NCAA presidency is just a step on Corrigan ladder


Gene Corrigan will be elected president of the NCAA at the organization's annual convention in San Diego starting Sunday.

That's not bad for a guy who grew up in Govans, went to St. Mary's parochial school and Loyola High.

Corrigan graduated from Duke in 1952 and then began his rather spectacular climb to the pinnacle of the athletic administrative world.

He has coached lacrosse, basketball and soccer at Washington and Lee and the University of Virginia. He has been director of athletics at W&L;, Virginia and Notre Dame.

Since July of 1987 he has been commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, a position he will keep while he serves his two-year term with the NCAA. He'll preside over the '96 and '97 NCAA conventions and conduct weekly conference calls with key officials.

Corrigan will be formally elected at the general business session on the last day of this convention on Tuesday. He'll succeed Joseph N. Crowley, of the University of Nevada.

"I will," says the jocular Corrigan, "unless there's a palace revolt. I'm flabbergasted I was chosen. They always taken somebody from an institution rather than a conference. I've been on so many NCAA committees I guess this is the culmination of all that."

Corrigan has chaired committees on postseason football, special events, Division I men's basketball, distribution of revenues, long-range planning and lacrosse. He is a former member of the NCAA executive committee and the council.

And to think it all began with a chance meeting with a friend, Jim "Ace" Adams, at a Mount Washington bar 42 years ago.

Corrigan, now a member of the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, had just graduated from Duke. Adams, a lacrosse Hall of Famer from Johns Hopkins, was teaching and coaching at St. Paul's School, which was then in Mount Washington.

"What are you going to do now, Gene?" Adams asked.

"I'm leaving Monday morning for Chicago to start a job with a bank stationery company," Corrigan said.

"That's too bad," said Adams. "They're looking for somebody at St. Paul's to coach the JVs and teach a couple subjects."

The rest is history: Corrigan forgot about Chicago and went to St. Paul's. There he coached three sports, taught Latin, English and history and served as master in charge of the boarders two weekends a month all for the princely salary of $4,200 a year.

Three years later, he joined the college ranks, going to W&L; to coach soccer, basketball and lacrosse.

"There are always a lot of issues in the NCAA," Corrigan was saying yesterday from ACC headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., "but we'll have an especially busy two years.

"We're going to restructure the NCAA. We need to find a way to put more authority in the hands of the university presidents. The council has been the group with authority. We may create a board of directors made up of presidents with cabinet members reporting to the board."

The public will be more interested in what happens in more controversial areas such as creating a Division I-A football playoff and paying athletes in revenue-producing sports.

The average fan tends to confuse college teams with NFL and NBA franchises. He forgets the purpose of a university is to educate students.

Of course Penn State and Nebraska should play it off for the national championship, they say.

Of course the athletes should share in the millions generated by football and basketball.

"It's a shame Penn State and Nebraska will not play it out," said Corrigan, who was at the Sugar Bowl Monday watching the ACC's Florida State beat Florida. "If Penn State and Nebraska played, I don't know who'd win. Nebraska has a great defense; Penn State has a great offense.

"This year it would be very simple because those two teams finished with perfect records.

"But when the NCAA considered a playoff format, it came up with a plan that wouldn't have the first round played until Jan. 1. That would drag out the season for another month. That's a little bit abusive to the players.

"I like bowl games for kids. They have 10 or 12 extra practices and they're finished.

"Football is not like basketball. Two days after the Final Four in basketball, the players are in a gym, shooting around. How many times have you heard a football player two days after a bowl game say, 'Let's put the pads back on and go out and hit?' "

Corrigan is not an advocate of paying athletes. He points not only to their full scholarships but also to Pell grants for as much as $200 a month that are given to athletes "who are not getting any support from home."

Says Corrigan: "People don't realize players are collecting that money. We couldn't pay them that much. There are other things we can do to help the athletes. We need to assure them the finances are there to go on and get their degrees after they finish their eligibility."

Gene will spend enough time on those issues for the next 24 months. In the meantime, he can take pride in running a conference that had five schools in bowl games and is now plunging into a wide-open basketball race, as evidenced by last night's losses by North Carolina and Duke. "I've never seen the league this well balanced," he says.

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