The National Collegiate Athletic Association has proposed to its membership a new set of rules designed to speed its skid down the greasy chute of professionalism and its toadying to the football powers among the nation's colleges. If a college does not play Class I football, it can no longer play Class I basketball unless it fulfills the following conditions: it must compete in eight men's intercollegiate sports (women's sports never did mean much to the NCAA); its basketball games must draw an average of 3,500 paid spectators and a season average of 110,000; in all the eight sports in which it competes it must offer half of the maximum number of scholarships allowed by NCAA rules. These three conditions will eliminate at least 40 colleges from the NCAA basketball championships, concentrate revenues in the hands of major football colleges and establish a precedent under which all non-football colleges could be squeezed out of all NCAA competition. That competition is lucrative, and as fewer and fewer colleges share in the pie, those remaining get larger slices.
The NCAA's purpose seems to be to make certain that no Goliath on the athletic landscape can ever be challenged by a David, much less defeated by one. I wonder if the worthies who have thought up this plan have reflected on some of its other implications. Let us reexamine the historic bout between David and Goliath in NCAA terms.
The Philistines were a first-class outfit. Whatever Division I means, Philistines would have been in it. They spent their money on good equipment, as up-to-date and as heavy as armorers could make in those days. Their fighters were men of war "from their youth" and thus adequate training, scholarship support and the salaries of coaches and trainers were assured. The Philistine army had its fair share of camp followers; and thus the ancient equivalents of the media, PR flacks and promotional types were adequately wined, dined, housed, and cherished. The Philistines knew how to do things, and would have been quite comfortable among the football barons of the NCAA.
Everything we can learn from the First Book of Samuel about the Israelites goes the other way. Their champion, young David, had clearly never done any serious fighting before. He could say, "The Lord delivered me out of the paw of the lion and out of the paw of the bear, and he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine," but that is hardly what you call adequate training. He was exactly what the scriptures make him out to be, a raw, brave kid with a slingshot.
The Israelites clearly fell short of Division I in good NCAA terms. Saul was much too tight to spend money on armor that weighed "500 shekels of brass" for a breastplate or on weapons that ran to "600 shekels of iron" for a spear. I'm not sure what the scriptural equivalent of a scholarship was, and David was indeed promised "great riches," a "house free in Israel," and even the king's daughter. But obviously that had to be a limited offer, if only because the king didn't have that many daughters.
At first the engagement went according to the NCAA's rules. Goliath came down and "cried unto the armies of Israel and said unto them, why are ye come out to set your battle in array . . . choose a man for you and let him come down to me." He acted like any good Division I coach, and the results were predictable: "Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine. . . they were dismayed and greatly afraid." Then the NCAA's vision of the world began to come apart as the kid with the slingshot began to do his thing. The text is perfectly clear; "David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone and smote him and slew him." Goliath of Division I "fell upon his face to the earth."
All of us in the United States can think of another instance that pitched David against the Goliath: in the hockey rink at the last Olympics. To the NCAA mind that may not have been a parallel case because it involved politics. A bunch of feisty college kids knocked a team of Russian professionals off the ice, and we all enjoyed the upset. The NCAA, however, knows that intercollegiate athletics is not a political contest, that things a great deal more important than politics are at stake, to wit, television revenues, professional contracts and good public relations.
It seems of no concern to the NCAA conscience that its new rules are prejudicial to small colleges, above all to small private colleges. The schools most likely to be knocked out of national competition are just those that still care whether or not their student athletes get an education on their way to a professional contract and glory. George Washington University and American University are two local examples. My own school, Georgetown University, should not be affected by the change -- yet.
Far less than half of Division I athletes who "graduate" to pro teams do so with a college degree, despite four years of "attendance." The NCAA still deludes itself that the bigger the sports program the better the education. All of our common sense and experience tells us that just isn't so.
I don't know whether it will be possible for the small schools to defend themselves against the big ones at the next NCAA meeting. If they can't, for all our national athletic future no self- respecting, income-producing, professionally oriented Division I Goliath need ever face a David from some upstart college with only a sling and "five smooth stones out of the brook," in his hand. Were the NCAA given to exegesis, it would, in the best traditions of organized sporting greed, call the combat between David and Goliath a "mismatch," not because it objects to the giant but because it objects to the boy.