There were contrasting reactions to reports last week that a Federal investigation of illegal gambling had touched several prominent sports figures, notably a handful of professional football players. Anger, despair and cynical humor, because football was again playing footsie in the headlines with gamblers, were countered by protests that the players mentioned were being smeared, since they were merely expected to be called as witnesses, not as suspects.
But if they were suspects, what could they be suspected of? There are three possible offenses. One is bookmaking, which in most states is illegal when practiced by individuals but acceptable when practiced by states (as in horse racing). This was the offense that interested the Federal authorities in Detroit, but there was no indication that athletes were directly involved. Second is conspiracy to defraud, which would embrace any efforts of bookmakers or athletes to "fix" the results of a contest. This has been hinted at in leaks from Detroit, but so far not substantiated. Third is betting, though not betting per se, which is generally condoned in this country. But an athlete betting on an organized sport in which he participates is violating the rules of his sport, if not the law. Indeed, when a pro football player signs his contract he agrees not to bet or associate with known gamblers or criminal types. Such discipline is indispensable if a sport is to avoid the threat of "fixing," "dumping," or "shaving points" or, at the very least, of shaking the confidence of the fans who support the game. And here the suspicion has not been totally allayed.
Pro football has tried hard to police itself. Pete Rozelle's suspension of two NFL players for a full season half a dozen years ago is evidence of that, and so was the well-publicized furore over Joe Namath's ownership of a bar patronized by racket bums. Rozelle has said in the past that he was proud of the work done by his investigators in tracking down all rumors of misbehavior by players. But why didn't Rozelle's staff know about the current Federal investigation into gambling and the role pro football might have in it? The football commissioner revealed last week that apparently unfounded rumors more than a year ago had led to a thorough investigation (including a lie-detector test) of Len Dawson, the Kansas City quarterback, and that he had been completely cleared. Yet the commissioner admitted that he and his staff had not been aware of Dawson's admitted casual acquaintance with Donald (Dice) Dawson, a restaurateur whom the Government has arrested on gambling charges.
January 19, 1970
How thorough, in fact, are pro football's investigations? To be fair, how thorough can they be? Has Pete Rozelle been kidding himself?
Chena Gilstrap, the colorful athletic director of Arlington State in Texas, has a son who goes to the University of Texas. Chena's son received a high number in the draft lottery and, says his father, "When I visited him down in Austin, everyone was carrying signs saying WE'RE NO. 1. My kid was carrying one that said I'M NO. 326."
You may have felt that the Milwaukee Bucks were being terribly extravagant last spring when they signed Lew Alcindor to that sky-high bonus-salary deal, but early returns from Wisconsin indicate that it was the best investment Milwaukee Professional Sports and Services, Inc. ever made. Last year the Bucks had receipts of $593,800 for the 72-game season and an operating loss of $178,913. This year, halfway through their home schedule, the Bucks have receipts of $686,000, almost $100,000 better than they received for the previous full season. This figure does not include advance sales or season tickets for games still to be played. Nor does it anticipate income from postseason playoffs, which the Alcindor-led Bucks seem certain to get into.
Of course, the playoffs will present another problem. Milwaukee Arena is booked solidly through the playoff weeks, and the Bucks may end up playing their home games in Madison, 80 miles away. But who was to know?
DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL
It appears that there was a bit of internecine strife in the press box at Pasadena during the Rose Bowl. NBC was televising the game and, as a courtesy, had installed a TV set in the press box. Three hours before the game began, early arrivals switched channels to CBS and sat back to watch the Cotton Bowl matchup between Texas and Notre Dame. All well and good until a man wearing a red NBC blazer came into the press box and expressed irritation and then anger that NBC's TV set should be tuned in to CBS. Someone explained that the Cotton Bowl game was of considerable interest and importance, and since NBC didn't have a football game on at the time what difference did it make?
"I don't want CBS on," said the man in the red coat, and he stomped off. A few minutes later an NBC workman came in, switched the set to a quiz show on NBC and taped down the channel selector. He apologized, said he was only obeying orders and left.
Mission accomplished. Except that, before you could say "split wide to the right," the tape was circumvented, the dial was turned and everybody sat back again to watch Texas and Notre Dame on CBS.
Including, of course, the fellows in the NBC broadcasting booth.
CANADA IS HOT
Canada's startling decision to withdraw from the 1970 World Hockey Championship was prompted by the decision of the International Ice Hockey Federation to prohibit that country from using nine National Hockey League players on its national team. Since the World Hockey Championship is ostensibly an amateur competition and since NHL players are undeniably professional, at first glance the Canadians don't seem to have a skate to stand on. But they were upset, and understandably so, because the IIHF prohibition was a reversal of a ruling the same group had made last July which would have allowed Canada to use a certain number of professionals. (Canada had argued that she was badly handicapped in international competition because her best players are almost all in one level or another of professional hockey.) The July ruling of the IIHF was an attempt to be fair and realistic, since other leading hockey countries, notably Russia and Czechoslovakia, support year-round teams comprised of players who are amateur only in the technical sense.
But the technical sense is important, at least to Avery Brundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee, who warned that if professionals were used in the World Hockey Championship then all players taking part in the tournament might become ineligible for the Olympics. Thus, the IIHF reversal and Canada's angry withdrawal.
The decision to withdraw aroused widespread support at first in Canada, with most newspapers and sports personages and government officials applauding the move. Then some rethinking began, and the question was raised whether Canadian hockey had finessed itself out of the 1972 Olympics, since the team would not be participating in the pre-Olympic elimination tournaments. Further, the withdrawal may have seriously undermined Canada's bid for the 1976 Olympic Games.
So, Canada is in a spot. Maybe she would have been wiser to have stayed in the championship and simply blamed everything on Brundage.
During a recent sports gathering in Busch Stadium in St. Louis, some people in the Stadium Club looked down at the field where the baseball Cardinals and football Cardinals had proved so futile this year and noticed that workmen were trying to go ahead with the job of putting in AstroTurf despite the deterring presence of snow.
"Those fellows down on the field don't seem to know what they're doing," one man said. "So what's new?" said another. "That's the way it's been down there all year."
NOTES FOR AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
He looked a bit less than in his "float like a butterfly" days, but there was no mistaking the loquacious tongue of Muhammad Ali last week as he announced his latest preoccupation—the writing of his memoirs. Fresh from a short run in a Broadway musical, Ali said he hoped to complete the book by 1971 and added that he expects it will "outdo all of 'em that have been written up to now."
Ali still feels he can outclass anybody in the ring, but he indicated that comeback plans are a doubtful proposition. In addition to the trouble of finding a locale that would accept him, he can't foresee any worthwhile challengers. "If I fought Joe Frazier," he said, "people would be booing at how I'd just play with him—and before the first round was over."
Then he said, "Boxing needs me, but I don't need it," and, financially, he has a point. Random House is paying a $200,000 advance on the autobiography, and Ali is already negotiating on the movie rights. He wants to play himself, and who can argue with that casting?
Because of a labor dispute, Santa Anita failed to open this winter for the first time in the handsome racetrack's history. An anticipated quick settlement failed to ensue and, as the strike dragged on and labor management-government negotiations bogged down, rumors began creeping around Southern California that the track might never open again. Insiders pointed out that racing does not provide all the earnings of Santa Anita Consolidated, the parent company, and added that some of the stockholders have indicated that they would just as soon abandon racing and turn the extremely valuable land into a housing and shopping-center complex.
That would be a tragedy, not just for sport, but for Southern California, where open areas for amusement and recreation and even quiet contemplation—as after a particularly rough day at the betting windows—are disappearing like melted snow.
BREAKING THE ICE
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association, once the sole home of college hockey outside the East and the source of some of the best collegiate hockey played in the U.S., may be in danger of falling apart. Four Big Ten teams—Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota—are bulwarks of the WCHA, but now the Big Ten is trying to form its own hockey conference. "We've been pushing for a Big Ten league," says Amo Bessone, coach at Michigan State. "Nine Big Ten schools are playing hockey, though right now only five [Ohio State is the fifth] are on a varsity basis. Iowa is the only one without hockey, but we could still have 10 teams because Notre Dame is interested in joining."
If things work out and a formal Big Ten league comes into being, the other WCHA powers—Michigan Tech, Denver, North Dakota and Colorado College—are going to be out in the cold.
THEY SAID IT
•Tony Curtis, actor, on why he gave up smoking: "I like to think of it in simple terms. Smoking shortens your life by eight years. I love watching pro football on television. If I smoke I'll miss 350 games."
•Johnny Dee, Notre Dame basketball coach, on Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp's career record: "So Adolph has won 800 and some games. Five hundred of them have been against Southeastern Conference teams. That's like me going down to Texas with six kids from Canada and starting a hockey league."
•Jack Kraft, Villanova basketball coach, commenting on a star player fouling out with less than two minutes to go and Villanova losing: "That was the nail that broke the coffin's back."