THE WAY OF ALL SPORTS
Horse racing, television and off-track betting are going around in circles in New York State, and right now it is not at all clear how things will end up. In an effort to stimulate cash flow at its betting offices, the state-legalized off-track betting office tried to televise harness races nightly from upstate Monticello Raceway into metropolitan New York. Screams from the state's seven other harness tracks forced this issue into the courts, where it remains. Right now all OTB has to show for its efforts is a once-a-week telecast of fiat races from Maryland.
Even so, it is inevitable that some sort of marriage between TV and racing will be worked out, if only because the revenue potential is so great. When it happens, when televised races and concomitant off-track betting become a way of life, there will be a massive change in the sport. Will it be good or bad? Television helped golf and created second professional leagues in basketball and football, yet it all but destroyed boxing and minor league baseball. The jury is still out on its effect on major league baseball. No one knows for sure what will happen in racing. Track operators say TV will drain away regular patrons and deposit them in betting parlors. Others say nonsense, that properly regulated TV—with the revenue from betting and advertising equitably distributed—will strengthen racing's financial status and help create a new young body of fans.
Only one thing is certain. Televised racing is coming, and so is change. Racing had better be ready.
January 17, 1972
Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali are going through the traditional prefight phase of trading insults in an effort to generate interest in their return match, whenever it is eventually scheduled. Most of their remarks are predictable, yet some comments Frazier made in Philadelphia just before leaving for New Orleans and his fight this Saturday with Terry Daniels had a rare pithiness. "I don't think he wants to fight me again," Frazier said. "I think the guy enjoys what he's doing right now, picking up easy money with guys like that German, Blin. He doesn't want a tough fight, like with myself." As for Ali's professed compassion in carrying Buster Mathis 12 rounds and Blin for seven, Frazier said, "I have to think he can't fight any better anymore. After the last one with me, the guy can't really get himself together."
Professional hockey has apparently sanctioned or at least overlooked the practice of hyping up individual scoring. Goals are still goals, which seems logical enough, but assists, which count as much as goals in a player's individual total, have lost a lot of their old validity.
The concept of crediting a man with an assist is admirable: the playmaker, the adept stickhandler who sets up another man's goal, should get credit, too. And because often two men set up the score that a third man makes, hockey allows credit for two assists on each goal. But what used to be a maximum—two assists—has in many places become a minimum, with scorers automatically crediting two assists without worrying too much about the correctness of their decisions. For example, over a dozen assists have been given to goalies this season, an unjustifiable number. Goalies clear pucks; it is a rare moment when they truly set up a score.
Boston, home of the high-scoring Phil Esposito, was often mocked for the generous number of assists Espo used to pick up, and criticism of Woody Dumart, the old Bruin who served as scorer, became so severe that Dumart was finally replaced. Still, except for Montreal and Toronto, where scorers tend to be purists and where assists really have to be earned, the practice continues. Last week in New York a glaring example of the casual assist occurred when Jean Ratelle, the Ranger center, was credited with one he apparently had not made. By an ironic coincidence, the cheese assist put Ratelle into a tie with Esposito for the league scoring lead. (Later in the week, he had one goal and four assists against the Kings to lead Esposito 71-70.) A subsequent study of the game tape showed that the puck had been accidentally deflected by Ratelle, which meant the scorer was technically correct. But the argument remains: it was not truly an assist. It is time for the NHL to crack down and insist that players earn their points.
Prisoners at New York State's Clinton Correctional Facility at Dannemora were the victims of backlash after the disaster at Attica. Their tackle-football program, a major part of their autumn recreational activities, was ended almost before the season had begun because of orders to confiscate their protective equipment. Superintendent J. Edwin LaVallee said, "If you remember, the rioters at Attica wore helmets and pads." The inmates, who field two three-team leagues, protested that they were being punished for what happened at Attica. They were told that "security always takes precedence over any program," but the superintendent added that football would be back and the equipment available again next season.
Meanwhile, the sports-minded inmates are turning to winter sports, which are big at Dannemora. For instance, there is a functioning bobsled run at Clinton Prison. The one-fifth-of-a-mile-long chute (Lake Placid's famous Mt. Van Hoevenberg run, used in the 1932 Olympics, is a mile long) is maintained by the prisoners, who use their free time to fill and carry 2,000 bags of snow to the site. The prison also has a 10-meter ski jump, which requires about 1,000 bags of snow. The ski jump is big enough to let the inmates soar 60 or 70 feet but not—according to the guards' well-worn old joke—big enough to let them fly over the wall.
LITTLE LOST SHEEP
When Pete Rozelle said on national TV that there had not been a genuine franchise switch in the NFL since the old Dallas Texans became the Baltimore Colts in 1953, a handful of resentful pro football fans in Chicago raised their heads angrily. Where, they wondered, have their Cardinals been playing since 1960?
ALL TOGETHER: ONE-TWO-THREE
People who have been wondering what happened to Big Ten football over the past several years may have noticed that the final AP poll ranked Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado one-two-three. All are Big Eight schools. The AP poll began in 1936 and the UPI poll in 1950, but only once before have even two teams from the same conference ranked one-two. That was in 1960 when the UPI put Minnesota and Iowa, both from the Big Ten, first and second.
The remarkable concentration of talent in the Big Eight had its genesis nearly a quarter of a century ago when, under Bud Wilkinson, Oklahoma became a national power in football. It absolutely dominated the Big Eight (Oklahoma and the Seven Dwarfs, the conference was sometimes called), winning 12 straight championships between 1948 and 1959, after tying for the title in 1947. The other Big Eight teams eventually reacted and brought in sharp, talented young coaches themselves: Dan Devine at Missouri, Bob Devaney at Nebraska, Eddie Crowder at Colorado. Devine, Devaney and Chuck Fairbanks, who took over at Oklahoma in 1967, all had been assistant coaches at Michigan State under Biggie Munn or Duffy Daugherty. Crowder had played for Wilkinson at Oklahoma and had coached for him and for Earl Blaik. This strain of football excellence crossed with a kind of Tennessee toughness introduced by Vince Gibson at Kansas State and Johnny Majors at Iowa State.
Just as this superior coaching appeared in the Big Eight, the Big Ten began to tighten its scholastic requirements, and borderline prospects drifted away, most often to the Big Eight. Other recruiting advantages stimulated the flow of talent. The Big Ten banned redshirting; the Big Eight did not. The Big Ten let only one team a year go to a bowl game, and the same team could not go two seasons in a row; the Big Eight had no such restrictions. The Big Eight gave more scholarships and let its coaches visit high school prospects while they were still competing. And the conference had a distinct recruiting advantage over the powerful Southeastern and Southwest Conferences, too, in its earlier acceptance of black players, who are relatively few and far between in those conferences while comprising a key element of Big Eight strength.
Big Eight supremacy seems founded on a simple, powerful formula: top coaches and top prospects. The bowls and the polls bear it out.
GOOD SHOW, CHAPS
Remember "Fight fiercely, Harvard"? Followers of the Houston Rockets are topping that apocryphal Ivy League cheer with one of their own. At every home game a group of about 15 youthful fans chants, "Harass them, harass them, make them relinquish the ball."
The rumor that the ABA's Pittsburgh Condors are going to move to New Haven, Conn. seems ridiculous on the face of it. Why would a team want to move from the huge metropolitan Pittsburgh area (2.4 million people, according to the 1970 census) to a minor league town like New Haven (137,000 in the city, only 348,000 in the area)?
The answer—if the rumors prove true—lies in the regional concept that has caught the imagination of pro basketball. A fast 35 miles north of New Haven is Hartford, capital of Connecticut and focus of a metropolitan area with 663,000 people. Thirty miles north of Hartford—and still not much more than an hour from New Haven—is Springfield, Mass., with another half million in its environs. Fifteen miles west of New Haven is Bridgeport and another 400,000. A team playing its home games in this compact region would have nearly two million people to draw on before it ever began to count the many towns and smaller cities that pepper the southern New England landscape. The threat could be real, Pittsburgh.
You might recall a somewhat indignant organization called Sports Fans of America (SI, Sept. 7, 1970), which was founded by Dominic Piledggi of Baltimore to give long-suffering followers of sport a chance for organized redress instead of being patsies all the time. "We started with four people," says Piledggi, "and we hoped for 50,000 members. At $4 per year dues, that would have given us enough money to make some impact. There's no way managements would not have listened to us."
But Sports Fans of America peaked, if that's the word, too early. In his own habitat, Baltimore, where there was outspoken criticism of Colt management, membership reached only 800. Nationally, instead of climbing to 50,000, it eased off at the 2,000 level. If not moribund, the best that can be said at the moment for SFA is that it is regrouping.
Apathy and indifference have always been the bane of the revolutionary. Piledggi detects the symptoms even in himself. Although he considers TV a constant threat to the fan, he found himself staying home this fall to watch on the tube instead of going out lo the stadium. "I have a season ticket," he says, "but I didn't see a Colt game all year."
THEY SAID IT
•George Halas, owner of the Chicago Bears, on Wide Receiver Dick Gordon's accusation that Halas disliked him: "Only individual I ever hated in my 76-plus years was Adolf Hitler."
•Norman Russell, junior center at Oklahoma City University, on the advantage of being 7 feet tall: "You can see Arnold Palmer putt, for one thing."
•Colonel Edmund Edmondson, executive director of the U.S. Chess Federation, on the forthcoming matches between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, in which each player is allowed three delays for illness: "Bobby Fischer's opponents usually get ill."