ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST
With its Rozelle Rule shot down, pro football now finds itself in much the same position as big-league baseball, whose reserve clause was eviscerated a week earlier. As its baseball counterpart had, the pro football Establishment reacted bitterly and said it would fight the decision, presumably all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.
O.K., once more, what is the Rozelle Rule? It came into being a decade or so ago after pro football supposedly accepted the principle that a man under contract could "play out his option." The option clause gives a team the right to a player's services for one more season after the original terms of the contract expire. If a player does not sign a new contract he theoretically has the right to leave his team after his option year and sign with any other team. The Rozelle Rule pretty much vitiated this concept of free movement by insisting that teams signing such players recompense the team of origin, usually with draft choices or players of equal value. If there was disagreement, the commissioner decided upon the proper award for the team losing the player, and sometimes his decision stung the other team. As a result, clubs generally displayed little eagerness to sign one another's newly sprung free agents. And so freedom of movement remained more a theory than a fact. In effect, players remained bound to one team even though they were no longer under contract to that team. The owners retained their right to the players' future services without—or before—paying for that right. This has been traditional and accepted practice in professional sports in this country, but its legality has been under repeated attack.
Professional football will appeal last week's ruling, trying to postpone a final decision through months and years of litigation. But isn't it time for the owners to face reality and recognize the inevitable? Instead of employing the tedious, expensive, rancorous devices of delay, isn't it time for a few clear-thinking people to come up with workable, mutually acceptable solutions to the problem? It has to be done eventually. Why not now?
A note from a friend says, "I was going through The Baseball Encyclopedia looking for rookies to compare to Fred Lynn and Jim Rice and came upon Shoeless Joe Jackson's first full season in 1911. Wow!
He must have been cheating then, too."
Basketball coaches tend to be a frenetic lot during a game, and their undisciplined behavior has led to criticism, penalties and, in some cases, more restrictive rules. In Nebraska, for example, there has been a crackdown on high school coaches that severely limits the occasions on which they may rise from the bench, as Tom Hall, coach of Omaha's Westside High, learned the hard way. His team was leading Lincoln High 56-54 with one second to play when one of his players was fouled. Hall leaped up—he says in exultation, the officials say to argue that the foul was intentional, which would give Westside two free throws instead of one—and was zapped with a technical foul for leaving the bench illegally. The Westside player was awarded two free throws and Hall arose again to argue that he was within his rights the first time he stood up. Zap. Another technical. The Westside player missed both his free tries. The Lincoln player converted both the technicals. The game was tied, and Lincoln went on to win in overtime 62-59. Sit down, Tommy.
BIG LITTLE DECISION
The Little League was roundly criticized a year or so ago when it banned foreign teams from its annual world series (thus effectively deflating the meaning of that term) after Taiwan had won the title for the fifth time. Now the Little League has had the courage to reverse itself and rescind that discriminatory rule, and we applaud it while reserving opinion on whether it makes sense to have a "world championship" in anything for kids 12 and under.
THE FIGHTING NUN
Cardinal Pitcher Al Hrabosky, the master of psychological confrontation, met his match in Sister Emma Ridgeway, administrator of the Alverne Residence for the Elderly in St. Louis. Sister Emma, who regularly takes her senior citizens to Cardinal games, asked Hrabosky to come to the Alverne's annual Christmas party. But Hrabosky, who did not receive the invitation until the evening before the event, had to attend a Quarterback Club dinner that night. He decided he would phone the Alverne from there.
At 7:15 that evening Sister Emma received a call from a husky-voiced young man wishing her happy birthday. "You can't be Al Hrabosky," she said. "You're supposed to be here." Hrabosky told her about his prior commitment and said he would come another night. "No, tonight," Sister Emma insisted. "On bended knee, I'm pleading." "Well, I'll try to slip away," Hrabosky said.
The evening began slipping away—and no Hrabosky. Sister Emma feared her old folks would fall asleep. She enlisted the aid of a friend whose brother just happened to be a police lieutenant. Five minutes later Hrabosky was interrupted at his table by a waiter. "There are two men here who want to see you," he said. Hrabosky was ready to dismiss them as a couple of autograph seekers until he saw the police uniforms.
"Sister Emma wants you at that party," one of them said tersely. The master of the scare technique had been out-psyched. He made his apologies at the dinner and left with the cops. Ever the showman, Hrabosky asked to be handcuffed and entered the old folks' party a prisoner, to the delight of Sister Emma and those baseball fans still awake. He visited, shook hands and autographed paper napkins: "Al Hrabosky, the Mad Hungarian."
Mad? Nonsense, says Sister Emma. "He is warm, open and loving—a sweet, gentle person."
Sister, don't tell Willie Stargell.
A British aristocrat was at first pleased to find himself seated next to Princess Anne at a recent banquet, but when the Princess discovered that the woman seated on his other side was a horse enthusiast, the conversation, all about horses, sped back and forth right past him.
He got his revenge when coffee arrived and the Princess asked him to pass the sugar. He complied: two lumps, in the middle of his outstretched palm, right under the royal nose.
Suggestions that the National Football League should use TV instant replay to settle disputed calls by officials bubbled up again after the Dallas-Minnesota playoff game, in which Drew Pearson's controversial last-minute catch gave the Cowboys their upset victory (SI, Jan. 5). A lot of people are strong advocates of the idea of having close plays looked at again on videotape, but others are just as strongly against it. Vince Costello, defensive coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, says, "It's going to contribute to accuracy and make it a fairer game." But NFL head linesman Bill Ross claims, "An official has a better angle on the play than any camera would have," and Hank Stram, once and possibly future NFL coach, says, "It would just open up another can of worms. In the course of looking at one penalty, you might come up with a holding you hadn't seen before."
Tex Schramm, Dallas Cowboys president and general manager, points out some complications. "Obviously, you cannot allow every play to become a film study," he says, "because you know some coaches would protest them all. But suppose each team is allowed a certain number of challenges. It gets down to this: should you use one of your challenges now, or save it? If you don't challenge there will be booing, but if you use up all your challenges you won't have any left at the end of the game when you might need them. That gets to be a circus and detracts from the game."
Schramm says present TV coverage can't be depended on to solve disputed calls because television tries to present the best picture, not the technically most revealing one. "If you're going to do this," Schramm says, "you'd better do it right. The worst thing would be to reverse a call and then find out next day that another angle shows the original call was right. But it would take 10 or 12 cameras to cover everything adequately. How do you use the equipment fast enough to render a decision without interminable delays? And who would make the decision, the officials on the field or a sort of superreferee sitting with monitors in the press box?"
Tom Keating, a veteran pro defensive tackle, says, "They ought to try it out during the exhibition season next year. They could have a monitor on the sidelines, test the effect, ask around, find out what people think of it. The owners will make the final decision, but at least they ought to find out if it works."
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
Before Pete Rose was named our Sportsman of the Year for 1975, we received hundreds of letters suggesting dozens of worthy athletes for the honors. But nobody voted for Jo√£o Oliveira or Nadia Comaneci. Who are Jo√£o Oliveira and Nadia Comaneci? Well, in a UPI poll of sports editors of European newspapers, Oliveira was named male athlete of the year and Comaneci female athlete of the year—for the entire world. Care to guess their sports? And what they did?
In August 1969 Jana Ledvinkova of Czechoslovakia came to the U.S. to visit her uncle in Chicago. There she fell in love with another Czech, a doctor named Vaclav Hlavaty, and married him three months later. She never returned to Prague. In March 1971 she became a "permanent resident" and in the meantime took up an old pastime of hers, cross-country skiing. In 1973 she made the U.S. team, which meant she could compete for America in all international meets—except the Olympics. Either of two things could make her eligible for the Games: a waiver from the Czechoslovakia Ski Association or U.S. citizenship. The Czechs refused, pointing out that as far as they were concerned she was living in the U.S. illegally. And under American law she could not become a citizen before March 1976, when her five years of permanent residency would be completed. March would be one month too late for the 1976 Olympics.
So Jana appealed to Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, who got her skis moving, so to speak. Congress passed a special bill waiving the last bit of her five-year waiting period and President Ford, himself a skier, signed it last week, which means Jana is now a citizen and will be able to compete at Innsbruck.
WISH I HADN'T WRITTEN THAT
All sportswriters have days when they write things that come back to haunt them. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Dan Coughlin had such a day a week or so before the Rose Bowl when he emphatically declared, "If UCLA coach Dick Vermeil even hints to his players that they can win, he'll create a credibility gap as wide as the Grand Canyon. At best, he can claim amnesia or temporary insanity. When Vermeil gives his first Rose Bow) talk, the UCLA players will fall down laughing. The joke is that they already played the Rose Bowl, back on Oct. 4, when Ohio State flogged UCLA 41-20. Making them do it again is inhumane, like rematching Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner."
THEY SAID IT
•Jim Murray, Los Angeles Times columnist, foreseeing disaster for baseball if the reserve clause disappears: "A society or industry built on slavery cannot survive emancipation. Just ask Jefferson Davis."
•Wayne Belisle, president of the World Hockey League's Minnesota Fighting Saints, announcing that although he could not meet his payroll the Saints had agreed to play for nothing: "A lot of fans tell me they stay away from pro sports because they are turned off by athletes making too much money. On that basis we ought to have crowds of 150,000 a game now."