NASHVILLE, JAN. 6 -- NCAA President Al Witte said today opposition from school presidents will prevent a Division I-A football playoff from occurring before the year 2000.
But NCAA Executive Director Dick Schultz predicted attitudes toward a playoff may change this decade because he believes that if the NFL expands its regular season from 17 to 18 weeks, half of college football's bowl games may disappear within the next four to five years.
Their comments came as NCAA members gathered here for the organization's annual convention to vote on proposed legislation that would place limits on the amount of time Division I and Division II student-athletes can spend on their sports. Under the proposal, those student-athletes would be limited to 20 hours per week and four hours per day while their sport is in-season, with one day off per week required.
Because one of the Division I-A presidents' objections to a football playoff is based on the additional time that would be spent on the sport, it has been believed passage of the time-limit legislation might make them more receptive to the idea.
Schultz was quoted in today's editions of the (Nashville) Tennessean as saying, "If the majority of the reform package passes so that there is some control over the time that athletes spend in practice and games, that will go a long way in easing some of the concerns a college president may have about a football playoff."
Today he clarified that remark, which he said was made in an interview several weeks ago. "I never made the statement in the context that it is important to pass this because it sets the stage for a playoff," he said. "The point I was trying to make was that unless there's a reduction in time demands, the presidents will never consider a playoff under any circumstances because one of their oppositions to a playoff has been there are too many time demands on the players now."
Witte, a law professor and faculty representative from the University of Arkansas, agreed a reduction in time spent on athletics is essential to a change in the presidents' attitudes. But he also said such legislation probably would make little difference.
"I would not predict a football playoff in this century," Witte said during a luncheon with reporters. "I think it's accurate to say that the I-A presidents have been and, so far as I can tell, still are adamantly opposed to a I-A football playoff, whether it's a two-team or a four-team or an eight-team or a 16-team or whatever. . . . I have never heard a I-A president speak in favor of a football playoff. Never. Nobody."
And Pacific-10 Conference Commissioner Tom Hansen, a member of the NCAA postseason football committee, said the presidents are not the only ones against a playoff. "If the coaches and athletic directors and players all wanted a playoff, then you might find the CEOs getting pushed toward one," he said. "But a majority of ADs and a majority of coaches don't want it, and with the rare exception, I've never heard of a student-athlete wanting it."
Hansen also said if the time reforms are adopted, "it seems to me that would signify a direction by the membership that's in direct conflict to a playoff."
Witte said the presidents' objections to the playoff are not only based on time constraints.
"The impact on the student-athletes academically has been given great significance by the presidents," he said, "but there is also the recognition that football, particularly at that level, is a sport that seems to cause a lot of physical attritition, and the physical burden ought to be taken into account. I think the presidents are sensitive to that.
"I think the opposition also is based to some extent on a philosophic notion, and that is that I-A football is already too much of a big-time commercial enterprise. Although the presidents might feel that they haven't yet gotten a handle on how to reduce the current level of commercial enterprise, they can at least make efforts to keep it from getting worse."
However, based on what Schultz said, commercial concerns are what might prompt a move toward a playoff. The NFL expanded its regular season from 16 weeks to 17 this year. It might go to 18 in 1992. Schultz predicted that if the NFL expansion pushes its regular season past Dec. 31, there would not be enough television interest to sustain the current slate of 19 bowl games. He said the resulting attrition could provide the impetus for a playoff.
"I think there's a good possibility we'll have one sometime this decade because of what the NFL is doing," he said. "If they stay in that expanded schedule, we're going to lose about half the bowls within four or five years. And if that happens, I think you'll see a change in attitude. I think you'll see the interest start to increase in having a playoff. . . .
"I'm not selling a playoff. All I'm saying is I think we'll have one, and we'll have one because we'll have a demise of some of the smaller bowls, and because of that, the pressure in four or five years" will be for a playoff.
Steve Hatchell, executive director of the Orange Bowl and chairman of the Football Bowl Association, agreed some bowls could have trouble in the future.
The NFL's schedule expansion "puts pressure on available dates and the advertising pool. . . . Certainly there will be some difficulties."
Representatives of several bowls and the postseason football subcommittee met to discuss the bowl invitation date. That date could be eliminated at this convention, but Hatchell said the bowls would prefer to keep it and institute an enforceable system of penalties.