MSU Athletics Hall of Famer John Fuzak Passes Away At Age 93
June 5, 2007
EAST LANSING, Mich. - John A. "Jack" Fuzak, longtime Michigan State University faculty athletics representative and former NCAA membership president, died on Saturday, June 2 at the age of 93.
A faculty member at Michigan State for 31 years from 1948-79, Fuzak spent 20 years as the school's faculty athletics representative (1959-79). He also served two stints as chairman of the Big Ten's faculty representatives.
Fuzak joined the MSU faculty in 1948 as an assistant professor in the College of Education. He was promoted to dean of students in 1961 before being named vice president for student affairs in 1963. Fuzak was appointed associate dean and director of the School for Advanced Studies in 1968, a post he held until 1979.
In his role as MSU's faculty representative, Fuzak became deeply involved in the NCAA, serving as chairman of the Committee on Academic Requirements from 1964-69. He later served on the NCAA's Long Range Planning Committee and NCAA Council from 1970-79. Fuzak spent two years as NCAA president (1975-76), becoming the only one in that position to preside over four NCAA Conventions, chairing two "special" conventions in August 1975 and January 1976 in addition to the regular sessions in January 1975 and 1976.
Economic issues prompted the two "special" conventions. At the first, Fuzak asked delegates to set aside special interests and focus on measures to cut costs. Limitations on coaching staffs, traveling squads and off-campus visits to prospects, and reductions in the number of grants-in-aid allowed were among the key items delegates adopted. There were so many proposals in fact (73 original and 103 amendments-to-amendments) that another "special" convention had to be called just before the 1976 annual convention in order for delegates to complete their business.
In a 1992 interview with The NCAA News, Fuzak said financial issues in the 1990s were an extension of those that gave delegates fits two decades earlier. "There are always attempts to reduce some of these things (squad size, coaching staffs, official visits), and there always is a negative reaction to that on the part of coaches," he said. "Coaches say, `Well, that kills our Olympic prospects if you restrict the length of practice.' It was a case of `Don't gore my ox.'"
The onset of the NCAA sponsoring women's sports also was a volatile issue during Fuzak's tenure. The NCAA was receiving legal pressure to provide championships for women, but the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women did not want NCAA intervention.
"We were trying very hard to work cooperatively with the women," Fuzak said in 1992. "I met with AIAW officers and legal counsel in Chicago and became convinced that we had no alternative but to move in the direction of providing women's championships. Of course, I felt that it would be to the benefit of women to have the support and financing of the NCAA. I think it was inevitable to have one organization - one structure for both men's and women's athletics."
Former Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke acknowledged Fuzak's contributions: "As evidenced by his long tenure as faculty rep at the Big Ten, and by the fact that he rose to the position of NCAA president, Jack was a stalwart in intercollegiate athletics matters."
In September 1980, Fuzak became associate commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and for a brief time in 1987, he served as the league's interim commissioner.
In October 2005, he was inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
Fuzak was a three-sport letterman at the University of Illinois, participating in football, basketball and baseball. He played football for legendary head coach Robert Zuppke and was a member of the 1934 baseball team that won the Big Ten championship.
Fuzak is survived by his wife Dorothy and three children: Pam (Frank) Lessiter of Brookfield, Wis., John (Jan) Fuzak of Okemos and Susan (Tom) Ziara of Okemos; eight grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the Ralph Young Fund at Michigan State University, 517-432-4610.