TEMPEST IN TEXAS
The fine line between being a responsible citizen and a reprehensible informer is under considerable discussion, much of it passionate, in the state of Texas. Two Texas A&M freshman basketball players, Karl Godine and Jarvis Williams, were suspended by the Southwest Conference last month for violating recruiting rules. The talented pair, who had been all-state when they played for state champion Kashmere High in Houston, were said to have accepted cash bonuses, the use of new automobiles, gifts for their parents and other illegal inducements. The players, protesting their innocence, went into court and obtained an injunction against the suspensions, pending a rehearing of their case by the conference's faculty committee. In court it came out that the alleged recruiting violations had been called to the conference's attention last September by Leon Black, basketball coach at the University of Texas.
The Texas coach was vilified by A&M supporters, who claimed that the fierce rivalry between the two schools had prompted Black's action. He was called a stool pigeon. He received abusive phone calls at three o'clock in the morning. At basketball games A&M students altered their traditional cheer to "Beat the hell out of Leon Black" instead of using the name of the opposing team.
At the rehearing last week, the charges against Godine and Williams were upheld by an 8-1 vote, Texas A&M casting the only dissenting ballot. The players were suspended for the rest of this season and all of next, although they will retain their scholarships. Texas A&M was punished, too; the number of basketball scholarships it is allowed to give annually was reduced from five to four for the next two years.
Where did this leave Black, who still bore the brand of informer? Should he have looked the other way?
Darrell Royal, athletic director at Texas, says, "Leon told me, 'I said to those kids during recruiting that they would be investigated whether they went to Texas A&M, the University of Texas or wherever.' " The conference, in a formal statement, thanked Black publicly and commended him "for performing his mandatory duty," a commendation that seems well deserved.
A few days later, denying that his decision had been prompted by publicity rising out of the suspensions, Leon Black resigned as basketball coach at Texas.
SKY'S THE LIMIT
When in 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to climb Mount Everest, they probably did not appreciate how much money they were saving by getting there before the crowd. Now that the world's highest peak has become a tourist attraction, Nepal charges a fee for an expedition to the top from Katmandu, and in fact has just upped the ante from $800 to $1,200. That's a real price hike.
The Montreal Olympics seems to have turned one of those mythical corners. Work on the stadium is moving ahead, and words and phrases such as "disaster" and "postponement" and "plans for alternate sites" are heard less frequently. In their place are more traditional pre-Olympic news stories, notably those that dwell with relish on minor catastrophes that don't really matter at all.
For instance, Canadians have failed to respond to the "official" Olympic Games welcoming song. Recorded by a teen-age singing sensation named René Simard, whose records usually sell in the hundreds of thousands in Canada, Bienvenue √† Montréal (Welcome to Montreal) has been a bomb. Miffed by this is André Morin, whose title is director general of official ceremonies. "We could sell millions of records," he says, "but it must be played over the air. The press and the radio don't want it on the air because of their personal evaluation of the song."
A Montreal radio station confirms this, but insists that its refusal to play Welcome to Montreal is actually an effort to help the Olympics. The song, it says, is both unimaginative and overpromotional, and because there is so much cynicism already about the Olympics, "playing the song might turn a lot of people off."
Then there is the controversy rising out of Queen Elizabeth's scheduled visit to the Olympics. It seems the plumbing system on the royal yacht, HMS Britannia, does not conform to Canada's new and rather stringent environmental regulations. "Delicate negotiations" to solve the "touchy problem" are underway, and the question of the royal flush, as it is cheerfully called in Canadian papers, has become a front-page story.
Bienvenue √† Montréal, your majesty.
SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
Now that Montreal has everything under control, what about Moscow and the 1980 Olympics? One report says the Soviets, undeterred by the bundle the Canadians have gone for, are budgeting $8 billion for their own three-week show, seven times what Montreal is spending. Of course, that includes funds for high-priced fringe benefits, such as hotels, motels, campsites and a lavish Olympic Village, all of which will accommodate 40,000 people. Moscow already has Olympic sized Lenin Stadium (cap. 104,172), but it will build some 15 new sports structures. To help finance this ambitious program the Soviets are thinking of going the way of all flesh and instituting a worldwide Olympic lottery.
GLOW IT HERE, BABE
It's so American to want something better, even a catcher's mitt. A few years ago someone designed an outsize pillow of a glove to flag down errant knuckleballs, and now Al Campanis, vice-president of the Dodgers, has taken out a patent on a fluorescent one. As with so many strokes of genius, it came to Campanis in a flash. Listening to an old tape recording of Branch Rickey one day, he heard baseball's revered pundit say, "Someday someone will invent something to make pitchers concentrate on the catcher's target." Not long afterward, Campanis passed a cluster of highway workmen in fluorescent orange that made them more visible to passing motorists. "Of course!" Campanis said to himself and at once phoned—well, he waited until he got home—the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company with his idea. Basically, it is a mitt with a 2½" perimeter of orange fluorescent vinyl that outlines the glove and—at night particularly—turns it into a target. Now all Campanis has to invent are pitchers who can hit the target.
The famous speed-skating rink in West Allis, Wis., near Milwaukee, where Sheila Young, Peter Mueller and other Olympic speed-skating stars train, is in jeopardy. The state-owned rink, the only Olympic-sized, 400-meter oval in the country, operates at a deficit (about $13,000 this season), and auditors have recommended that it be closed.
"So far it hasn't happened," says Business Manager Walter Rueckert, "and I imagine we'll open again next November. But we can't stay open long if losses continue to be heavy."
The rink cost the state of Wisconsin $500,000 to construct, and an additional $363,000 has been put into it since (debt retirement runs to $44,000 annually), but the annual deficit derives only from operating expenses.
"The size of the deficit depends on public attendance," Rueckert says. "We charge SI for adults and 75¢ for children, but this year public skating was way down because of the warm fall. We had to close on Jan. 25, two weeks earlier than usual, because of our losses."
The U.S. Olympic Committee paid $12,000 to use the rink for the Olympic Trials and a couple of big meets, but it is conjectural whether the USOC could take over management of the rink and assume its expenses. Upset by reports that the rink might close, Marquette basketball Coach Al McGuire declared, "There must be 13 companies in the Milwaukee area that could each find $1,000 somewhere to help save the rink." A Milwaukee disk jockey named Larry the Legend has raised $2,000 in contributions from his listeners.
But there it stands, or melts. Six of America's 10 Olympic medals at Innsbruck were won by skaters who trained at West Allis. If the rink has to close, what happens to U.S. speed skating?
THE BARK THAT BITES
Out of the pages of a guide to North American trees, the Baltimore Sun has come up with the following cast of characters for a western movie:
Bull Pine: owner of the Ponderosa, biggest ranch in the valley.
Virginia Pine: Bull's pretty daughter.
Yellow Pine: Bull's weakling son, who has been hanging out lately with...
Black Birch: a ne'er-do-well dandy who has long been suspected of cattle rustling.
Red Spruce: Bull's two-fisted, straight-shooting foreman, whose suit for the hand of Virginia Pine seemed destined for success—until she met...
Douglas Fir: new foreman over at the sawmill.
Sour Gum: the town banker.
Quaking Aspen: a frail-hearted tenderfoot from the East.
Sugar Maple, Honey Locust and Scarlet Haw: three popular dance-hall girls seen often in the Longbranch Saloon.
Shagbark Hickory and Mountain Ash: territorial guides.
Blackjack Oak: a big gambler.
Slippery Elm: a tinhorn gambler.
All we need now are some wooden Indians.
An analysis of shooting percentages in major college basketball shows that accuracy has risen remarkably since 1948, the first year such statistics were compiled. Back then players sank 29.3% of their field-goal attempts. By 1956 the figure was up to 37.5% and a decade later to 43.6%. The shooters continued to improve, if at a slower rate, and now are gunning away at 46.2%. When the University of Toledo upset undefeated Western Michigan 88-80 a few weeks ago, it sank 65% of its shots from the floor—72% in the second half.
Although it was long an article of faith for some people that the great increase in basketball scoring over the past quarter of a century was the natural result of a more open, aggressive, go-for the-basket style of play, the average number of field goals attempted by both teams in a game has actually dropped (138.7 in 1948, 134.3 this season). So the rise in scoring comes not from quantity but quality, from shooting that is better despite today's stronger defensive play.
What caused the improvement? Good lighting in arenas, better equipment (the modern basketball is a thing of ballistic beauty compared to those old leather lumps), an emphasis on taking high-percentage shots, the jump shot (far more accurate and productive than the old set shot), all arc factors. But mostly it is the players themselves, who are bigger, stronger and more athletically adept than their predecessors and who devote much more time to developing techniques and improving skills.
Not that this will prove any solace to Western Michigan. Why did Toledo have to get so hot that night?
THEY SAID IT
•Lefty Driesell, University of Maryland basketball coach, explaining why his Terps have been able to defeat North Carolina State twice: "They have a small team, just like ours, but I guess our little men are bigger than their little men."
•Judge Aaron Brown of Toronto, ruling that Dan Maloney of the Detroit Red Wings must stand trial on assault charges resulting from an on-ice fight: "It is both good law and good sense that the force and effect of the criminal law should apply equally and evenly inside and outside the sporting arena."
•Guy Drut, French hurdler, favored to win his specialty at Montreal: "It's easier to win the Olympics than the U.S. championship. At the Olympics you have only three Americans to beat."
•John McKay, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, asked how he and his staff were managing to operate without any players because of the delayed allocation draft: "We all have swivel chairs. We look at one wall for a while, then turn and look at another."