The NCAA, the ranking authority in college sports, may be coming apart at the seams. It has been openly challenged by the 4-year-old College Football Association, a splinter group of 61 major football schools that includes all the top teams in the country except those in the Pac-10 and the Big Ten.
The CFA has long expressed discontent with the NCAA's football TV policy, feeling that a disproportionate share of revenues has been spread among all NCAA schools (even those without football programs), that all schools shouldn't have equal votes in football TV matters, and that the big football schools should be allowed to negotiate their own television deals (which will be increasingly valuable with cable TV growing so rapidly).
So last week the CFA defied the NCAA and signed a four-year, $180-million TV deal with NBC, one that will pay the NCAA 8% off the top for administrative costs and so on, but which gives control of televised football to the CFA member schools, promises more TV appearances and guarantees each team at least $1 million in revenue. The CFA action could cause the cancellation of a four-year, $263.5 million contract the NCAA had agreed to two weeks earlier with ABC and CBS, which promises those networks exclusivity.
CFA members seem certain to ratify their new contract when they vote on it Aug. 21, even though the NCAA has warned that it may suspend, or even expel, any college that appears on football telecasts other than those it approved. The suspension or expulsion would cover all sports at the schools being penalized, not just football. If that happens, the NCAA championships would be watered down, and the NCAA would no longer be the dominant force in college athletics.
In short, the NCAA seems to be facing one of the greatest crises of its 75-year existence.
THIN EDGE OF THE WEDGE
Is baseball's split season fair or unfair, a travesty or just common sense? Bob Verdi of the Chicago Tribune says, "If ever a baseball season begged for a semblance of normalcy, it is this one. Baseball cannot handle another jolt to its time-tested ways." Calvin Griffith, owner of the lowly Minnesota Twins, counters, "Without a split season we might as well not have opened our gates." But Steve Jacobson of Newsday asks, "Is anybody going to be fooled into thinking the teams that were boring before the strike are going to be entertaining after it?"
Critics came down particularly hard on the proviso that if the same team wins both halves of the split season, it won't get a bye into the pennant playoffs. First it must meet the team with the second-best record overall in a best-three-out-of-five playoff. But suppose the Orioles, who finished second to the Yankees by two games in the first half, finish a close third in the second half behind Boston and New York. The Yankees trail the Red Sox by a few percentage points going into their last game of the season, which is against Baltimore. If the O's beat the Yanks, Boston wins the second half and meets New York in the playoff. If the O's lose to the Yankees, the Yanks win the second half, too, and meet the team with the second-best record overall in the playoffs—the Orioles. The loser wins. A bad situation.
Think for a moment, too, about the real significance of the split season and a revealing remark made by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, baseball's chief of marketing. Kuhn, his eye ever on the TV dollar, said that normally he would be against a split season but added, "Of course, if there were tremendous enthusiasm after this year, you would have to take a new look at the factors next year."