If intercollegiate athletics were sold on Wall Street, IA would be down 100 points and the Securities and Exchange Commission would have suspended trading. Compared to intercollegiate athletics, New York City is on Easy Street. At a time when private colleges are folding right and left, when almost any teaching vacancy draws hundreds of applications, when the glorious dormitories built to accommodate the baby boom stand empty and unpaid for, when the taxpayers and the legislatures won't put out a penny more for science laboratories or classroom light bulbs—well, where do you think that leaves intercollegiate athletics, games?
Not only are these especially trying times for academia, but college sport has unique problems. Women, ignored for so long, have demanded a piece of the action and seemingly have been given half of it by the Title IX provisions laid down by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Considering how they can't even pay the men's bills, many members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association think that women have obtained 50% of nothing. Reflect on the problems.
The pros have robbed colleges of fans, revenue and attention, and, at least in basketball, of star players as well.
Previously, athletic departments had what they referred to as "the student body" in their pockets. The student body, a whimpering little Milquetoast, was supposed to fork over student fees to support the big-time sports played by an elite of hired hands known euphemistically as "student-athletes" (although, as Gwen Verdon used to sing, "with the emphasis on the latter"). Saturdays, the student body was supposed to throng the dilapidated stadium and pay more money to cheer its heroes on. Now, the student body would rather watch the Kansas City Chiefs play Sundays on TV, and with its student fees wants recreational opportunities of its own: tennis courts, ice rinks, bowling alleys, intramurals, and so on.
Recruiting, a damn-fool apparatus to begin with, is now completely out of hand and threatening to turn into a Doomsday Machine. Everybody cheats; well, everybody-but-me cheats, and gee, I might have to start cheating soon because everybody-but-me cheats.
The stadiums built in the 1920s are falling apart, and they can't be patched with summer jobs for linebackers at a buck-fifty an hour—unions!
There are not enough rock stars and ice shows in creation to play in the new arena and help pay off the interest (never mind reduce the principal) on that building, which was constructed in 1967 for $22.5 million when the Dow-Jones was fast on its way to the elusive 3,000 barrier.
Also, as always, you're supposed to win every game, no matter what.
Over this debris presides the beloved athletic director, who all too often is what he traditionally was: a wonderful old fellow, so dang beloved that everyone puts up with his pipe and his run-on nostalgia, which consists mostly of Pudge Heffelfinger stories. He is, of course, the former football coach, dean of gridiron mentors in his area, which is why his office is decorated entirely with team photos, half-inflated pigskins with winning scores against State U. painted on them, and goalpost slivers. When not smoking his pipe and doing more choruses of the Pudge Heffelfinger stories, the beloved athletic director spends mornings drinking coffee, afternoons cheering on the wrestling team and spare moments calling up other beloved athletic directors to schedule football games for 1997. Soon it is quarter to four and time to call it another day.
Because of these factors, something like 90% of all U.S. college athletic departments are losing money. And every indication is that it will get worse before it gets lots worse. The panic is on. Take your pick: Vermont has given up football, the first state university to do so. Big colleges like Syracuse and Kansas State have dropped some sports altogether and eliminated scholarships in others. And the Ivy League, richest of them all, has cut back on coaching staffs, reduced trips and training meals and, just like everybody else, been caught cheating.
The situation is deteriorating so rapidly that for the second time in its long, august history the NCAA has felt obliged to call a special conference, in Chicago next month. Substantive rule changes are routinely anticipated. Already, the NCAA investigating staff has been upped from three to eight to stop everybody-but-me from cheating (with 825 members, the NCAA could do with a lot more gumshoes), and even such venerated X'n'O men as Darrell Royal and Joe Paterno have blown some hot air into that old one-platoon trial balloon.
Anyway, it just ain't never going to be the same again. The president of Long Beach State, who woke up one morning to find that his athletic department was on its way to making the Guinness Book of World Records for being naughty, says (only somewhat facetiously) that it is no longer a question as to who can make the Top Ten but whether there will be 10 left. Certainly, unless the football coaches union, beloved division, can do something about it quick, there just aren't going to be any of those cushy little schedule-maker athletic director jobs left to grow old in.
Which brings us to Don Canham, late of a multimillion-dollar five-company conglomerate known as Don Canham Enterprises, but for the last seven years head of the athletic department of the University of Michigan, which might best be known, rather like a detergent, as the New! Improved! Don Canham Enterprises. If intercollegiate athletics has any future whatsoever, it is with men like Canham.
Myself, I have been to Ann Arbor; I have seen the future, and it breaks even.
Don Canham is an entrepreneur. He was the track coach at Michigan for 19 years, but that was more on the order of a sideline. Says his good friend Walter Byers, executive director of the NCAA, "As long as you had your golf clubs, coaching track was one of the great professions of this country." Or, as Canham says, "Coaches had a lot of time in those days." With his time, and a $250 nut, Canham started his own little company. It bears considerable resemblance to Topsy. For the sake of propriety, he agreed to put the business in trust when he took the AD job and to change the name from Don Canham Enterprises to School Tech, Inc., but he still feels that the university had no inkling of the magnitude of his sideline, believing it was some mom-and-pop garage outfit that made pin money for the track coach. As it was, when Canham first looked over the athletic department financial records with Fritz Crisler, the outgoing AD, Canham said, "Fritz, whaddaya say we put the athletic department in trust and work School Tech?"
School Tech makes athletic training movies and manufactures more than 200 recreational items, from playground equipment to—oh, well, it really doesn't matter what to, because what School Tech doesn't make itself it distributes. Just to take one example, it has $100,000 in Voit balls lying about the warehouse. You want stopwatches, field-hockey sticks, starters' guns, dart boards, you call up School Tech. It resembles nothing less than the biggest fence this side of the Naples docks. The enterprise is on its way to a record $6 million in sales this year, and even if Canham doesn't run the shop anymore, his family owns it. As he points out in the nicest way possible, he doesn't have to depend on the $38,000 that Michigan pays him annually; unlike a lot of athletic directors, he can do things his way.
When Crisler announced his retirement in 1968, Canham, then 49, didn't apply for the job; he assumed it would be awarded as a sinecure to some old football coach. Indeed, Canham is not much of a sports fan and was ready to get out of athletics altogether when some of his fellow coaches urged him to ask for the AD position. The new Michigan president, Robben Fleming, selected him almost immediately. "I think that anybody who is good at what he does can do other things," Canham says. "Coaching is a young man's racket. The Woody Hayeses are exceptions. I'd lost my zest for it myself. I mean, how many times can you work with a high jumper?
"Nowadays I have little to do with athletics per se. The thing I do least, hanging around the locker room, is what people assume I do most. I spend at least 50% of my time working on finances. Then all the legal stuff, unions, maintenance, marketing. I figured I would take a few years of it, but frankly, now I'm obsessed with this job. You've got to be so creative. They're going to have to drag me out of here."
Next year the University of Michigan will have an athletic budget of $4.5 million, more than twice what it was when Canham took over. Almost surely, that is the largest athletic budget in the country, although different accounting procedures make it difficult to tell for certain. In its case, the Michigan athletic department pays all its own bills; it is a legal entity separate from the university, able to borrow money on its own hook. Also invest. (It has substantial profits since it does not have to pay for intramurals, which are bankrupting athletic departments elsewhere.) With a 101,701-seat football stadium and an average game attendance in the 90,000 range (from 67,000 when Canham took the job), tickets are being sold all the time. A large part of Canham's job is investing the proceeds. "Every other day you've got to do something with it," he says with some exasperation, rather as if it were like having to empty the ashtrays. Of course, you can't blow the Ohio State advance on the fifth-race exacta at Hazel Park, but Canham is not afraid to scout around for a little edge. At present, much of the 1975 University of Michigan football season earnings are in commercial paper.
The main point, as Canham once instructed no less than The New York Times, is that a modern athletic director has to "hustle like a whore on Main Street." This assessment has not always sat well with those old beloveds. It is even assumed that the surprise Big Ten vote two years ago that denied Michigan the Rose Bowl bid tilted to Ohio State because of a few anti-Canham ballots.
But quite apart from being a visionary, Canham is a pragmatist. He is a power within the Establishment, the NCAA, which he unabashedly calls "our salvation," and he is a confidant of Byers, whom he identifies as "one of the brightest little sons of bitches around." Although Canham may have offended some of the old guard, he is the reigning guru on athletic liquidity for colleges throughout the nation. Twenty-eight universities have either paid Canham's way to their campus to discuss their problems or sent a representative to sit and learn at the feet of the master in Ann Arbor. The last college to turn to Canham was Yale. Oh, yes, it's happening in the best of families.
Canham leans back in his chair. His office is decorated with landscapes, a token amount of Michigan blue and yellow, but not a smidgen of jock memorabilia. "I tell you, I'd like to go into Yale right now," he says to Will Perry, the sports information director, who functions as his right arm. "Whaddaya say, Will?" Canham's eyes gleam as he talks about the couple of million putative Bulldog fans living in Connecticut, a veritable Fertile Crescent stretching from Stamford to New Haven to Hartford, with no indigenous pro competition and a huge stadium there for the filling. The idea, Canham keeps trying to tell Yale and any other college that will listen, is to get the fannies in the seats—alumni fannies, student fannies, townie fannies, paying fannies.
Suddenly, as if moved by a vision, Canham leaps to his feet and leaves his office. This mystically inspired locomotion occurs periodically throughout the day. What it is, Canham is trying to cut down on his smoking, so his secretary keeps his cigarettes and it takes real initiative every time he wants to light up. Unfortunately, the system breaks down somewhat as the day wears on, and Canham begins to squirrel away extra cigarettes. This time he brings back two.
"We've lost a whole generation of fans to the pros," he declares. "The schools just sat back and watched the pros take them. It was not dignified for us to take advertising space. We were supposed to get by just by mailing out the same drab brochures to the same alumni year after year."
Canham's brochures have been compared (favorably or unfavorably, depending upon how the observer views Florida land-development brochures) to Florida land-development brochures. The Michigan mailing goes to 1.2 million homes, a large-sized, glossy, eight-page color folder that Canham manages to produce—design, write, print, mail, the works—for a little more than 2¢ apiece. He pulls this off by selling one page in the brochure to an outside advertiser, and using two other pages to peddle through mail orders all manner of Wolverine bric-a-brac: doormats, playing cards, books, ashtrays, lamps shaped like football helmets and pocketbooks shaped like footballs and basketballs. Will Perry once made the mistake of offering bumper stickers at two bits apiece. "Not one for a quarter," Canham chastised him, "four for a dollar." The citizens of the great state of Michigan are now schooled in the concept that bumper stickers can only be purchased in lots of four.
Canham tossed dignity to the winds by flying an airplane with an advertising trailer over Tiger Stadium in Detroit. He has thrown up billboards; proselytized at high schools ("62,000 Youths Watched Michigan Football Last Fall—Were Your Students There?"); advertised in the regional editions of the major news-weeklies, and in Michigan newspapers. When Ohio State boasted a few years back that it was sold out for the season, Canham spent $400 for an ad in a Toledo paper that resulted in $6,000 worth of Michigan tickets being sold in Ohio and eventually led to a Toledo radio station joining the Wolverine network, a dagger in the Buckeye back.
He made $250,000 for Michigan football by promoting a pro football exhibition, forcing embarrassed NFL officials thereafter to avoid promoters who try to make more than either of the teams. Canham even prints tickets with different scenes on them—the most beautiful and expensive football tickets in the nation, he says—because he figures people will save the stubs for scrapbooks, providing Michigan with an insidious kind of advertising. He put tennis courts in the middle of the indoor track and rents them out by the hour. He turns a tidy sum by making sure that just the right concessions are available on the golf course.
There is very little that Don Canham does not take into consideration, and that, indeed, is the first mark of a promoter: concern for the tiniest detail while retaining the broadest vision. In sports, both college and pro, the worst promoters invariably threaten, talk about how fans should support a team. The best in the business, going all the way back to Cash and Carry Pyle, right along through Bill Veeck to Pat Williams of the 76ers and Chick Lang at Pimlico, understand that sports is primarily just a game, fun, and that their hustle is a game, too.
Canham resembles promoters in other respects as well. In the inflection of his speech, especially when it goes into overdrive and becomes patter, Canham sounds exactly like Bill Riordan, Jimmy Connors' tennis Barnum. And he pays close attention to his appearance, for which he has been rewarded by being placed several times on the Football News' best-dressed list. He is given to boots and soft-white loafers, with snappy suits, which he buys in batches. Canham offsets these fashionable duds with something of a flashback hairdo, a curly wethead, parted high, with a good old DA brush in the rear.
Although he was the NCAA high-jump champion in 1940 (at 6'6‚Öú"), business has always been Canham's preoccupation. "Don's always been attuned to the economy," Walter Byers says. "He has a gut feeling for it." Canham's grandfather was a businessman and his father a well-known magazine illustrator, so Canham received early instruction at home in both merchantry and advertising. At Michigan he first turned a pretty penny by buying sweat socks at 8¢ a pair and selling them at fraternities for five for a dollar. Soon, he was peddling more expensive garments and pointing toward business school. The war delayed that, and since the Air Force made him a track coach, he sort of followed the line of least resistance and took up that vocation after his discharge. It was during this phase of his life that Canham and a would-be football assistant named George Allen went into business together selling a rubber stamp that came complete with all the O's, so that football coaches didn't have to draw 11 O's but could just stamp out formations. It was a big mover, that stamp. The partnership folded when Mrs. Canham typed a letter that led to Allen's first job; there but for the grace of God stays Sonny Jurgensen.
Canham is a one-thing-leads-to-another fellow. As a spinoff from his coaching, he turned out a bunch of best-selling how-to manuals, and then a film. His first company grew from that. When the Iron Curtain began to part in 1954, as the Russians prepared for the Melbourne Olympics, Canham snuck into their locker room with a Finnish ID card and ended up as the first American confidant of the Reds. This was hot stuff in those days, Stanley-back-from-Livingstone. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED bought and ran Canham's first-person account. He was the Olympic coach for Kenya and Uganda and an adviser all over, Jamaica and Scandinavia as well as Africa. In Michigan, his Wolverine teams were Big Ten powers, even though he never could get a women's track squad going: no interest.
Only in America: Canham's son grew up to be a track coach. His daughter grew up to be one of Michigan's first pompon girls.
It is important to keep in mind that Canham's success not only came during severe financial times, but at an institution that is fairly conservative. Before 1974 it was considered unseemly for a girl to lead Michigan football cheers. Only in the last decade have coeds been permitted to enter the Michigan Union through the front door. At first the faculty squealed in protest at Canham's hard sell. The students, especially back in the Vietnam days when they were certified 100% idealists, castigated him for all his money talk and pilloried him for not giving them a share of his profits for intramurals. Yet many of these same students waited in line for two days to buy season football tickets.
Michigan prides itself more on belonging to the academic elite of American schools than on being a football power, which it has been since the 1890s. President Fleming is as suspicious of big-time college athletics as he is enthusiastic about "their general contribution to a whole college." He is opposed to postseason games that take up too much study time, and so that there will be no conceivable ambiguity, he personally addresses his coaches every so often on the matter of cheating: better not.
The point is that Don Canham did not come into some backwater adult kindergarten with a license to steal a winner out of junior high ghettos with laundered "booster club" money. If hard-nosed marketing and carnival ballyhoo can be tolerated at Michigan, then those methods should be accepted anywhere. On the other hand, being with a winner, working a bally with an attractive product, has made Canham's job that much easier. For all the clever and progressive things he has done, what would have been the results had these same schemes been tried at places like Iowa or Northwestern, traditional Big Ten football patsies?
The Canham/Michigan success formula simply cannot be applied on a cosmic basis. Take, for example, the matter of alumni giving. When Canham came in, the Michigan athletic department was attracting only $46,000 a year in alumni gifts. The figure is now up to $300,000 and rising. Since Michigan has the most graduates in the nation, more than 200,000, and since a smaller state university like North Carolina pulls in $1 million for sports from its alumni, it is obvious that Michigan can tap its old boys for even more. But all this depends on the won-lost record.
Says Bob Foreman, president of the Michigan Alumni Association, "In 16 cities, we have alumni groups that watch Michigan game films every week during the fall. Most colleges are delighted if they can get an alumni club to meet twice a year. But I don't kid myself, and neither does Don: they're not coming out to watch any team go 3-8." Nor are they going to give to a 3-8 school.
If the loyal alumni donated enough money to the department of romance languages at Iowa, it might soon be the best in the Big Ten. But how much money is it going to take to bring Iowa football up to par with Michigan football? Given population, facilities, size, tradition, publicity, there is just no way to bridge the gap. Oh sure, every blue moon Iowa will win a game; what the heck, Baylor won the Southwest Conference last year. Who knows, maybe Vanderbilt won the SEC once: possibly even Washington State and Brown won something once (after all, we are assured that truth is stranger than fiction).
But especially in college football, the hierarchy is fixed; it is a much more stagnant enterprise than the pros. In more than a decade the only big new teams to emerge have been Arizona State and Houston. College sports is the best evidence the pros have that some sort of draft selection and binding reserve clause are required to inhibit polarization. Frank Broyles, the Arkansas football coach, suggests a college draft whereby the teams with poorer records would be permitted to enroll more scholarship players: 40 if you won only two games last season, 28 if you won three, down to 22 if you lost one game or less. His is a voice crying in the wilderness.
And yet one of the main reasons why the pros have licked the colleges has been because there is hope in the pros. The Miami Dolphins were champions of the world in only their seventh season. In college, the more things go on, the less they change. Even in basketball, where one player can overhaul a team, the same schools usually dominate. Thus, while it is both maddening and depressing, Don Canham's Michigan blueprint for the survival of college athletics may be applicable only to the prime schools. In effect, he may only be capable of showing the rich how to get richer.
That sort of prospect chills Canham, yet he agrees that all the evidence points in one direction—to a national collegiate superconference with a $100 million TV contract and playoffs into February. Maybe a dozen colleges would survive to make the league. Everybody else, from San Diego State to Harvard, would say forget it and set aside Saturdays for fraternity flag football. The divisions grow wider. Notre Dame and Penn State suck up huge amounts of TV money and bowl money and have no conference colleagues to share it with. Oklahoma has made gurgling noises about quitting the Big Eight and keeping its payoffs all to itself. Penn State somehow got out of a schedule commitment with Navy, a poor draw at Annapolis, and signed up Ohio State for a bigger dollar gate. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a university like Southern Methodist, with a team that almost never beats Texas in the Southwest Conference or the Dallas Cowboys in the newspapers. The SMU athletic director is Dick Davis, a former stockbroker whose job is to balance the budget. For a price, SMU will now play its home games away. Eventually, this could turn into a situation like the Roller Derby, where there were designated "home" and "visitor" teams. What good player will go to a college to play on the road?
"A superconference would make millions for Michigan," Canham says, "but do I want that? It wouldn't be an improvement. It would just be what was left, built on the ruins of intercollegiate athletics. But make no mistake, that's where we're heading if we don't find some sanity. We've got to keep schools playing, the Albions and the Bucknells as much as anybody. The idea is to play. We just forced Tampa into dropping football. By we, I mean the big shots.
"O.K., no skin off my back. My football program costs $800.000, and when everything is considered—TV, our Rose Bowl share—we return $3 million on it, and the difference pays for a lot of varsity sports [there are 17 at Michigan]. But what happens when there's nobody left to play football against? The handwriting is there. When you see a place like Oregon State wipe out some scholarships, you know they'll be wiping out nonrevenue sports next, like at Syracuse, and then they'll be wiping out football because there won't be anything else left."
Sanity has never been very catching in the NCAA, but almost everybody is too broke to afford excess and eccentricity any longer. The meeting in Chicago next month will be a surprise only if nothing is done. "There has always been the concern among the presidents about intercollegiate athletics getting out of hand," President Fleming says, "but because intercollegiate athletics are so popular, you could never do much about them except in a persuasive sense. Now, at last, there is an urgency to go with the concern."
Moderation will come in two broad areas. First, there will be reductions in the size of coaching staffs and the number of scholarships. Common sense dictates this, if only because colleges will obtain the same results at less cost. "The ridiculous thing about scholarships," Canham says, "is that the same schools dominated athletics before scholarships as do now. Southern Cat pays out $800,000 a year for scholarships. Eight-hundred thousand! Isn't that something? Southern Cal used to be No. 1 for free and now they pay $800,000 for the privilege. That's progress."
Scholarships for nonrevenue sports (generally, all those other than football, basketball and hockey) will be drastically cut or eliminated altogether. For example, Michigan has traditionally dominated the Big Ten in tennis, as Iowa has in wrestling and Indiana in swimming. But that ego trip is over. "I've got 3,000 tennis players in the student body," Canham says. "It's getting harder to justify going out and finding six guys and paying them to come in here and play tennis for Michigan. But we're not going to stop doing that, we're not going to stop recruiting the best until everybody else does."
There has also been some talk of giving scholarships strictly on a need basis, as the Ivy League supposedly does, but that proposition is stillborn because the colleges' buttonhole salesmen have already found a way to circumvent such a rule. With the age of majority now down to 18, you just get the bank president's 6'10" all-state son to sign a statement declaring that he doesn't live at home anymore and is therefore indigent. Result: a full scholarship for the poor little rich kid.
Secondly, the Chicago conference will almost surely place more restrictions upon recruiting. The best suggestion is that the recruiting season be reduced to a six-week period. It shouldn't take any longer to hunt quarterbacks and centers than it does mallard ducks and deer. "You've got to assume there's more cheating now," says Canham, "because there are more coaches on the road for more weeks, more months, with more pressure on them to produce."
The fact that football has become such a closed shop, with so very few colleges able to compete at the top, has made the competition for basketball players even fiercer. And the stakes are higher in basketball, because in theory, at least, that one big guy can make a college. You don't need half a dozen monsters to block for him and 11 others to make tackles when he is sitting down. The best football prospects are called blue chips. There are no blue chips in basketball, all of the chips being polka-dotted, speckled with blood money.
So, at last, the NCAA members are exasperated with cheating because it has become too expensive (if not more immoral). With the enlarged NCAA investigative staff, the chances of getting nabbed have also increased. There is, besides, a growing sentiment that it is time to start punishing real people as well as institutions. Where is the justice when Long Beach State and Oklahoma are penalized while the Long Beach basketball coach, Jerry Tarkanian, dances off to take over another team, and the Oklahoma football coach, Chuck Fairbanks, moves blithely into a high-paying pro job? Canham goes even further: he wants the kids who break the rules to be punished.
On another front, despite the patronage of such pigskin viziers as Paterno and Royal, the possibility of a return to one-platoon football appears remote and, for Canham, appalling as well. The subject charges him. He shoots up and goes for another cigarette—or two. "Right now," he says, upon his return, "we've got the best show in town. The colleges. We're licking the pros around here. The trend is changing. There were empty seats in the NFL last year, and I think that strike hurt more than anyone realizes. People can't relate to those players anymore. And now maybe it's the pros who lost a generation. They sold out their stadiums to the same few thousand expense accounts year after year. They shut out the new fans, and now that they might need them, we have them. And let's face it, I don't want to gloat about a thing like this, but in a recession it's the college guy, the more affluent, who's going to be hurt less and last. And we've got the high-class audience, the one that buys. TV knows that.
"Now, with all this going for us, we're supposed to go back to the dull one-platoon football? Look, I'm not a coach like those guys. Paterno's got the only team in the East, no competition, he can fill his place whoever they play. Royal, I guess, figures Texas is going to win no matter how many guys are on the field. So I'm not a coach, I'm not even that much of a fan—but I am a businessman, and if there's one thing I know it's this: if you own General Motors and Olds-mobile is losing money, the last thing you do is cut back on your production of Chevrolets, the thing that is keeping you in business."
Yet even with the rising popularity of college football and basketball, and something of a boomlet for college hockey in selected Northern spots, soaring costs make it a game of one-step-forward-two-back. President Fleming succinctly serves up the awful truth. "Don has been a genius at generating money in new and imaginative and honorable ways," he says, "but even he hasn't managed to do anything but keep the wolf from the door." The problem, basically, is that while the Detroit Lions only have to take care of the Detroit Lions, and the Detroit Pistons only have to look after the Detroit Pistons, Michigan football has to tend to Michigan football—and Michigan tennis and Michigan gymnastics and Michigan cross-country and every other endeavor that involves Wolverine sweat. Is this possible? Indeed, is it even realistic to assume the premise that all varsity sports at a college should be embraced in the same budget, and one that should be balanced?
If there is any merit in college sports—for participant and spectator—then their existence should not be determined either by the won-lost record or by the ledger. If there is merit in Shakespeare, we should not discard English 403 because it doesn't show a profit. In the same vein, it may be nonsense to connect sports just because they are sports. As Hamlet said, "For Hecuba! What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba, that he should weep for her?" Really, what's Michigan football to Michigan cross-country, any more than Michigan football to the Michigan glee club or to the Michigan organic chemistry department? Somewhere down the line these realities are going to have to be faced by legislatures and university overseers.
In the meantime, where are the new revenues to come from?
Well, if you are not Michigan, but big enough, you can emulate what Don Canham has already done at Michigan. If you are Michigan, pretty soon everybody has four bumper stickers, and you have to reach further afield for new sources of revenue. As the old saying goes: when the money gets short, the shorts get going. Even Canham, the supersalesman, a man otherwise so convincing, suddenly appears to be trying to convince himself when asked about the future.
'"Well, different things might work in different schools," he begins tentatively. "Parking, for instance. We used to give most of it away. Now we make $100,000 a year off it. A lot of schools still give it away, feeling it is not proper to charge. And the ice rink here is a hell of a moneymaker. It's paid for itself. You can make money off your golf course, off your tennis courts." He pops up and makes the round trip for another cigarette. "But look, who knows what's ahead? Things that seem ridiculous to us now may save us. You do more and more desperate things the more desperate you get. Maybe eventually we're going to have to go to industry. Industry already subsidizes various pro sports, so why not college and amateur sports? Maybe we're going to have to get the major leagues to chip in. And already here we're playing around with cable television, which I think can translate into pay television down the road.
"And right now, today, there's more that we all can do. I still don't think we've marketed our games nearly as well as we could. We were intimidated by the pros for so long. That's where we messed up. Of course, the pros are better players. There's no argument about skill. Also, they've got the stars. How are we going to fight a guy like Johnny Unitas who's starring for 15 to 20 years? So we make the coaches our stars. When Ohio State comes in here this year, who do you think those people will come to see—the players, Archie Griffin? No sir, they'll be here to see Woody Hayes. The men take their children down by the field and point him out. I've seen it. And we better understand that. We've got to promote what we have. We've got to ballyhoo the pageantry, the weekend on the campus, the kids, the cheerleaders, the bands. And the same thing with basketball. We've got to sell the spectacle."
Canham picks up one of his land-development-cum-football brochures and brandishes it. Two of the 11 color pictures are of football action. The others portray bands, foliage, dimpled cheerleader knees. "You ask if I can justify it all; you ask are college athletics worth it? O.K., why do I go to the ballet? How do I justify that? Well, because I enjoy it. I don't learn anything from it, I just go to a performance and enjoy it. So listen, when you sell 25,000 student tickets every week and 8,000 staff and faculty tickets, that means you're in the entertainment business, the enjoyment business. If you've got that many people with that much interest in something, if there's that many people who care, that's sufficient justification."
One is reminded of Ben Franklin, another fellow who was pretty good at a number of things, when he was watching the first balloon ascension over Paris. Someone in the crowd admired the performance, but questioned what good it was. Franklin turned to him and said, "What good is a newborn baby?"
College athletics is like that, if not, of course, quite so innocent.