A MOCKERY OF JUSTICE
During his six-day trial in New Mexico State District Court on 22 counts of fraud and filing false public vouchers, Norm Ellenberger, the 49-year-old former New Mexico basketball coach who was dismissed in 1979 after a player's academic transcript was found to be falsified (SI, Dec. 10, 1979 et seq.), never denied billing the university for more than $6,000 worth of travel expenses the prosecution alleged were illegitimate. Instead, Ellenberger insisted that he did no wrong, that his superiors at the school knew what he was up to, and even condoned his actions in the interest of ensuring success for the New Mexico basketball team. Furthermore, Ellenberger testified that all the "extra money" in question was used to help support the program.
Apparently the 12-member jury paid more heed to Prosecutor Stephen Westheimer, who asserted that Ellenberger was little more than a "confidence man" involved in a "classic white-collar crime scheme." The jury acquitted Ellenberger of the charge that he cheated former Assistant Coach Charlie Harrison out of $3,000 from a $4,000 check that the Lobo Club, a booster organization, intended as a bonus for Harrison. But it returned guilty verdicts on 21 counts of "double-dipping." To wit: The money paid to Ellenberger by the school was for trips he either did not take or that were already paid for by an outside company.
Ellenberger could have received a sentence of as much as 105 years in prison from Judge Phillip D. Baiamonte, though no one expected him to serve time. But, then, no one expected the feathery tap on the wrist he got from the judge, either. Baiamonte deferred Ellenberger's sentence pending one year's unsupervised probation, upon successful completion of which all counts will be dismissed, and Ellenberger was not directed to make restitution to the university. The judge's leniency led jury foreman Clifford Maricle, a retired truck driver, to say, "I nearly fell out of my chair."
July 19, 1981
Some excerpts from Baiamonte's statement:
•"How fair is it to incarcerate a coach who is basically doing what almost everybody in this community wanted him to do? Namely, win basketball games at any cost and by whatever means necessary to do that. Naturally, the rules and laws were bent. Is anyone really surprised?"
•"If colleges and universities are going to conduct, in effect, minor league but professional basketball and football games and maintain those clubs, they cannot be heard to complain when things go wrong."
•"I'm being asked to sentence a man because he got caught, not because his conduct was unacceptable.... The State is asking that the Defendant be treated like a common criminal, even though that same State benefited from his conduct to the extent of several hundred thousand dollars a year."
Naturally, Ellenberger walked away smiling, just as coaches elsewhere—especially former Arizona Football Coach Tony Mason, who is currently undergoing a similar trial—are no doubt smiling. And why shouldn't they? The NCAA has done precious little to enforce its own rules of conduct. Now a state court has endorsed cheating as being "part of the system." If Ellenberger, one of the most prominent manipulators of that system, isn't punished, who should be?
Cheating is unacceptable, period, and Baiamonte could have used his platform to say so. Those institutions that cannot compete at the highest levels of collegiate sport without resorting to bending or breaking rules shouldn't attempt to. It's tiresome to keep hearing coaches like Ellenberger referring to themselves as "victims."
In an editorial entitled "Ellenberger No Hero," The Albuquerque Tribune said, "If [Ellenberger] was a victim, it was of his own ambition, his lack of principle, and his own futile desire to pin the rap on someone else.... [Ellenberger] thought he could fool this jury into thinking that it was OK to fake airplane rides paid for by the University. Well, the jury didn't buy it.
"Norm Ellenberger has done this community a great disservice. He now has an opportunity to make some amends—by leaving town."
A DAY AT THE ROACHES
It has long been held in physiological circles that the stamina of a long-distance runner is directly related to the efficiency with which he consumes oxygen. Biologists believe that larger animals—say, horses—get better oxygen economy than smaller ones, like linebackers. But, until recently, the question of whether extra legs improve a runner's efficiency has never been fully explored.
To that end, Dr. Clyde F. Herreid II and two associates have been conducting miniature track meets in a lab at the State University of New York at Buffalo with an assortment of invertebrates, including tarantulas, centipedes and millipedes. The researchers started with land crabs, making them race on a foot-long motorized treadmill with tiny oxygen masks glued over their mouths. When the scientists raced hermit crabs, which house themselves in empty sea snail shells of varying sizes, it was found that the heavier the shell the crabs carried, the more oxygen they used. But once the shell got to be heavier than the crab, no greater amount of oxygen was used than if the shell was the same weight as the crab. "If we knew what they were doing," says Herreid, "it might have a great practical application for backpackers."
But most of Herreid's recent work has concerned your basic six-legged cockroach. "They're small and easy to find, and you don't need their permission," he says. The roaches ran in 20-minute heats, though sometimes Herreid would have the better endurance runners on the course for up to an hour. "After that," he says, "we got bored. Who wants to watch a cockroach jog for an hour?" A roach would be disqualified if it flipped over, became agitated, recalcitrant or got tangled up in the test apparatus. "Roaches are just like humans," says Herreid. "Some are wonderful sprinters, some are great at marathons, while others have trouble just crossing the starting line."
(Cockroach racing has a long and hoary tradition. The diversion was all the rage in the early '30s in France, where sportsmen would bet thousands of francs on each roach race at the swank Riviera resort of Juan-les-Pins.)
In the Buffalo lab, the research team clocked all the roaches' times, and of the three species used, the Periplaneta americana—the inner-city roach known to most of us by one of its less printable names—turned out to be the best athlete, several times faster then the runner-up, Gromphadorhina portentosa, the Third World entry from Madagascar.
Herreid's conclusion: "The number of legs doesn't seem to make much difference in terms of energy efficiency." Herreid plans to extend his studies to ants, grasshoppers and kangaroos, but he has yet to fully examine the problems of racing roaches. For instance, should they turn pro? And if so, how do they overcome their repugnant image and get endorsements? Then there is the age-old problem of the loneliness of the long-distance cockroach. But all this wonderment opens up another can of worms, which, of course, have no legs at all.
As negotiations to end the baseball strike sputtered along last week apparently on the road to nowhere, some interesting contradictions turned up in the rhetoric of Ray Grebey, the owners' chief negotiator. His credibility took a particularly severe beating during a National Labor Relations Board hearing in New York in which Grebey testified against an unfair labor practice charge that the Players Association has filed against the owners. The players, arguing that the strike is really a matter of money as far as the owners are concerned, have asked that the owners be required to open the teams' books to prove the clubs' economic hardship; the owners, hoping to avoid submitting their ledgers to scrutiny, have countered by contending that the strike issue—the owners' demand for compensation when losing free agents—is grounded in a desire to maintain competitive balance and isn't at all linked to finances. If that's the case, asked George Cohen, the players' Washington-based attorney, how come so many of Grebey's statements during the past three years have touched on little but the precarious financial status of the clubs?
In cross-examination, Cohen asked Grebey about a March 18, 1979 Boston Herald American article in which Grebey was quoted as saying, "I've found that most of the clubs I've talked to have financial troubles." Grebey at first denied making the statement and then said, "I don't recall."
Cohen: "You don't know whether it's accurate or not because you can't recall whether or not you said it?"
Grebey: "That's right."
Cohen then cited an Aug. 4, 1979 Los Angeles Times article in which Grebey said the baseball industry had become "a sick cow. We haven't produced any milk [profits] for six years. Sixteen clubs lost money last year." Grebey said he couldn't recall the "sick cow" quote and claimed he couldn't have said that 16 teams lost money because "I wouldn't have known that." Yet, an article about Grebey in last spring's issue of the Ken-yon College (Grebey's alma mater) Alumni Bulletin suggests that he did. Wrote History Professor Reed Browning, using information provided by Grebey, "Major league baseball does not generate enough revenue to sustain the game as we now know it.... No less than eight major league franchises suffered after-tax losses of more than $2 million in 1978."
At the NLRB hearing, Grebey was asked if, after meeting with club officials, he sought to learn how they wanted to keep salaries down.
Grebey: "No. I started formulating the collective bargaining policy."
Cohen: "Your bargaining policy had nothing to do with escalating salaries?"
Grebey: "It had something to do with it."
After struggling with his memory over another newspaper quote, Grebey said, "Even if I said...I don't think I'd make a statement like that."
If you're confused, think how the players must feel.
Dick Young, columnist for the New York Daily News and a longtime ally of baseball management, has railed about what he views as the leftward leanings of many of his sportswriting colleagues since the baseball strike began. Wrote Young on June 21, "Some newsmen's views are so far left they should be writing for Tass."
One reason Young often cites for opposing liberal free agency for players is that teams invest great sums of money in player development, via the farm system. Young might be interested to learn that the Soviets seem to think along similar party lines. In 1972 the U.S.S.R. instituted a Diploma Tax designed primarily to keep Jewish intellectuals from "jumping" to other countries unless they paid as much as $60,000, the cost of Moscow's investment in their educations. But the tax received bad press and is no longer being applied.
As for those writers Young believes should apply for work with Tass, they can forget it. Not a word about the strike has been reported by the Soviet news agency. Says Tass New York correspondent Mike Beglov, "Baseball is not too much popular in our country."
A 27-year-old versus an 8-year-old over 165 yards doesn't sound like much of a race until you consider that the contestants were Beasley Reece, a safety for the New York Giants, and Super Kris, a pacer. Last week at Monticello Raceway, man beat horse for the second time in two meetings, by half a horse length. "The poor horse has to win sometime," said Reece. Maybe not. Super Kris has never won a race against horses, much less humans, in 93 starts.
THEY SAID IT
•Frank Boggs, Colorado Springs Sun sports editor: "During my career I have covered four professional teams on a full-time basis—the Dallas Cowboys, the San Diego Chargers, the Denver Broncos and the University of Oklahoma Sooners."
•Cheryl Kratzert, wife of professional golfer Bill Kratzert, on why they married, divorced and then remarried: "We took a mulligan."