCAA had no recourse but to rule Penn out of championship competition.
The Ivy League's foremost objection to the One Point Six rule—an objection, curiously, that it failed to voice on the floor of two NCAA conventions—is that the NCAA is a society to govern athletics, not education. The Ivy League says that when the NCAA sets a minimum grade requirement for a student it is meddling with academic freedom. If a student falls below 1.6 and still wants to play football or something else to be a "well-rounded" man, he should be allowed to do so if his school is willing to let him participate. It further argues that athletes should not be treated differently from other students, that an athlete-student would be discriminated against if he had to maintain a C minus average when other students did not (SI, Feb. 14) and that athletes would take easy courses to be sure they could keep their grades up. These are high-minded, legitimate concerns and might be determining ones if this were the best-of-all-possible-Ivy-League worlds. But....
Suppose it was Sweatshirt U. that had taken such a position, had protested about "well-rounded" men and about the danger of athletes being led toward easy courses in the fox trot and about how all schools should decide such things for themselves. Well, the laughter would not have stopped yet. In short, a self-governing system that may be fine for the Ivies is not necessarily good for the rest of college sport.
If the One Point Six rule is NCAA meddling, then the NCAA has meddled before in academic matters without any hue and cry from the East. It has set regulations for transfer students and for the number of varsity seasons an athlete can compete; it has placed schools on probation for violations of admission policies, for accepting phony transcripts and for illegal recruiting. And all for the good of both sport and education. The One Point Six rule is a similar action, voted in by a great majority of the NCAA's member schools and regarded as a sound and forthright step by dozens of universities which consider themselves, rightfully, to be as zealous about academic principles as the Ivies.
Says Walter Byers: "The solid majority of the colleges believe this rule in the long run will do as much as any rule the NCAA has ever passed to improve intercollegiate athletics. Admittedly, it causes some dislocation of long-accepted procedures, but it has been more thoroughly considered than any NCAA legislation ever enacted. It is based on the premise that if a college wishes to compete with its sister institutions for national championship honors, it should be willing to certify what its academic procedures and requirements are, confirm them to the other members and agree upon a minimum level of academic attainment for athletes."
It may come as a shock to a lot of interested bystanders who have heard only the Ivy League's outcries, but the prime mover of the One Point Six legislation was not a Spiralin' Stu Fingerlace at all. It was Dr. Robert F. Ray, a dean of the University of Iowa. Dr. Ray was one of seven men who formulated the legislation. The others were Rixford K. Snyder, director of admissions at Stanford; John A. Fuzak, dean of students at Michigan State; Laurence C. Woodruff, dean of students at the University of Kansas; Jim Weaver, commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference; Dean Trevor, athletic director of Knox College (Ill.); and DeLaney Kiphuth, athletic director of—hmm—Yale. Mathematics suggests that the gym-shoe group was outnumbered by the "life of the mind" group four to three.
The Ivy League's position among athletic conferences is admittedly a unique one. The Ivies do not, technically speaking, give athletic scholarships, though they certainly recruit hard for the athletic student. Once an athlete is entered in an Ivy school he has to survive strictly on his academic merit. Nor are there any courses in basket-weaving for him to fatten his average on. This is precisely the way things should be everywhere, and, strangely, it is exactly what the One Point Six rule is trying to achieve in less enlightened areas. One would have expected the Ivies to take the lead in this NCAA effort, mild though it is, to encourage a better-educated athlete throughout the nation. Instead, they seem to have chosen the role of obstructionists, to have decided that since they don't need the One Point Six rule, nobody does. Perhaps what the Ivies are quietly saying is that they are sorry they joined the NCAA, they don't need it and they would like to get out of it.
The new rule may well be modified or thrown out altogether next year when the Ivies press their stand at the NCAA convention, yet one would hope that it will not only be kept, but strengthened. A change in the Ivy attitude would do much to enhance that league's great traditions and would give truer meaning to college sport. Meanwhile, the coaches down at Sweatshirt U. must be both astonished and pleased to find the Princetons and Yales doing their arguing for them.