What Is the Future of Intercollegiate Sports in this Country?

Author: Notre Dame Magazine

1975 Dec 75

The following interview with Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C, Notre Dame’s executive vice president and chairman of the faculty board in control of athletics, was conducted shortly after a special NCAA meeting in August 1975. Father Joyce had long been involved in NCAA activities and had been instrumental in shaping both the intercollegiate and intramural sports programs at Notre Dame for more than 20 years at the time of the interview.


Q. What is the future of intercollegiate sports in this country? How will Notre Dame fare in the future?

A. At the moment, one is tempted to be slightly pessimistic about the short-range future of intercollegiate athletics. College sports programs are being adversely affected by the financial crunch which is being felt in all areas of higher education. The popularity of professional football has also made inroads into the football revenues of some institutions and this has exacerbated financial worries.

Over the long pull I have no worry about the survival of intercollegiate athletics though it is conceivable that football, as we know it, could pass from the scene. There will always been a natural desire on the part of college students to compete against one another in various sports. This is a healthy, beneficial activity, and I am certain that the nation’s colleges will support intercollegiate rivalries to the best of their ability.

Notre Dame is not immune to the financial problems of the times, and we have been forced to reduce expenditures in some of the nonrevenue-producing sports. However, because of the continuing popularity of our football team, our retrenchment has been minor compared to many schools. As long as this popularity continues, which we trust will be for a long time, the intercollegiate athletic program at Notre Dame should not suffer seriously.


Q. Does the football program here help support all the other athletic programs?

A. Yes, with the exception of basketball which more than pays for itself. Hockey, which is relatively new at Notre Dame, is a revenue-producing sport and should become self-sufficient in time. All the other sports generate little or no revenue.


Q. What role does Notre Dame play in the NCAA? Is Notre Dame’s role weakened because it is independent?

A. Notre Dame is one of the 692-member institutions of the NCAA. Obviously, our single vote is not going to have a decisive impact on legislation. However, because of our prestige, I am sure that we command a respectful audience on the floor of the NCAA convention. WE are also able to speak out much more forcefully as an independent than if we were submerged in a conference. I like to think that we are looked up to, albeit jealously at times, by many of our sister instituions for our successful and honest program.


Q. There has been much press coverage of the August NCAA meeting in Chicago. How you would characterize the meeting? What decisions affected Notre Dame?

A. I was out of the country in mid-August when the NCAA held its special “economy” convention. So I am unable to give you my personal reaction to the meeting. Mr. Krause and Col. Stephens represented the University and they felt that some of the new legislation was reasonable while some was of dubious benefit. I suspect that the regular convention of the NCAA in January 1976 will reconsider portions of the legislation which were passed in August. The limitation on the football traveling squad is particularly unpopular.


Q. Father, there is real concern that intercollegiate athletics are in serious trouble. Why is this? Is the NCAA dealing effectively with these problems, in your opinion?

A. When we speak of intercollegiate athletics being in trouble today, we have to remember that departments of English and physics and accounting are also in trouble. All are feeling the financial pinch and could use more money. It may be that athletic swill suffer more than the others since it is not as high on a university’s priority list of necessary expenditures.

The NCAA is just beginning to concern itself with the economic problems of athletics, and it is far too early to judge whether it has had any effectiveness. Given the nature of the organization, I am not sanguine about its ability to deal with financial problems which differ from school to school. I also fear that shortsighted legislation could be passed which will seriously weaken the now-flourishing football programs. The damage of this is already giving rise to the possibility of establishing a new division within the NCAA of those schools (about 70 in total) which now sponsor major football teams.


Q. Dr. Stephen Horn, president of Long Beach State, suggested at the recent NCAA meeting that large school share their profits from television with all the other schools in the three divisions of the NCAA. What do you think of this idea? What would Horn’s idea mean to Notre Dame?

A. I have to wonder whether President Horn is truly serious about his various proposals or whether he is just enjoying a gadfly position. The sharing of television revenues with the hundreds of schools in the NCAA is, on the face of it, utterly ridiculous. If Dr. Horn wants the University of Southern California, his next-door neighbor, to share its television revenues with Long Beach State why not also ask for a share in Southern Cal’s gate receipts or even its endowment income? Does Dr. Horn’s generosity work both ways? Would he be willing to share the annual appropriations Long Beach State receives from the State of California with U.S.C., a private institution?

Furthermore, even if institutions were forced to take the socialistic route implied in Dr. Horn’s scheme, the desired objective would not be achieved. A distribution of television revenues among all NCAA members would result in only a few thousand dollars to each institution. Its effect would be miniscule. On the other hand it would certainly downgrade the programs of those schools who now do appeal to the television public. Thus, it is conceivable that all television revenues would soon be lost if the Horn proposal were adopted.


Q. Notre Dame appears on television more than most colleges. Will Notre Dame get rich while other teams get poorer? Can Notre Dame afford to ignore the financial problems of other schools?

A. There are a number of schools that appear on television as often as Notre Dame, and there are a few schools that possibly realize more revenue from television than we do. It isn’t necessarily because of television that some schools receive more football revenue than others. Certainly Michigan, with its 101,000 capacity stadium, grosses more than Indiana with a stadium half that size. Furthermore, attracting more revenue from football does not automatically give one school an insuperable competitive advantage over a sister institution. We are all bound by the same recruiting rules, the same limitation on squad sizes, etc. Success is due to many factors aside from the obvious monetary ones. I am quite certain that Notre Dame traditionally has spent far less on its football program than many other schools which have not had our success for one reason or another.

Naturally, I sympathize with the financial problems that other schools are having. I also worry about our own. If your question implies that Notre Dame should help subsidize the less successful schools, either by revenue-sharing or by direct grants, my answer would be that this is the worst possible way of strengthening intercollegiate athletics. Incidentally, the continuing strength and popularity of the Notre Dame football team are an important contribution to intercollegiate football in general.


Q. Coach Royal of the University of Texas says that the big schools may wave good-bye to the NCAA if small schools insist on getting part of television and bowl game receipts. Do you agree with his position? Do you think it is in the interest of schools like Notre Dame to actively work to prevent the fall of football at small schools?

A. I can’t believe that small schools will insist on sharing the receipts of television and bowl games. Where does the sharing begin and where does it end? Should all gate receipts be shared? All endowments? The NCAA Council is on record as dramatically opposed to these socialistic suggestions. I daresay many schools, both large and small, would secede if a “share the wealth” concept were legislated.

Notre Dame can best contribute to the health of intercollegiate football by maintaining its program on a high level. If intercollegiate football programs were downgraded to the least common denominator, all schools would suffer, the small as well as the large. I don’t believe there is any way the major football schools can artificially help sustain football programs at schools with different outlooks and different objectives. The important thing is that there be an equality of opportunity for all. This is why there are NCAA rules pertaining to recruitment, practice sessions, squad sizes, etc.

Incidentally, it may come as a surprise to you but in the past 10 years there have been more colleges inaugurating football programs than there were institutions discontinuing the sport.


Q. What does it mean to Notre Dame when a school like the University of Vermont decides to drop football? Can college football as we know it survive the demise of schools like Vermont? What will save these schools? Will football at Notre Dame be the same if only the big schools’ teams survive?

A. I don’t know enough about the situation at the University of Vermont to comment on it. It may have been a wise decision; it may have been an unfortunate one. I do know that change is inevitable, and it is useless to get upset because the intercollegiate football picture is changing. At one time baseball was the major college sport. Today it attracts only a handful of spectators and no gate receipts. The enormous popularity of pro football has taken college football out of the limelight, and it is quite conceivable that the college game, as we know it, will someday be extinct. However, the demise of a few schools doesn’t necessarily mean total extinction for all. There always have been varying levels of expertise and competition in intercollegiate football just as there are levels of competition in high school football. Do we need 150 triple A teams in college football? What is the optimum number? One hundred? Fifty? I don’t know. The important thing is that no one school should be foreclosed from being among the number if it aspires to this objective.


Q. Some critics of big-time college football contend that universities like Notre Dame are simply camps for professional teams. How would you answer that charge?

A. There are several types of critics of big-time football. Some sincerely believe that an overemphasis on sports is a weakness of our civilization, and that athletic pursuits should be downplayed in academe. Others betray their chief interest—which is gaining an audience—by speaking from ignorance on the subject. A third variety is the sportswriter who revels in controversy as a time-proven method of selling more newspapers.

Now, as to the charge that colleges like Notre Dame are camps for professional teams, I would ask the critic simply to look at the record. The implication of this charge is that neither the student-athlete himself nor the University is interested in the former’s education. In actual fact, we are far more interested in a boy’s academic training than we are in a professional football career for him. And we have no places in our curriculum where the athlete is coddled. From my personal acquaintance with generations of Notre Dame football players, I can vouch that a pro career, if considered at all, is secondary to his classroom education. The fact that nearly 100 per cent of our varsity players graduate bears this out. Less than 10 per cent of the players go into the pro ranks. A much larger percentage continue their education in graduate school. Notre Dame is second in the nation (after the Air Force Academy) in having its varsity athletes win NCAA scholarships for graduate studies.


Q. Do you think college football is a valid part of a college education? Some critics say that college should simply field professional teams and forget trying to educate their players. What do you think of this idea?

A. I think that a wide assortment of intercollegiate sports is not only a valid part of the college experience but an inevitable one. Football just happens to be the most glamorous sport on the American scene. Participation in athletics has long been a characteristic of civilized man. College students are just reaching the peak of their physical strength, and it is only natural that they would like to test their skills and aptitudes against their peers. Varsity teams are not imposed on students. They evolve quite naturally from the ranks of the student body. For instance, the best tennis players at Stanford will want to compete against those at U.C.L.A. The squad members themselves press for good coaching, adequate facilities, and, finally, for grants-in-aid so they can attract the best talent to their school. Each collegiate sport, including football, has similar built-in mechanisms for growth. Football and basketball differ from the other sports in that they are exciting to watch and bring a multitude of paying customers through the turnstiles. Because of this fortuitous popularity the entire collegiate athletic program benefits from cash resources that otherwise would not be available

In regard to what I trust is a facetious suggestion that college sponsor professional football teams with full-time salaried players, I would simply say that no self-respecting university should be interested. If we cannot maintain a football program which is compatible with the education of the players, then we should turn our attention to other sports. Why is that the critics overlook the proven value of education for the vast majority of varsity football players—as testified to by the players themselves?


Q. A Sports Illustrated writer say that big-time football controls the NCAA and that the organization will make no change not approved by the big-time football interests. Do you agree?

A.  It is not my impression that big-time football controls the NCAA in any fashion. It seems to me that many pieces of legislation over the years were quite contrary to what the major football powers would have desired. On the other hand, I think the NCAA should be cautious about changes that are seriously detrimental to collegiate football revenues. It is the later that is providing the financial wherewithal for other campus sports.


Q. What about intramural and club sports at Notre Dame? What is the purpose of each and how are they performing?

A. The intramural program under the direction of Mr. Napolitano is a very comprehensive one at Notre Dame and is quite popular as witnessed by the fact that there were 7,191 participants in it last year. The three categories of organized athletic activity on the Notre Dame campus each serves a specific purpose. The intramural program is for those who have either less time or less talent but who nevertheless enjoy the exercise and recreation that intramural competition provides. The varsity sports are for the highly talented athletes who wish to develop their skills and test them against similarly talented athletes from other institutions. Club sports have been a fairly recent development on the Notre Dame campus and serve an intermediate function. Generally they encompass evolving sports at Notre Dame such as rugby, lacrosse and crew. Someday, these sports may have varsity status if the financial resources are available to provide them with expert coaching and larger budgets. Several of the current varsity sports, hockey, swimming and wrestling, for example, served apprenticeships as club sports. The club sports do, of course, engage in intercollegiate competition with equivalent clubs from other schools. They also provide for most of their own financing and management. We have noted that this responsibility frequently contributes to the maturity of the club members and certainly to their esprit de corps. Many clubs like the autonomy they have over their own affairs and do not aspire to varsity status.


Q. Many universities appear to be scared to death of the implications of Title IX. How do you view the law and what does it mean to Notre Dame?

A. I have no objection to Title IX which simply looks to an equality of opportunity for women in athletics as well as other fields of endeavor. I am sure that all of us at Notre Dame subscribe to this objective. But what I do criticize severely are the athletic rules and regulations which have been promulgated by HEW as a consequence of Title IX. The nation’s universities have reason to be upset. To my mind the HEW guidelines are often ambiguous, unrealistic and lend themselves to incredibly unfortunate interpretations. We simply have to hope that the bureaucrats who do the interpreting are more knowledgeable and reasonable than those who wrote the guidelines.

I hope we need not be concerned about women’s sports at Notre Dame. I would like to see a comprehensive program develop within a reasonable time frame. I trust that there will be enough interest on the part of our women to warrant this. I think that intercollegiate competition will develop via the club route with some sports evolving more rapidly than others into varsity programs.

This is not an inappropriate place to suggest that the availability of financial resources has an important bearing on the components of an athletic program, both for men and women. For instance, HEW interpretations to the contrary, there is no way that Notre Dame could spend as much money on its women’s field hockey team as it does on its men’s football team unless, of course, the field hockey team could fill our stadium with paying customers.


Q. Father, why is that so many college presidents have left the job of running the athletic department to former coaches and athletic directors? For example, Dr. Horn says he became interested in athletics when he launched his own investigation into the school’s athletic program after he learned that the NCAA was probing its activities. He said he stayed interested because he couldn’t “spare the time for another investigation.” Do you foresee that more college presidents will be more actively involved in intercollegiate sports? If so, what does this mean and is it a good development for colleges?

A. College presidents are extremely busy people. They depend upon responsible persons underneath them to manage various facets of the institution. It would be unrealistic to expect a president to become directly involved in the day-to-day operation of the athletic department any more than he would in the operations of an academic department. Most athletic directors have done a conscientious job of running a complicated business; most coaches are men of integrity. Where scandals have arisen it is usually because a president’s trust in his representative has been misplaced. The president who might have had some inkling of abusive practices at his institution and who did nothing to correct them or warn his people about them can certainly be justifiably criticized. I do not believe there have been many presidents of this ilk.

Most presidents are taking an interest in college athletics today because of the financial crisis in the schools and because intercollegiate athletics are no longer as lucrative as they were in the past. As they are finding it necessary to establish spending priorities at their institutions, they are forced to take a close look at athletic expenditures.


Q. What about the program of ethics in intercollegiate athletics? Are there widespread cheating and bending of NCAA rules by some coaches? Is this a serious problem?

A. Over the years there obviously have been cases of rule violations on the part of some coaches, generally in the highly popular competitive sports of football and basketball. The stakes were high; a few men succumbed to the temptation to reach for the heights by devious means. Sooner or later they were generally uncovered, and the athletic programs at their schools suffered grievously.

Today I am of the opinion that there is relatively little rule-bending in football among the schools that are prominent in the sport. Most of the major abuses have been checked; the schools are better able to keep tabs on one another and the penalties for violations of the rules are quite severe.

I wish I could say the same thing about basketball. Coach Phelps tells me that he and other coaches are quite concerned about continuing abuses in this sport. There are many more schools striving for national recognition in basketball than there are in football. Also, the recruitment of even one or two super athletes can sometimes bring quick success. Thus, the temptation to cut corners is more widespread and evident in basketball than in football.


Q. Let’s move on to the recruiting outstanding athletes. Is it healthy to have dozens of schools competing for young athletes? Do you think such activity reflects favorably on an institution of higher learning?

A. There is a natural wholesome desire for a college athletic team to be successful in its competition with other schools. As long as this feeling persists there will be some kind of recruitment of outstanding athletes. Such recruitment becomes pernicious only when undue pressure or illegal inducements are used to attract high school athletes. Abuses evidently do occur from time to time, particularly in the sports of football and basketball, and these we deplore. I have been gratified over the years to read statements from many Notre Dame athletes that they were favorably impressed by the low-pressure, factual and honest way they were recruited to Notre Dame. This kind of recruitment is an aid to a young man who has to make a choice between different kinds of institutions.


Q. What do you think of the idea of a national college football championship?

A. I think it would be a splendid thing for college football if the logistics could be worked out. It would engender intense national interest and would enable colleges to compete more evenly with the pros for spectator interest. In the format that I have been proposing for a national play-off, the vested interests of the bowls would be protected. I visualize the play-off beginning on January 1 utilizing the four major bowls: Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton. The four winners would play the following week in the semifinals. On or about January 15 the two finals would then play in the College Superbowl for an undisputed national title. What makes this format feasible is the fact that most schools are now on an academic calendar which has the first semester ending before Christmas and the second semester beginning after mid-January. Thus, the play-off games would take place during a vacation period.


Q. Will Notre Dame increase the size of its stadium?

A. Not in the foreseeable future. Our present stadium was not structurally designed to take a second deck. We feel that the addition of ten to twenty thousand seats would involve an uneconomic “cost per seat.” Adding 40,000 seats would bring the unit cost down but would involve a serious gamble on the continuing popularity of Notre Dame football.


Q. Is the bow game money still going to minority students at Notre Dame? Do you think it was a good idea for Notre Dame to play in bowls?

A. Not all of the net bowl receipts have been used for minority scholarships but the latter still benefit from the income on an endowed fund which received its seed money from bowl receipts.

Bowl receipts have been useful, although they generally amount to less than one-half-of-one-per cent of Notre Dame’s gross revenues.

I think Notre Dame’s participation in bowl games has been a good move. It has achieved the primary objective that we had hoped for—namely, adding to the popularity of the college game. Our two games with Alabama as well as the two against Texas were marvelous contests. (I refrain from saying the same about our Orange Bowl game with Nebraska in 1973!)


Q. Do you think Notre Dame and the other top 75 or so schools could get along with 65 football scholarship players?

A. No, I think 65 players are far too few to maintain college football at the caliber it now is. Obviously I would hate to see the game affected adversely.


Q. Do you think it wise for member institutions to take legal action against the NCAA if they disagree with a particular decision?

A. I think it is unfortunate that the NCAA has to be take to court by one of its member institutions, but I can understand the frustration which leads to this action. I wish there were a way of redressing the inequities without the necessity of court action. It is not a simple matter, however. Many, many schools are unhappy about the constant stream of dubiously warranted rules emanating from the NCAA.


Q. Do you think the time has arrived when most college are becoming forced to be super promoters in the style of professional sports to compete for the athletic dollar and is it possible for Notre Dame to make more money from athletic-related ventures?

A. Colleges with major football programs have always promoted the sport since it traditionally provides the financial support for the rest of the intercollegiate program. There is nothing wrong with such promotion as long as it is done with dignity and within a college context.

As far as new revenues are concerned, I believe a national play-off would offer the best possibility of additional income. Hopefully, Notre Dame would be in such a play-off from time to time.