After years of bitter feuding that has crippled the United States' efforts in the Olympics and other international sports events, this country's long-standing amateur athletic war is near a truce.
Relations between the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the major participants in the wrangling, remain strained. However, both have contributed substantially toward easing the friction (and weakening their influence in the process) by increasing the power of the once-feeble United States Olympic Committee (USOC) since the 1976 Games.
As a result, the USOC is emerging as the long-heralded czar of international amateur sports in the United States, a position USOC officials now are actively courting.
"There should be some central sports organization in this country to run things, and no one is better qualified for the job," said USOC president Robert Kane. "Do we want the job? Very much."
In the past, the USOC, as discus thrower Mac Wilkins once put it, "used to show up every four years at the Olympics. But you never heard from them in between the games."
But the USOC's position in the amateur sports world was altered dramatically by actions at the organization's biannual convention last month in Colorado Springs, Colo. The full impact of that meeting is still being measured by various sports officials, but they are sure of this much:
The AUU, at least on a national level, has suffered a major loss of power and prestige. The AAU now must give up its governing authority over the eight Olympic sports it currently controls and let those sports form their own separate governing bodies.
The NCAA, which left the Olympic movement in 1972 because of what it considered to be the AUU's stranglehold on the USOC, can now rejoin with the knowledge that most of the changes it has been seeking in the USOC have been made.
Athletes have gained substantial power within the organized structure of the Olympic movement. They now will have a recognized forum from which they can help run the various individual Olympic and Pan-American sports.
If the changes passed at Colorado Springs are implemented as written, then the United States will be able to put together a much more coordinated and potentially stronger effort at the 1980 Games than was the case in 1972 or 1976.
Although the AAU and NCAA have not exchanged olive branches, USOC officials believe that they finally are in a strong enough position to overcome any continuing internal disruptions.
"I don't say that there will be no more feuding," said F. Don Miller, executive director of the USOC, "but, in my judgment, it is being reduced. I think in the near future all groups will work in harmony."
The USOC, which has been in constant turmoil for two decades because of the NCAA-AAU battling, previously had shown no inclination to assume the responsibility of amateur sports czar, a role many AAU officials thought their group should fill.
But a combination of the drubbing dealt the U.S. by the Soviet Union and East Germany at Montreal and the findings of the President's Commission on Olympic Sports changed USOC's stance.
The USOC and other amateur sports groups were gravely concerned by what happened at Montreal. While its organization effort was improved over the foulups of Munich, the United States discovered in Montreal that it was losing ground in its struggle to keep pace with the communist block countries' sophisticated approach to sports development.
"We had to all be pointing toward the same goal," said Kane. "If you aren't working together, you can't have the strength you need. We needed to get stronger.
The report of the President's commission provided final impetus. Released in January, the two-volume report was hailed as the first truly impartial, complete study of the state of amateur athletics in this country. Its far-reaching recommendations, designed to straighten out what it considered the organizational disarrary of the Olympic movement, were given further emphasis by the support of the four U.S. senators who served on the commission. Uppermost among the recommendations was that the USOC become this country's amateur sports ruler.
"The commission report brought a different psychology to amateur sports," said Kane. "Here was a detached, bipartisan panel that took a year and a half to do its research.
"Its report released the shackles on our organization and brought in common sense. A lot of these ideas had been talked about for years but it took an outside force to bring them about. We had always been our own judge and jury, our own plaintiff and defendant. It wasn't a conducive atmosphere for change."
Change also were forced by the threat of federal interference. Amateur officials are quick to point out that all improvements have been made voluntarily. But they also admit that they were convinced that, if they didn't act, Congress eventually would, backed by findings of the President's commission.
Now the USOC is prepared to approach Congress for help of a different kind: money. To fully implement many of those proposed changes, the USOC needs financial support that can come only through federal law. And to truly be the ruler of U.S. amateur sports, it needs to have its charter (Public Law 805) altered through legislation so it can also include under the USOC umbrella all non-Olympic and Pan American sports.
Congressional action, possibly by the Fall, is expected by the USOC, mainly because the Olympic movement has pleased politicans by adopting virtually every general change recommended by the President's commission. In some cases, the USOC approved commission proposals almost word for word.
Both the speed and the range of the changes in the USOC have surprised many amateur sports observers. Just as shocking was the voting pattern at the Colorado Springs meeting, where for the first time in memory, factions of the AAU vigorously opposed other AAU factions.
"Many oldtime AAU types were bitterly opposed to what was happening," said one ranking amateur official. "But others realized that it was time for a change, that things couldn't go on like they were."
The AAU, the only leading sports group to oppose major parts of the commission report, did not lose every fight. There were compromises and some retreats by opponents. But the AAU's hold over the eight. Olympic sports it controls was shattered, a goal foes have been seeking for years. These sports are track, swimming, boxing, luge, bobsledding, Judo, weightlifting and wrestling.
"We weren't in agreement with everything that happened at Colorado Springs," said AAU president Joel Ferrell, "but we also have been pushing for years for many of the changes that took place.
"I think the power of the AAU has been misunderstood, anyway. As an overall group, we didn't have the power people gave us. We even stopped our caucus voting four years ago.
But hardline AAU delegates left Colorado Springs disillusioned by what happened. Bob Giegengack, former track coach at Yale and an influencial AAU member, said that, "Some old AAU rednecks accused me of being a traitor because of the way I voted.
"But in my mind, my country comes ahead of the AAU and NCAA. I think we've created the vehicle to satisfy everyone and now it's time for the feuding to stop. If the NCAA doesn't come back in, it will be hard for them to keep sniping from the outside."
Provoking the ire of some of the record 300-plus delegates at Colorado Springs were the major changes made within the USOC structure.
For starters, the USOC reduced its membership and streamlined its administrative arm.
Instead of being run by an 83-member board of directors, a 53-member executive committee and a committee of officers, the USOC now will be controlled by a 70-member executive board, which will set policy, and an 11-member administrative committee, which will handle day-to-day matters.
The USOC also previously had eight classes of membership, encompassing more than 200 organizations ranging from the AAU in the New England Division of the Amateur Fencers League of America. Now there will be just four classes, with most of the power vested in Class A (the individual controlling bodies of each of the Olympic and Pan-American sports). As a result, the number of delegates attending the next convention will be substantially reduced.
In order to reduce its size, the USOC had to convince many of its smaller organizations, particularly those belonging to the AAU, to vote themselves out of the USOC. "That they did so," said Kane, "points out, I think, how much everyone wants to make this Olympic movement work."
Miller, who had to deal daily with the old cumbersome structure, is delighted with the reforms. "Before, it was essential to talk with every board member on decisions, and that took time," he said. "This new structure should make it easier to administer our daily affairs."
No longer can the AAU (or any other multisport organization) hold the international franchise to a number of sports or be a Class A member. Each sport now must have its own governing organization, which must be incorporated and become autonomous from any other group as expeditionusly as possible.
Multisport structures like the AAU and NCAA still can have substantial influence as to how the various sports competitions will be conducted. But they first must become part of each sport's administrative organization.
As a result, Ferrell said the AAU's role "on a regional basis will change. We'll move from an umbrella organization to an administrative support group. We can perform administrative task for sports that they otherwise might not be able to afford."
But more important, according to Ferrell, "is that now each sport will be able to determine its own fate. They won't have any outside interference. It puts the welfare and future of each sport in the hands of those people who care most about it."
How autonomy will affect such AAU-controlled small sports like luge, bobsledding and boxing is a major question. AAU-controlled sports such as track and swimming already were nearly autonomous, but the minor sports depend heavily on administrative and financial help from the AAU offices in Indianapolis.
USOC officials eventually would like evey sport to have its own executive director and administrative staff. But money to support these positions woul have to come from Congress.
Also, a mechanism to handle a challenge to a sports franchise by a competing group has been established, although some aspects concerning binding arbitration still must be voted on by USOC members.
A strengthened athletes bill of rights was approved giving athletes unprecedented protection. Athletes who feel they have been unfairly prevented from competing internationally can file a formal grievance with the USOC. If that complaint is against a USOC member, then the grievance mechansim eventually calls for settlement through binding arbitration.
However, if the grievance is against a group outside the USOC (such as the NCAA), the USOC now has pledged to lend both financial and legal support to the athlete to pursue the case.
In addition, athletes now will have 20 per cent representation on the USOC executive board and on the various sports-franchise governing bodies. They also will have two of the 11 seats on the new USOC administrative board.
"We got virtually everything we've been talking about for four years," said Larry Hough, a member of the executive committee of the Atheltes Advisory Council, a recognized USOC affiliated organization. "We were awfully well-organized and it paid off. I think those people finally realized as weren't a nunch of dumb jocks."
Yet the athletes bill of rights could be the one stumbling block to the NCAA's rejoining the Olympic movement. The NCAA is concerned about the USOC interfering in internal NCAA matters through the grievance mechanism.
"But I think we will now seriously consider whether we want to rejoin," said Tom Hansen, NCAA assistant executive director. "Certainly, the climate between the NCAA and USOC is better than it has been it the past."
Credit for thawing the USOC-NCAA relationship is given to Kane, a former athletic director at Cornell, and Miller, the increasingly powerful USOC executive director who has struck up a healthy rapport with NCAA officials.
Miller and Kane attended the last NCAA convention in January and welcomed the participation of the NCAA (through a USOC-affiliated organization, the National Association of College Athletic Directors) in pre-Colorado Springs policy meetings. Many of the NCAA viewpoints were approved as prposed USOC constitution amendments by the USOC board of directors at those meetings.
Michael Scott, NCAA counsel, attended that Colorado Springs convention as a gymnastics federation delegate. He emerged as one of the leading powerbrokers at the convention, although he was unable to obtain everything the NCAA wanted from the gathering.
Whether this unofficial NCAA participation will ease that group's re-entry into USOC is another question. If the NCAA does return, it will not be as strong or as influential as when it left, although USOC officials still feel their organization would be better served by full-fledged NCAA membership.
"Things have happened very fast and the for the best of every amateur sport," said Kane. "We're all catching our breath now and trying to see what the future holds.
"We've taken steps that our critics have said we should take. I think we've done much to solve many of our most nagging problems.
"The key now is to find out how what we have done will work. In my opinion, it means a new era for the Olympic movement in this country."