This article originally appeared in the November 1978 issue of AB with the headline, “One Set of Rules for All Student-Athletes.”
John Toner, athletic director, University of Connecticut, updates his remarks made at the NACDA Convention on the structure of men’s and women’s athletic administration.
John Toner, University of Connecticut’s athletic director, has a way of getting to the core of a problem in an easy, matter-of-fact manner. This has been, and is, an asset in his emerging role in national collegiate athletic administration.
Toner believes it’s vital to participate, to contribute. In relatively few years, since he was able to devote full time to his athletic directorship, Toner’s national assignments have been expanding.
So, at the June National Association Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) meeting in Denver, we asked John for an interview.
Before getting on to your views, let’s briefly touch upon your background. We know you were raised on that historic island of Nantucket. What were athletics like there as a youth?
The island is small, as you know. When tourists aren’t there, its population is 4,000. As a youth I used to wonder how I would stack up to other youths in other places. High school athletics provided that opportunity. We not only competed but we housed and fed our opponents who traveled the 30 miles of ocean, and we were treated similarly whenever we traveled. I believed that experience did more for my development that did anything else.
That you went to Boston University as a teenager to play football speaks for itself.
Yes, along with my high school coach, Harry Cleverly, who joined the BU staff at that time.
Where did you gain your coaching and administrative experience prior to the University of Connecticut?
Four years assistant to Buff Donelli at BU, then head football coach at New Britain (Conn.) High School for three years. After that it was Columbia for nine years as assistant football coach plus other assignments. I came to the University of Connecticut in March of 1966 as head football coach.
When did you become the athletic director as well as head coach?
During the fourth and fifth year (1969 & 1970), I carried both jobs. Since then, my responsibility has been that of athletic director. It was only after becoming a full-time administrator that I got seriously involved in athletic affairs beyond our own campus.
Before going on to your activities on a regional and national basis, please tell us a bit about the University of Connecticut.
The main campus is at Storrs. In addition, there are five university two-year branches. There are about 24,000 students in the system. We support 23 varsity programs.
How does your responsibility include these other campuses? How is your division structured?
The director of athletics is responsible for all athletics at the six campuses including intramural, recreation, club, as well as intercollegiate sports for men and women. The director reports to the president. An athletic advisory committee of faculty, staff, students, alumni—men and women—shape policy.
That ties in well with the philosophy you expressed today at this NACDA meeting. This noteworthy session was keynoted by Dr. Joe Schabacker, professor of management, Arizona State University. It appears this particular session could be a catalyst for the formation of a united men’s and women’s national athletic governing body. What you had to say at this time was listened to thoughtfully by those present. When did you start your official capacity in NACDA, in the NCAA?
I was president of the ECAC in 1973 & 1974, and chairman of its Eligibility Committee in 1976. I was elected to the NCAA council in January of 1977.
Right now you are in the midst of some key NCAA activities. Last January in Atlanta we heard your acceptance as the chairman of the NCAA Eligibility Committee. What are the committee’s priorities?
This committee deals with student-athlete eligibility matters.
You just went to Washington appearing before the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Mismanagement to represent the NCAA Eligibility Committee. What was the issue of this investigation?
It was to examine procedures employed by the NCAA Eligibility Committee, Infractions Committee and enforcement program. I was privileged to represent the function and record of all previous Eligibility Committee members.
Let’s go back to your recent statements at NACDA where you mentioned a one-set-of-rules policy.
It is very difficult to be able to read the future in regards to what our institutions will be required to d0 by the regulations of Title IX. This may get philosophical to some extent, but I feel that the membership of national associations are institutions and not individuals. They should not try to legislate rules affecting individuals from the top down. Rather, institutions should develop the kinds of rules they wish applied to all of their students, and they influence changes in the national organizations from the bottom up. I’d like the opportunity to apply one set of rules at Connecticut.
I mentioned in my remarks that I was not interested in the nuts and bolts approach to a reorganization challenge. We have probably covered as much ground today as we can, but I will agree to spend some time developing what I would consider the nuts and bolts of the NCAA expanded to include championships for women. I’ll send them to you if you would like them. You may be free to publish them.
A New Structure for Athletics—Model or Myth?
From John Toner’s Speech at the NACDA Convention
I believe in the concept of a structure for athletics that follows the simple pattern we utilize in national, state, and local government. And I believe in the structure most colleges and universities maintain: a governing body, one chief executive officer, one vice president for student affairs, one catalogue defining one set of rules for all, one student body.
At national convention time in 1974, when women everywhere were requesting expanded programs and greater emphasis in competitive athletics, I, quite naturally I believe, responded with support for instituting women’s championships within the existing programs of the institution, the playing conferences and the NCAA in the exact manner competition for men has been developed over the past 50 years.
When it became apparent that women wanted it differently, I and many of similar persuasion, backed off and supported a separate structure for the governance and administration of athletic programs for women.
It seemed to be the expedient and right thing to do. Passions and politics influenced and dictated the way.
Now, however, the “battle” seems to be in the wane. Women’s programs have prospered, have passed a test of time. They have demonstrated staying power. With strong leadership they have built a national organization that espouses philosophy and regulates student-athlete eligibility, institutional behavior and championships in a variety of intercollegiate sports.
With all of this, however, a fundamental problem does exist. I’m concerned and worried about our legal position when we support two different sets of rules for what we must identify as one set of student-athletes with separate but equal opportunity at each campus. Our men and women must be treated similarly.
Two separate national governing bodies could, conceivably, develop the same rules but it is not likely. A look at NCAA-AIAW current rules shows much disparity.
Therefore, I feel the time has come for serious consideration of Dr. Joseph Schabacker’s challenging proposals made here today.
The nuts and bolts can come later. Today, I’m only interested in the concept of Plan Aor Plan B by Dr. Schabacker, not the detailed organizational charts he displayed.
Of the two, I like Plan A, the merger of NCAA and AIAW into one—called the NCAA(s).
My preference is based upon my earlier remark centering on one governing body and one chief executive, etc. Plan B appears too cumbersome. It gives a federation approach to governance.
The present structure of the NCAA—that is—the member institutions, the council, the Executive Committee, the executive staff, and Rules and Tournament Committees for championships expanded to include separate Rules and Tournament Committees for each championship instituted for women makes sense to me; and I think it would work to the advantage of intercollegiate athletics.
My time is up, but I would like to close by congratulating Joe Shabacker for providing a provocative issue this morning, and to thank NACDA for being able to provide a forum in which sensitive issues of this nature can be discussed by men and women athletic administrators.