WHOSE SIDE IS WHO ON?
Critics who say baseball is dull and football brutal have bad things to say about basketball, too, but they can't deny that it's interesting. Especially off court. When Jim McDaniels jumped from the ABA Carolina Cougars to the NBA Seattle SuperSonics and Charlie Scott from the ABA Virginia Squires to the NBA Phoenix Suns, it was a double triumph for the NBA, right? But last Friday the NBA New York Knicks protested their defeat by the Suns because of Scott's presence, and Abe Pollin, owner of the NBA Baltimore Bullets, came right out and said he thought McDaniels should still be in the ABA with Carolina. Baltimore beat Seattle Friday night, but Pollin said he would have lodged a protest if the Sonics had won. "I wanted to show my personal feelings in the matter," he said. "I don't approve of this action. It is my belief that McDaniels has a valid contract with Carolina."
Lenny Wilkens, Seattle's coach, was astounded. "Are they [the Bullets] in the NBA or not?" he demanded. "Aren't we supposed to listen to what the commissioner says? That's just sour grapes."
It all jibes with the latest gag going around. "I belong to no organized sport," said the athlete. "I'm a professional basketball player."
JUSTICE IS BLIND
The NCAA tries so hard to enforce its rules and has so much trouble doing it without getting egg on its face. At a time when the question of amateur vs. professional continues to rack sport, when hooraw and contretemps rage over pro basketball teams invading campuses to sign collegiate athletes, the NCAA moved with Rhadamanthine sternness to penalize two Far Western Conference schools for the crime of using players who had failed to complete their four seasons of eligibility within five years.
The rule, a logical one, is designed to prevent colleges from keeping marginal athletes around campus year after year until they are ready for varsity action. But when it was invoked to bar San Francisco State and Sacramento State from the NCAA college-division Western Regional playoffs, the letter of the law corrupted its spirit. San Francisco State's squad, which averages 25 years a man this season (SCORECARD, Feb. 7), included a 30-year-old who began his college career in 1961, left school and some years later returned. Sacramento State had a 28-year-old who followed the same pattern.
S.I. Hayakawa, president of San Francisco State, protested the ruling to the NCAA, pointing out that the Far Western Conference does not allow athletic scholarships, grants-in-aid or other direct aid. The conference prides itself on fostering a competitive environment where students can play a sport for the fun of it. He said the two colleges had been punished for no other reason than that two relatively old students liked basketball well enough to want to compete, obviously without recompense and now, too, without even the fun of getting to play in a postseason tournament.
The Far Western Conference predicament has an apparent parallel at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. A student there named Caesar Smith helped his track team in a triangular meet with Peru State and Marymount College by running a half mile in the stately time of 2:05, which was good enough for fourth place and one point for his team. But Smith is 35 years old. Back in the mid-1950s he was the Iowa State high school 440 champion, and later, at the University of Iowa, where he roomed with Olympian Deacon Jones, he won the Big Ten indoor 600. He left school to enter the Army, rose to major and now, married, with five children, has gone to college again under the Army's "Bootstrap" program, through which career officers can earn their bachelor's degrees.
Back on campus. Smith began running again, painfully aware of how far off his youthful form he was. Still, when the Rocky Mountain Conference said he was eligible to compete, he began to run in meets. Yet more than 15 years have passed since he first competed as a varsity athlete. How can the NCAA stand idly by in the face of such a violation? Well, there is a wise clause in the four-seasons-in-five-years rule that exempts those who have left college to serve in the armed forces. Smith, thus, is not only admirable, he is clean. Good for Smith. Good for the NCAA. It should have been as wise in the Far Western Conference affair.
Tom Johnson, resident of St. Ignace, Mich., a town at the northern end of the Mackinac Bridge, the imposing span that crosses the Straits of Mackinac to join Upper and Lower Michigan, drove his car to the middle of the five-mile-long bridge, stopped, got out, walked to the railing. He stood reflectively gazing down into the chill waters of the strait. A bridge guard in a patrol car saw him, sped to the spot, screeched to a halt and ran to the railing in an attempt to avert the tragedy.
Too late. With fatalistic calmness, Johnson deliberately dropped his bowling ball, his bowling shoes and his bowling bag over the side of the bridge and 152 feet down into watery oblivion.
"I had to do it," he told the guard. "The way I was bowling this week the only thing to do was throw the whole mess where I couldn't be tempted again."
SLOPES OF SPRING
Most U.S. ski resorts would be delighted to have a six-foot base of snow any time. Yet in Utah ski areas will close up for the season with that much snow still decorating their runs. "It happens every year," says Charles Morton of Alta. "The first of May comes around and our slopes are empty. We could run lifts into June, if we could find skiers." Bill Leavitt, mayor of Alta and owner of a lodge that serves the Alta and Snowbird areas, says, "American skiers are used to wrapping things up on the Easter weekend. In most areas, this is because there is no snow. Here we have snow, but most people are golfing or water skiing. Easterners just don't think we can have good spring skiing, but when you get 40 feet of snow each year there has to be some left over for spring."
National Football League owners have been fretting about a falloff in scoring (SI, Feb. 14). Total points per game dropped from 42 in 1969 to 38 last year and, although the public doesn't seem to be worried about the loss of a field goal and an extra point, the owners, who met last week in Honolulu, obviously are. To hypo scoring they are considering making a touchdown worth seven points (but the extra point is almost automatic, anyway); increase the ratio of touchdowns to field goals by moving the goalposts to the back of the end zone (but that lengthens field-goal range by only 10 yards); forcing defensive linemen to stay put once they are in position (that changes the whole philosophy of today's fluid defense); allow backs to run in all directions before the snap of the ball (which is Canadian football); or widen the field (a real departure from tradition).
The owners should leave the game alone. The offense-defense pendulum swings back and forth, and offense is due to begin catching up. But if they must make changes, here are three that would open up the game without destroying its character:
1) Move the hash mark to the middle of the field, so that the offense has equal mobility to right or left on pass or run; 2) return the ball to the line of scrimmage after a missed field goal, which would discourage 40-yard-plus attempts and encourage running or passing on fourth and short yardage from the same range; 3) eliminate ties by making every game sudden death.
What has "truck following" got to do with fishing? Well, a truck follower is a fisherman who waits at the hatchery for the stocking truck to be loaded. Then he follows the truck as it makes its way to a stream or lake and is practically sitting there waiting when the hatchery fish hit the water. It is not unusual to see half a dozen cars trailing along behind the stocking truck. The fish hardly get their fins damp before they are in a creel.
Now, in the state of Maryland, at any rate, the fish are getting a little help. A new regulation bans fishing for several days in freshly stocked waters. This gives the fish a chance to find a hole or two in which to lurk and the fishermen an opportunity to exercise old-fashioned angling skills that they might otherwise have forgotten.
The Seattle SuperSonics, who have never made the NBA playoffs in their five years in the league, saw their chances of doing it this season slip away a couple of weeks ago when Spencer Haywood, the team's top scorer and re-bounder, was injured. Haywood tore a ligament in his right knee when he skidded in a puddle of water on his way down-court. Now he is out for the season and his team, which had been battling the Golden State Warriors for second place in the Pacific Division, is dripping downward in the standings.
Accumulations of water ranging from damp spots to obvious puddles are part of the Seattle Coliseum scene whenever it rains heavily outside, something that rarely happens more than three times a day at this time of year in the Northwest. Towel-wielding boys stand by around the edge of the court and dash onto the playing area to wipe up whenever the flow of action permits. In Haywood's case, there had not been time to mop.
The Sonics say they have complained about the situation to the city for years but received no significant help. Now they have gone to court. They want the roof fixed, and they also want damages commensurate to the amount they figure they would have earned if Haywood had remained healthy and the team had not been dribbled out of the playoffs.
IN OR OUT?
First Ping-Pong, then President Nixon. Can the Olympics be far behind? Jack Kelly, president of the AAU, sent a note to Premier Chou En-lai inviting the People's Republic of China to join the International Amateur Athletic Federation. "Once they are members of the IAAF," Kelly said, "they would be eligible for recognition by the International Olympic Committee." Kelly is not quite accurate—Red China would have to have membership in at least five international sport federations before it could be eligible for Olympic participation. A bigger snag, as in Red China's entrance to the U.N., lies in Taiwan. The Nationalist Chinese have been in the IAAF and the Olympic movement for years. Avery Brundage and the IOC would welcome Red China with open arms but would resist dropping an old and loyal member of the lodge. So there will be an impasse and no Red China—unless a traumatic U.N.-type solution is worked out.
THEY SAID IT
•Benny Scott, who hopes to become the first black driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 1973, on equal opportunities in the sport: "Is big-league auto racing lily white? I would say so. But it isn't a redneck sport. Racing requires large sums of money and blacks are just reaching the point they are able to get together large sums of money. Auto racing is not like basketball or football, where you can put together a few bucks, buy a ball and go down to the local parks and play."
•Bobby Hull, at the ceremony retiring Gordie Howe's uniform No. 9: "I've played 14 years against and with the greatest of us all, and I've enjoyed every high-sticking minute of it."
•O. J. Simpson, Buffalo Bill running back, who owns a $100,000-plus house a few miles from Wilt Chamberlain's $1.5 million home in Bel Air, Calif., after attending a party at Chamberlain's: "Going home tonight will be like going back to the housing projects where I grew up in San Francisco."