The College Football Association today took another step toward a confrontation with the National Collegiate Athletic Association by conditionally ratifying a four-year contract with NBC-TV that would conflict with the recent contract the NCAA signed with ABC and CBS.
The 61 members of the CFA will vote again Sept. 10; it is that vote that will determine whether they go ahead with the contract. Today's vote, taken after six hours of discussion, was 33-20, much closer than CFA officials had hoped. Five members abstained and three others did not cast ballots.
Atlantic Coast Conference schools favored the move, 7-1. Only North Carolina voted no.
The CFA did not announce the vote breakdown. Instead, Executive Director Charles M. Neinas said, "Over 62 percent of those voting approved the contract."
A poll of athletic directors and other administrators here showed that the Southeastern Conference schools voted for the contract, 6-4; Big Eight, 6-2 in favor, with Missouri and Iowa State voting no; Southwest Conference, five yes votes, with four nos or abstentions; Western Athletic Conference, seven nos and two abstentions, and nine of the 17 independents voted yes. The certain no votes among the independents came from Army, Navy, Boston College and Syracuse.
With only 33 members voting in favor, the CFA now is faced with the task of convincing more schools to go along with the package to make it viable for NBC.
The CFA contends that the schools, not the NCAA, hold the property rights for TV contracts. The NCAA maintains that its bylaws make it the negotiating agent for member schools.
"We realize there may be some litigation before this is over," said Philip Hochberg, the legal counsel for the CFA. "But we feel we are on firm legal ground."
Whether the battle will ever reach court is uncertain after today's vote. Most delegates leaving the meeting seemed to feel that today's vote was quite tentative.
"There's still a lot of talking to be done," said Frank Broyles, Arkansas athletic director, an advocate of the TV package. "It won't be until Sept. 10 that the vote that really counts comes about."
Today's vote may have been a defeat for Neinas, the major advocate of the package. He had lobbied heavily all week for a substantial majority so that there would be no doubt about the CFA's intention to go ahead with the package. Now, there is clearly room for the NCAA to maneuver.
"We don't intend to do anything in the next three weeks," said Tom Hansen, one of three NCAA representatives attending the sessions. "I think it's the CFA that will be doing most of the work."
Still, Hansen was not making any victory toasts. "I think this is a sad day for collegiate athletics," he said."Any time a group like this ratifies a package outside of what has previously been agreed to, means there is a serious split."
If the CFA does decide on Sept. 10 to go ahead with the contract, which would give the member schools $180 million over four years, NBC would have 10 days to decide whether it wants to go ahead with the package.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," said NBC Sports President Arthur Watson when asked how many schools he felt would be needed to make the package viable.
Crossing that bridge could restructure college athletics if the NCAA decides to create a confrontation with the CFA schools.
Last month, the NCAA signed a four-year $263 million package with ABC and CBS, dividing the television rights between those two networks. The two networks have the option of canceling their contracts if the NCAA cannot deliver the teams. If that happens, it is likely they would renegotiate.
Today, Hansen said there was room for compromise but added, "If the CFA members go ahead with this contract they will be in violation of NCAA rules and I'm sure our membership would feel that some action should be taken against them."
If the NCAA suspended the CFA schools or put them on probation, virtually all intercollegiate athletic programs would be affected since the 61 CFA schools are among the most significant in all sports. Among major conferences, only the Big Ten and Pacific 10 are not members of the CFA.