Washington, D.C., will be 3,000 miles away, but very present today when the conventions of the governing bodies for men's and women's intercollegiate sports open in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively.
More so than in previous years, actions by the federal government during the past year undoubtedly will have a significant impact on the decisions the delegates make about the future courses of their organizations and the sports programs at their colleges.
Both the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women have similar items on their agendas that federal officials here will follow with interest.
Without question, the issue that will command continued and intense debate -- particularly for the NCAA -- is Title 9, the federal law barring sex discrimination in educational programs, including school sports.
Last month, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare issued policy proposals dealing with the financial application of Title 9, proposals that have generated a great deal of controversy within the NCAA.
The proposals, upon which colleges have until Feb. 10 to comment, require them to equalize their average per-capita spending on scholarships, recruiting and other financially measurable items based on the participation rate of male and female athletes.
While the proposals do not exempt revenue-producing sports as the NCAA had sought, they do allow spending disparities resulting from "sex-neutral" factors or the "unique costs" of equipment and recruiting in sports such as football and basketball. Some sectors of the AIAW contend that these disparities amount to a back-door exemption for revenue-producing sports, but the NCAA draws no such interpretation.
While observers from HEW's Office for Civil Rights, which developed the policy proposals, look on, NCAA delegates will grapple for the third consecutive year with a package of economic proposals designed to ease the budget squeeze that inflation and Title 9 have compounded.
There are 13 proposed amendments dealing with financial aid, including the Big Ten Conference's third attempt to limit all student-athletes, except in football and basketball, to tuition, mandatory fees and aid based on need.
Other proposals also would limit the maximum number of financial-aid awards. If such proposals, which were narrowly defeated last year, pass, the average per-capita spending formula would decrease -- possibly meaning less money would have to be spent on the women, as well.
And again this year, there are divisional realignment proposals affecting criteria for basketball and football membership in divisions I and II -- and the costs associated with those programs. Among them is a proposal from the football superpowers (I-A) that would knock some colleges now in that category in the lower-keyed I-AA.
Similarly, the AIAW delegates are facing financial and legal issues that will have ramifications on the men's programs and possibly on their votes. The women will be debating criteria for membership in their three divisions -- such as a required minimum number of sports -- and whether that membership should be on a sport-by-sport basis or program-wide.
Additionally, the AIAW will be considering scholarship limitations, the awarding of aid, recruitment practices and eligibility criteria -- all Title 9 issues that will affect the AIAW rulemaking procedures.
In anticipation of a pending HEW decision on the permissibility of merging men's and women's athletic departments and using common rules, the AIAW has a motion dealing with its position on the issue -- a motion that is guaranteed to spark an impassioned debate since it strikes at the heart of the philosophical schism in the AIAW over its purpose.
The motion states that no member college can adopt or apply rules to student-athletes that are in conflict with AIAW rules.
The proponents argue that such a policy would protect them "from the enforcement of men's rules" on women's programs and simultaneously protect an eligible athlete's right to compete in AIAW events.
Opponents argue that such a policy would deny the colleges the institutional autonomy needed to determine their own program needs and goals.
Besides the observation of HEW officials, the NCAA will be under the scrutiny of representatives of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that conducted almost a year-long probe of the NCAA's investigative and enforcement system. A report is to be issued Monday.
Rep. Jim Santini (D-Nev.), who initiated the congressional probe, and subcommittee staff members will be attending the convention to monitor the membership's response to a number of proposals to reform the system.
During the hearings, several witnesses testified that the NCAA failed to provide them basic fairness and "due process" rights durings NCAA investigations of alleged rule violations.
The NCAA Council rejected most major proposals for changes recommended by subcommittee witnesses after the subcommittee asked for council comment. But the council did put six recommendations on the convention agenda, including one altering the relationship between the infractions committee (judge) and enforcement staff (prosecutor).
But, the convention also will consider a 28-page amendment -- the longest in NCAA history -- from University of Denver Law School professor Burton Brody and eight colleges that would completely substitute for the existing system.
The congressional subcommittee, through Santini, is expected to issue its report on the NCAA hearings with recommendations for changes in the system sometime today.