Federation and reform are the buzzwords for the 84th annual NCAA convention. And they translate to money and academics -- the two issues often at odds when it comes to college sports.
More than 1,900 delegates are expected to set an attendance record in Nashville, Tenn., where college presidents will try to gain control of intercollegiate athletics next Monday through Friday.
"Everybody that's an NCAA observer seems to think that this may be the most important convention the NCAA has had," said Dick Schultz, NCAA executive director. "I think it's an important convention simply because it's another step forward in creating a different model under which we operate our athletic programs."
A total of 119 legislative proposals and resolutions will be considered, and some could change the shape of intercollegiate athletics.
The issue of federation -- or uniting schools with similar philosophies -- comes down to money. Can the smaller schools in Division I afford to keep pace with the college football and basketball powerhouses? The Baltimore area could be affected more than any other region by a package of proposals that would stiffen the requirements for Division I membership.
In economically uncertain times, many of the bigger athletic programs are operating in the red, despite their share of the $1 billion CBS is paying to televise the NCAA basketball tournament for seven years. By making it harder for schools like Towson State and Coppin State to stay in Division I, the big-time schools can keep more of that money for themselves.
"It's a classic struggle," Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger said recently. "Somebody has to tell me how this part of the reform package is going to pass, because I think there are more little guys out there than there are big guys. This could turn into a bitter fight at the convention."
The "Special Committee to Re-evaluate the Membership" explored the large gap in philosophy between the 296 members in Division I. At the bottom of Division I, colleges with smaller budgets and programs could be forced to spend more on scholarships and add teams.
Public universities such as Coppin State, Morgan State, Towson State and UMBC could be forced to fund at least 25 scholarships for men and 25 for women, not counting those given in football and basketball. Right now, all those local schools offer fewer than the proposed minimum of 25 scholarships.
In Loyola's case, the pertinent formula would force the Greyhounds to spend approximately $306,000 on scholarships for the so-called non-revenue sports on both the men's and women's sides. This year Loyola meets that formula with its men, but it could have to spend another $101,660 on its women's teams.
Proposal 46 deals with the scholarship minimums, but it could lose some of its teeth if one of its funding formulas is allowed to include federal aid, which would probably take pressure off Coppin, Morgan and Maryland-Eastern Shore, all members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
In the most extreme cases, if the new Division I requirements are approved, they would force some colleges to leave Division I if they aren't in compliance by 1993-94. But as Maryland's Geiger bTC said, the issue could come down to the haves against the have-nots, and the latter might have more votes.
Schultz, however, feels that minimum standards for Division I are a must.
"A number of schools play Division I basketball only," Schultz said. "Their other programs are not much more than club sports. There's absolutely no intent on anybody's part to cull out 50 schools. They're saying, 'If you're going to be in Division I, we think you ought to meet this minimum criteria.' "
The other part of the money issue involves proposals that should help big-time schools ease their budget deficits. Major conference powers would have to trim 10 percent of their scholarships across the board, cut back their coaching staffs, schedules, travel, recruiting and abolish athletic dormitories.
The battles over those proposals are being fought at every big-time school that has an athletic director who needs to save money and a football or basketball coach who doesn't want to scale down his program. In most cases, it's the athletic directors who will be coming to Nashville to vote.
On the issue of academics, proposals at this convention will continue the reform movement that began with the passage of Proposition 48 in 1983. This year's package, if passed, would require Division I members to disclose their graduation rates and graduate at least 50 percent of their scholarship athletes.
The Knight Commission, an influential independent group that includes former university executives, has pushed the academic reforms. At odds with that movement are proposals that would add a fifth year of eligibility for all athletes, and a fourth year for athletes who must sit out as freshmen under Proposition 48 (later known as Proposal 42).