RESTATING THE CASE FOR REFORM
This is an article from the Sept. 1, 1980 issue
In 1976, Arthur Hansen, the president of Purdue University, fired Alex Agase, the football coach, whose record in four seasons with the Boilermakers was 18-25-1. Hansen praised Agase's "integrity and honesty," but he also said, "The main thing is keeping gate receipts at the games as high as possible." Today, in the face of college sport's burgeoning academic cheating scandal, Hansen doesn't shrink from his definition of the "main thing." Insisting that intercollegiate sport can be clean and big, Hansen still emphasizes the importance of filling the football stadium.
"There are 20,000-plus students at the stadium on a given Saturday," Hansen told SI's Bob Sullivan. "They receive a tremendous sense of spirit, a positive, psychologically lifting experience. Then there's the allegiance of alumni. For some, football is the only tie. There are community gains, too. Football is a positive good which, if we were to remove it, would have negative ramifications."
Hansen is hardly alone in defending big-time college sport. Despite the pervasiveness of the current scandal, there have been few calls for "de-emphasis" of college athletics, a remedy widely espoused during similar troubles in the '40s and '50s. Given that fact, the most one can realistically hope for is the adoption of reforms to eliminate some of the excesses. But the need for such action is urgent, a fact underscored by the situation in the Pac-10, whose presidents and chancellors two weeks ago disqualified five member schools—USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon and Oregon State—from this year's conference championship race because of various improprieties. Last week the Pac-10 also declared three Oregon football players ineligible for the season for accepting free airline tickets. Meanwhile, questions have been raised about how four UCLA freshman basketball players were reportedly able to buy cars costing up to $7,000 from two L.A. dealers without need of financing. Yet another Pac-10 school, California, has been embarrassed by reports that Chuck Muncie, an All-America running back now with the New Orleans Saints, received credit in 1974 for an extension course at Santa Clara University he never took. Away from the Pac-10, an investigation by the Nevada State Journal and Reno Evening Gazette reveals, astonishingly, that of the 80 blacks who played football or basketball at the University of Nevada-Reno over the past nine years, only two graduated from that school. One nongraduate, Edgar Jones, a basketball player now with the New Jersey Nets, was quoted as claiming that coaches had discouraged him from pursuing a meaningful education.
"They didn't give me incentive to get out of bed," Jones said. "I wanted to take math classes. I couldn't do it. They said it's too hard, drop it. I was a whiz with numbers." Jones said he was also talked out of biology classes and was steered instead into physical education classes in which "you learned things you learned in health class in grade school." Straining to find something good to say about his college education, Jones said, "I learned to weld. I never welded before."
In his examination of academic cheating in SI last May, John Underwood put forward a list of suggested reforms. The NCAA has already adopted Underwood's proposal that credits for extension and correspondence courses be applied toward athletic eligibility only if the courses are offered by the athlete's own school. Other proposals advanced by Underwood will be considered at the NCAA convention next January, including elimination of eligibility for freshmen to give them more time to acclimatize themselves to the demands of the classroom. But some items on Underwood's agenda are meeting resistance, notably his suggestion that pressures on football coaches to win—and to cheat—might be relieved by granting them tenure like that enjoyed by professors. But it seems that many college presidents are reluctant to relinquish their God-given right to fire football coaches.
Such squeamishness about tenure and other needed reforms is unfortunate. The current crisis in college sport raises serious doubt about whether academic excellence is compatible with high-powered, high-pressure intercollegiate sport. We hope that Arthur Hansen and other likeminded administrators are right in saying it is. But as the 1980 college football season begins, the burden is squarely on them to prove it.
TANDEM POWER CLUB
When Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit 61 and 54 home runs, respectively, in 1961, the Yankee sluggers became the most accomplished duo in what Jeff Bachrach, sports editor of the Willamette Week in Portland, Ore., calls the Tandem Power Club. Membership in the TPC is open to any two teammates who combine for 80 or more homers in a season. There have been only 34 such pairs since Babe Ruth (60) and Lou Gehrig (47) became the first in 1927. Their 107 is second to the 115 by Maris and Mantle on the alltime list.
Interestingly, the TPC has been cracked just once since 1973. That occurred in 1977 when Cincinnati's George Foster (52) and Johnny Bench (31) hit 83. Combining for 80 homers has proved difficult because, even though there are more teams and a longer schedule than in bygone years, the number of individual players who hit 40 or more homers in a season has declined. Thus it was noteworthy that Milwaukee's Ben Oglivie and Gorman Thomas ranked second and third behind Reggie Jackson in the American League last week with 32 and 29 homers. But Oglivie and Thomas had better step it up. At the rate they're going, they'll finish with 78 homers, missing the TPC by two.
AMUSING, BUT LOSING
It was vintage Bill Lee, a bon mot delivered by the Montreal Expos' pitcher and resident wit following a pep talk to the pennant-contending club by its president, John McHale. Deadpanned Lee: "He said we'd come a long way. We'd only come from St. Louis." Alas, Lee was on the disabled list and had a 3-6 record and a 5.51 ERA when he uttered those words, prompting Expo Manager Dick Williams to dust off one of his best lines: "Lee sounds a lot funnier when he's winning."
IN HIS OWN LEAGUE
In his 1970 book Out of Their League, ex-NFL Linebacker Dave Meggyesy reviled pro football as, among other things, dehumanizing, racist, militaristic and brutal. Meggyesy also dealt harshly with college football. And he had little good to say about high school football. All of which is essential background to the rather startling news that Dave Meggyesy, now 38, has become a football coach.
Meggyesy is coaching at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, Calif., an affluent community in Marin County, north of San Francisco. His new job is in addition to his regular work as a carpenter and as an instructor of two courses at Stanford, "Sports Consciousness" and "The Athlete and Society." The coaching position pays him $900 a season. He has six assistants and makes his debut on Sept. 13, when his Tamalpais High Indians take the field against El Molino High.
Meggyesy concedes today that he may have been overly critical of certain individuals in his book and he further allows that football is "a game of hitting," a fact he didn't seem fully prepared to accept during his days as an anti-Establishment firebrand. But Meggyesy doesn't intend to be just another football coach. During preseason practice he has been friendly with his players, more like a pal than a head coach, and full of encouragement. He says, "I want to coach with an openness, to make the athletic experience a joy in a positive atmosphere. Winning is important but it's not to be overemphasized. I will try to convey a certain enthusiasm and inspiration and respect for the opponent. I see football as an intense contest but in the positive sense."
The Tamalpais Indians and Meggyesy appear to be made for each other. A school of 1,700 students in the Marin County Athletic League, Tamalpais High is traditionally strong in track and field but not in football. In recent years soccer, swimming and tennis have all gained in popularity at football's expense. Last year's football team had a 1-9 record, and school officials were surprised at the large number of students—more than 50—who turned out for Meggyesy's first practice. James Hanretty, the school principal, has reason to believe the enthusiasm will last. "I like his philosophy," he says of his school's new coach. "Football should be enjoyed. Kids shouldn't play for a coach out of fear."
THE CLOSED OPEN
By definition, an "open" tournament is one in which anybody who's good enough can play. Naturally, there has to be some sort of elimination system to hold down the number of entrants. Yet when the U.S. Tennis Association staged its qualifying tournament to fill the last 16 spots in the field of 128 for the men's division of the U.S. Open, it did so in a manner that makes a mockery of that hallowed event's very name.
In filling berths for the qualifying tournament, which has a 128-man draw, too, the USTA gave priority to players with the most points under the computer-ranking system maintained by the Association of Tennis Professionals, the union to which most of the male touring pros belong. Fair enough. But only 92 players who had points to their credit entered the qualifying event, which presumably left 36 spots for the unranked players—most of them college boys and local tournament types—who had gathered at Flushing Meadow in hopes of filling such berths. The USTA then dropped a bombshell, ruling that the 36 spots would be left vacant in order "to preserve the quality of play in a Grand Slam event."
What the USTA overlooked was that it's the U.S. Open, not the qualifying tournament, that is the Grand Slam event. Any chaff in the qualifying tournament would have been quickly separated from the wheat. And, in fact, as the USTA was well aware, some of the unranked players were better than some of those with points. The upshot is that this year's U.S. Open is virtually limited to tournament pros only. Call it the U.S. Closed.
From his bed in Houston's Methodist Hospital, where he's recovering from his stroke, J.R. Richard sent a handwritten note to his Astro teammates last week saying he was looking forward to the club's being in the World Series this year, "even if I have to watch." Meanwhile, Richard was visited by Earl Campbell and Billy Johnson of the Oilers—and walked them to the elevator when the visit was over. Of Richard's condition, the Astro team physician, Dr. Harold Brelsford, had this to say:
"I'm going to keep him in the hospital three or four more weeks if I can. But I don't know what luck I'll have, because he'll want out soon. His speech is close to normal. He still has a weakness in his muscles. I asked him who was on base when Enos Cabell got the winning hit Friday night [in a 3-2 Astro victory over Chicago]. He [correctly] said it was Dave Bergman, and he was surprised Bergman pinch-hit. So he's certainly alert. He lost about 20 pounds but he's gained some of it back. Except for his facial weakness, you wouldn't know he had a stroke. I checked his legs today, and there's hardly any weakness in his left leg. He seemed in good spirits. You couldn't ask for better progress."
THEY SAID IT
•Patty Sheehan, a rookie on the LPGA circuit: "I like the thought of playing for money instead of silverware. I never did like to polish."
•Joe Greene, who wears all four of his Super Bowl rings on his right hand: "Our motto is, 'One for the thumb in '81.' "
•Lee MacPhail, American League president, recounting a meeting with Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver, whom he subsequently suspended for three games for abusing umpires: "Earl gave me his version of what happened and asked me not to suspend the umpires."
•Larry Lacewell, Arkansas State football coach, after a senior quit, leaving the inexperienced team with three seniors and 10 juniors: "Only 13 more to go and we'll be a junior college."
•Paul Guanzon, Honolulu sportscaster, asked on a radio talk show how one becomes a sports announcer: "It's not politics, it's just who you know."