Al McGuire, Marquette University’s head basketball coach and athletic director, is as well know for his jabs at sacred cows in the athletic world as he is for his successful basketball teams. McGuire’s sometimes outrageously candid comments on sports have won him a loyal following among sports fans of all persuasions.
Whether or not there is a consensus among the college coaches of this country, I firmly believe that intercollegiate competition is in a crisis situation. The ship is going down and no one is making a move for the lifeboats.
The problem is complex and manifold and is more apparent at the less-than-major college level. But, elements of it are affecting us all. As I see it, the primary aspects of the problem are:
1. The impact of national televising of sporting events on regional and local contests.
2. The insecure position of coaches within their individual university situation.
3. The impact of professional sports agents.
4. The problem of recruitment.
5. The overall problem of cash flow to support athletic programs.
Perhaps none of these factors can be assigned top billing as the major reason for the slow crippling process which I believe intercollegiate competition is experiencing. In the space available, I cannot fully express my views on each point. I can only deal each one a glancing blow. However, there is a common element intrinsic to all of them which should be kept in mind. That element is “money.” Money for the schools. Money for the pros. Money for the coaches. Money for the agents and money for the athletes.
Television has brought quality amateur and professional sports into virtually every American home. In fact, it has produced a vast audience of sports addicts. We all initially applauded this massive infusion of public interest. We never considered what effect it would ultimately have on local high school and small- to middle-sized college sports interest and gate receipts. Given the choice of paying to see the imperfections of the hometown team and viewing the slick execution of national sports heroes without reaching into his pocket, too many of today’s fans make the obvious choice. Local sporting events too often end up with nearly empty cash registers and more bodies on the field and court than there are in the stands.
Telecasting of sporting events is big business. Many millions of dollars float around at the top of the heap. The big name schools and professional teams have never had it so good, while the lesser teams are scratching for funds to replace their threadbare uniforms. Could some of the revenue that’s generated be channeled to the schools who do not enjoy this favored position in an effort to help them survive? Should the big-time amateur team share their financial good fortune with their less favored brethren?
At the very least, couldn’t we, in some way, eliminate the national competition for fan interest for a day, or at least several hours each week, during the peak periods of fan availability, so that minor teams and sports have a modest opportunity to compete? An orderly programming of sports (perhaps requiring some congressional action) may be the solution.
Without the money to improve the quality of local competition the situation will continue to deteriorate, possibly to the point where intramural sports will replace intercollegiate athletics at all but our major institutions.
Another area that creates chaos for intercollegiate athletics is the insecure position of coaches within their own particular situation—and I must take this opportunity to score a point for today’s college coaches. In most instances they are not tenured., they are not well paid, and they’re getting round shoulders carrying the load of all the problems I have noted above. The future of the college coach is as bright as his last season’s record. When did you last hear of the head of the biology department being fired for not discovering a new virus? This insecurity in coaching merely compounds the problems inherent to our present system.
I could fill several issues of this publication with my views on professional sports agents. I have observed their big money operations for several years, with ever-increasing concern. I do not wish to indict the entire profession. Most of those who have entered this field are performing a truly worthwhile service for the athlete. However, I predict that within the next several years, a scandal the magnitude of the point-shaving incidents of the ’50s will surface involving professional agents. I sincerely hope that I am wrong, that it won’t happen, but the signs are there for anyone who cares to read them.
The problem of recruitment is again a dollars-and-cents matter. The present rules, which presumably govern the athletic recruitment process, have loopholes you could drive a herd of elephants through. For one thing, it is not enough to limit the benefits a school can offer to an individual athlete, as is now the case. In fact, by setting this limitation, the affluent institution is merely handed still another advantage over the financially hard-pressed school. The big names can corral a greater number of prime prospects with their generous budgets. Maximums should be established for the number of athletic scholarships which can be offered by a given school, regardless of the size of its athletic budget. A commitment from the university should be given before the athlete visits, and no athlete should be allowed to visit more than three schools. I believe this would restore some balance in the competition for talent.
There are other problems. Women’s sports must be promoted creatively to allow them to become income-producing. Schools must be aware of the potential of sports. Each school should realize it is entitled to a percentage of the entertainment dollar. Schools must learn to innovate and promote their sports activities to make them more palatable to the fan and to compete “head-on” with television, the pros and the theatre.
In a very real sense, the college athletic system in this country is a farm system for professional sports. We find the stars and superstars of tomorrow; we train them; we provide a showcase for their talents—in many cases we turn them into multi-million dollar properties—and then we deliver them, free of charge, to the professional ranks. Where is the equity in this system? Do the pros have some responsibility to the amateur system which keeps them alive?
I don’t have the answers, but I’m realistic enough to see that we are in a descending spiral which we must reverse—or intercollegiate athletics will go the way of the buffalo. The academic community must show more faith in the athletic department, not only for the obvious good that it does, but from a “business” standpoint.
The potential for disaster is great. It’s time we all started thinking about it for the good of the intercollegiate athletic system, the professional sports organizations and the sports fans.