The Big Eight Athletic Conference voted yesterday to ask the National Collegiate Athletic Association to convene a special membership meeting by Nov. 15 to restructure its top division.
It requested a response from the NCAA by Sept. 9, one day before the deadline for choosing between a multimillion-dollar NCAA football television package and a conflicting package negotiated by the dissident College Football Association.
"The Big Eight Conference chief executive officers agree that no further action should be taken on either the CFA or the NCAA television football package until the NCAA has addressed the fundamental questions of reorganization," said officials of the eight conference schools, which include such football powers as Oklahoma and Nebraska, in a statement.
That statement was issued following a five-hour meeting in Kansas City with Walter Byers, NCAA executive director, at which Byers briefed them on recommendations of an NCAA subcommittee that would reorganize Division IA along lines long sought by most of the nation's collegiate football powers, who also make up the 61 members of the CFA.
Among the subcommittee proposals were a restructuring of Division IA in such a manner that its membership would be pared to between 80 and 90 schools, all of which have similar football programs, and a change in the method of voting on the football television contract. Similar recommendations have been proposed in the past, but they have always been voted down by the NCAA membership, where the CFA member schools are in a minority.
Should the Big Eight Conference win an acceptable response from the NCAA and elect to go along with the $263 million four-year television package the association negotiated with ABC and CBS, it would mark a major setback for the CFA, whose members voted, 33-20, on Aug. 21 for conditional ratification of a conflicting $180 million package with NBC. Big Eight schools voted in favor of the CFA package, 6-2.
As written, the NBC-CFA agreement allows CFA members to opt out of the agreement upon written notice by Sept. 10. Carl James, Big Eight commissioner, said the school officials left open the possibility of a meeting or conference telephone call should there be a response from the NCAA on or before their Sept. 9 deadline. He said:
"There was never any intent to pull out of the NCAA. That is what the Big Eight is saying today. Now is the time to move ahead and find out which way we are going. We're trying to get the NCAA together so we can have a meaningful organization and structure. Past attempts to reorganize into a meaningful division of major football playing schools have not been successful."
James said the Big Eight requested the special NCAA membership meeting because it has no guarantee that the NCAA membership would accept the proposals, even though a subcommittee might recommend reorganization along lines Big Eight members might support.
Byers said only that the association is "pleased to have this expression from the Big Eight Conference and will look forward to receiving a report directly from the conference."
Previously, the NCAA has threatened enforcement action, including the possibility of probation or expulsion for all sports, against schools that opt for the CFA television package. CFA members have responded that such attempts would be challenged in court.
Robert Parks, president of Iowa State University, said the Big Eight was seeking to avoid a possible breakup of the NCAA. "We want to avoid a breakdown that could lead to a breakup of collegiate athletics," said Parks, one of two Big Eight presidents who voted against the CFA plan in Atlanta. Missouri was the other Big Eight school voting against the CFA plan.
CFA members include most of the nation's major collegiate football powers and conferences with the exception of the Big Ten and the Pacific-10.