It was only 15 inches, but it was the difference between finishing fifth in the triple jump and finishing second. Fifth place gave Clarence Taylor and his UCLA teammates two points instead of the eight that second would have yielded, and the difference of six points meant that Tennessee beat out UCLA for the NCAA track and field championship in hot and muggy Austin, Texas last week, 60 to 56. Among the losers, along with the runner-up Uclans, Brigham Young and tough little North Carolina Central, you might add the U.S. Olympic team, which could find itself ravaged by the NCAA's decision to allow athletes who are professionals in other fields to compete in this amateur showdown.
The International Amateur Athletic Federation, the worldwide track and field authority, has a rule against amateurs and pros mixing in competition, and that august body is expected to take a dim view of the NCAA's new, lenient approach. At Austin the NCAA opened the door to Northeast Missouri State quarter-miler Larry Jones and to UCLA discus thrower Roger Freberg, both of whom recently signed professional football contracts.
The IAAF rule states that anyone competing in the same meet with a professional will no longer be considered an amateur, and please don't bother showing up at any future Olympics. At the moment, the AAU, which would have to file a charge with the IAAF before the international body could act, says only that it is investigating, and there was a hope in Austin that the probe would go on and on until it died quietly of old age.
"All this publicity is giving me the shaft," said Jones, who signed with the New York Giants. He is the finest quarter-miler in the U.S. and won at Austin in 45.5. "Everybody keeps asking, 'Who is Larry Jones and where is Northeast Missouri? And what's all this trouble he's causing?' They're making me feel like I committed some sacrilegious sin. If there was a sin, it was ignorance. Nobody told me about this international rule. If they had, I wouldn't have signed."
June 16, 1974
To a man, the athletes at Austin ignored the professional-amateur rule and went about the business of deciding a national collegiate champion. "The Olympics have always been a big part of my life," said UCLA quarter-miler Benny Brown, "but now I couldn't care less if I ever run in them. They're too political." His was an almost universal sentiment. Because it was possible that the IAAF might crack down only on those who competed against either of the two pros, UCLA Coach Jim Bush gave his quarter-milers the choice of withdrawing. They all declined.
"I asked Dr. LeRoy Walker, my coach, and he said it would be O.K. to compete," said North Carolina Central's Julius Sang, a Kenyan quarter-miler who was one of more than 70 foreign athletes participating in the NCAA championship. "I took his word. But if they find out I ran in a meet with a professional footballer, it will be up to him to go to Kenya and explain that I was running for my university and was ignorant about it. If we athletes tried to explain, I don't think our officials would buy it."
Contaminated or not, the runners and jumpers and throwers soon got down to the serious business of squabbling over the title that UCLA had won the last three years. "You can throw the form charts away," said Tennessee Coach Stan Huntsman. "There are too many little schools with a few good individuals who can hurt you, and you never know when it will happen. It's luck. Some guy from a little school might hurt you in an event you figured to do well in, or he might do it to one of the other favorites."
Tennessee, which finished fifth a year ago, showed the strongest balance. The Volunteers expected a big win from Doug Brown in the steeplechase, some key points from Reggie Jones, the powerful freshman sprinter, and then hoped to nickel-and-dime their rivals to death with seconds and thirds and fifths in a number of other events. But a week earlier, Brown, the best steeplechaser the U.S. has ever had, injured his left big toe. At first it was feared broken, but it was found to be only hyperextended.
On Thursday, the first of the three days of competition, Brown breezed through his qualifying heat. Since Brown looked so good and the steeplechase final wasn't until Saturday, Huntsman decided he would gamble and use his senior ace in Friday's six mile, too. Everything seemed to be working out when Reggie Jones upset favored Steve Williams of San Jose State in the 100 final. "That hurt," said UCLA's Bush. "We had hoped Williams would win both the 100 and 220; we don't have any sprinters of our own who could stop Jones."
But Tennessee's gamble on Brown failed. Halfway through the six mile, which was won by John Ngeno of Washington State and Kenya, Brown faltered, slowed and limped from the track. "For three miles I felt real good," he said. "Then in one lap it happened. I felt awfully tired. The heat radiating from the track was terrible. At first I thought I'd forget about winning and just try for some points. Then I began to feel worse and finally I decided I had better quit and save myself for the steeple. That's a sure win, and we need the 10 points. I don't feel I have anything to prove as an individual. Here the team comes first."
Brown's bad toe was swollen and gray after the race, and he spent the night with it packed in ice. The next day he wiggled the toe and said, "It feels good enough to win. I don't care what happens to it afterwards." That news cheered Huntsman, who had spent a dismal morning watching an expected six points in the javelin dwindle to none. In the stadium, Bush picked out a seat high up and away from the crowd and sat down to watch his pole vaulters. The Bruins had three men in the finals, expected 12 points and hoped for more. Even so, Bush knew this was where disaster could strike. In the previous two NCAA championships, the Uclans' Francois Tracanelli, a 17'9½" senior vaulter from Evry, France, had not scored a single point.
"This event is hairy," the UCLA coach said. "You never know what happens. If we don't get at least 12 points here, we're dead."
Down on the field, Ron Mooers, UCLA's second-best vaulter, passed at 16 feet, and Bush leaped to his feet. "What's he doing!" he screamed. "His best is only 17 feet and he's passing only a foot under it. These guys are driving me up a wall."
Sitting back down, the UCLA coach pulled out a wrinkled piece of yellow paper. It was his form chart. Two of the teams, UTEP and Oregon State, had been crossed out. Three others—UCLA, Brigham Young and Tennessee—remained, and in a new column he had inked in North Carolina Central.
"Right now, I figure Central is going to win it. They're in great shape. I don't mind losing to them, but the thing that hurts is that they'll beat our mile-relay team, which means our streak of five straight mile-relay wins will end. And to a bunch of Kenyans, not Americans. I don't see why we have to compete against the Kenya Olympic team when we're trying to win a U.S. collegiate championship. And it's going to get worse. Next year the NCAAs will be the greatest international meet in the world."
Actually, there were only two Kenyans at North Carolina Central, half-miler Robert Ouko and Sang, and at that moment they and their teammates—NCC brought only six athletes to Austin—were nursing a long list of injuries. "Everybody is looking at us," said NCC Coach Walker, "and that's nice. But we can't win now. We haven't got a whole body. But we aren't going to quit. They'll know we've been here." On Friday, Central had picked up 10 points when Charles Foster won the high hurdles, and—on paper at least—was very much alive on Saturday.
"Give them dudes one good shotputter or a discus man and they'd be out of sight," said Wayne Vandenburg, the former UTEP coach. "Can you believe how tough those guys are?" But Dr. Walker was right. His runners were hurt and below par.
The team race stayed close. UCLA got only 10 of the 12 points Bush had hoped for from the pole vault—Tracanelli was third and Mooers fourth—but the Californians made up for that when Freberg, who hopes to play guard for the L.A. Rams, finished a gratifying second in the discus. Then Tennessee made its big move, Brown and Ron Addison finishing one-two for 18 points in the steeplechase. The teammates turned it on in the third lap and hustled away from any serious challenge. "Addison ran a perfect race," said Brown, "the same way he does in practice: right on my shoulder. I think he felt comfortable there. After the third lap I turned and yelled at him that we had it made."
"I didn't hear him," said Addison, who finished second in 8:36.8 (to Brown's 8:36), nine seconds better than his previous best. "I was too busy trying to beat him." Tennessee picked up enough points a half hour later in the 440-yard relay to go ahead of UCLA for the first time. The leaders marked time while Brigham Young's Paul Cummings scored his second straight victory over North Carolina's slumping Tony Waldrop in the mile. Cummings' time was 4:01.1 to Waldrop's third-place 4:02.3. "I guess that's it for me this year," Cummings said afterward. "Now I have to go to work to make some money this summer. I don't see any way I can run in the AAU championships."
Tennessee appeared to lock up the title when Willie Thomas blazed the last 120 yards to beat Keith Francis of Boston College in the half mile, and when Jones, running his 10th race in three days, finished second to James Gilke of Fisk in the 220 (Steve Williams did not run). "I'm happy and I'm tired," said Jones. "Damn, 10 is a lot of races."
Tennessee was finished now, with its 60 points, and with only the mile relay and the triple jump left, UCLA, with 44, still had a slim chance. Bush had people in both events, although in the mile relay, usually its strongest event, UCLA did not have much hope. It had been pressed to make it into the finals.
"I've changed the order and I'm hoping for the best," said Bush. "I've moved Benny Brown up to second and put Jerome Walters third. I just hope Lynnsey Guerrero can keep from giving up too much on the lead leg and that Walters is sucked along behind Benny. If Maxie Parks doesn't have too much ground to make up on the anchor, we could get some fairly big points."
Running as he never had before, Guerrero covered the opening leg in 48 flat, and Brown backed that up with a sizzling 45.4. Then Walters turned in a 47.9, and lo! Parks got the baton in third place only a few yards back of the leaders. "He blew past everyone," said Bush, as Parks, who had finished third to Larry Jones in the quarter, raced home in 45.3, running away from North Carolina Central's ailing Larry Black, the Olympic 200-meter silver medalist. Suddenly UCLA had not only won its sixth straight NCAA mile relay, it was very much back in the team race. A third from Clarence Taylor in the triple jump would give the Bruins a tie, while a second or a first meant victory.
Taylor had third place early in the going, but others passed him and he was back in fifth with only one jump remaining. Darkness was closing in when the 6'4" UCLA sophomore began his final sprint down the runway. His stride was off. He chopped his steps, missed the takeoff board and ran through the sand, a scratch. His fifth-place effort of 52'10½" was good, only 15 inches short of that of Manhattan's Ken McBryde, but it was not good enough. Tennessee had beaten UCLA.
Then everyone packed up and went home, to wait and see if they could ever again compete as amateurs. Except for their schools, of course.