ON TACKLING (THE MORALITY PROBLEM) AND HOLDING THAT (ECONOMIC) LINE
The College Football Association, that NCAA splinter group which covets increased television revenue for the 61 major football schools in its ranks, last week conditionally approved a $180 million contract that would allow NBC to televise the football games of member schools for four years, starting in 1982. The action came in defiance of the NCAA, which has long negotiated network football TV contracts for its members and had earlier signed a four-year, $263.5 million deal with CBS and ABC. The CFA vote—33-20, with five abstentions and three voided ballots—escalates a power struggle that could result in the NCAA's disciplining or even expelling the wayward CFA schools, which would like to have their separate TV deal and NCAA membership, too. The CFA has given its schools until Sept. 10 to say for sure whether they will come under the NCAA or the CFA TV package. The threat of excommunication by the NCAA may persuade some of those schools to defy the NCAA no further, but it's just as possible many CFA schools will carry out their mutiny come what may. Or, alternatively, that the NCAA may seek to keep itself intact by appeasing the CFA.
Either of those last two developments would be a victory for the philosophy of big-time college sports, which holds that a big football game with all the trimmings benefits colleges by generating esprit among students and putting alumni and other benefactors in a giving mood. But the cost of all this is considerable. Owing partly to inflation, but more to the need to keep up with the Joneses, athletic department budgets are increasingly strained by the costs of travel, equipment and, above all, athletic scholarships. Most big-time athletic departments attempt, officially at least, to pay their own way by means of revenue from gate admissions, TV and outside contributions, an approach that necessarily puts a lot of emphasis on winning.
But not everybody can win—either on the field or at the box office. The University of Michigan's promotion-minded athletic director, Don Canham, estimates that his is one of no more than 20 to 25 schools whose sports programs pay their own way. Most athletic departments are scrambling to keep financially afloat, an effort that leads to reliance on overly influential boosters, shameless hucksterism and a great variety of transgressions: illegal recruiting practices, relaxed entrance requirements, doctored transcripts, the failure of too many athletes to graduate (even though their education may be free) and the revocation of scholarships the instant athletes stop producing on the field.
August 30, 1981
Besides being only too willing to sacrifice their athletes and their own supposedly high-minded values, some of the big sports schools appear prepared to sacrifice one another. The most telling argument against the CFA is that its approach would worsen the rich-get-richer situation that already exists in college sport. This has caused great injury to less successful schools, which consequently have had to resort to Stockmanesque budget cuts. These include not only commendable economies in travel and equipment costs, but also the less welcome dropping of sports, most but not all of them minor. Last April, financially strapped Villanova discontinued its football program, a move that caused stunned athletic department officials to inveigh against the increasingly elitist cast of big-budget college sports. Noting that Villanova had been given no more than an occasional nibble of the NCAA's television pie, which is devoured by the biggest football powers, Athletic Director Ted Aceto lamented, "The big schools are trying to make money and don't care if everybody else is second-class." Villanova football Coach Dick Bedesem said, "Sure we were losing money. But chemistry and history lose money, too."
Bedesem's complaint hits at the very heart of big-time college sports. Assuming that intercollegiate athletics has a legitimate educational purpose, this question can be fairly asked: Why shouldn't it be supported by the college's general funds just as the history department is? Of course, this would require reining in bloated athletic programs. Instead of quitting football, Villanova, a Division I-A school, might have dropped to Division I-AA (whose members hold down costs by awarding fewer athletic scholarships), Division II (fewer still) or even Division III (whose schools give scholarships only on the basis of need, an approach also followed in Division-I-A by the heretical members of the Ivy League). Until now, scholarship-limiting schools have coexisted within the NCAA with the big athletic powers. Members of the Pac-10 arid Big Ten, at least, apparently feel this coexistence can continue more or less as is. At any rate, those two conferences have so far refused to join the CFA.
The CFA is wedded to the idea that college sports should be, as much as possible, self-supporting. CFA executive director Chuck Neinas grandly refers to what he calls the "generated revenue theory," adding pointedly, "Those who operate on this theory have to come up with ways to generate the revenue." Thus, while the NCAA's new TV contract would selectively spread $263.5 million among the 137 Division I-A schools and some lower-division schools, the CFA's deal would return $180 million to only 61 schools—minus an 8% cut the CFA says it's prepared to give the NCAA. In addition to increased per-school revenues, CFA members want greater control of their own destiny in other ways; they complain that in the existing NCAA structure, the Portland States of the world have too much say in matters that really affect only the Penn States. As for the abuses associated with big-time sports, the CFA-ers insist that they actually want to implement stronger safeguards against cheating than those adopted by the NCAA.
But can the CFA schools possibly have it both ways? As far back as 1951, New York District Attorney Frank Hogan concluded that the commercialism in college sports—and this, remember, was before buckets of TV loot were pouring down on the colleges—had contributed to a "moral climate" that helped precipitate the point-shaving scandals then rocking college basketball. Most of the players accused of shaving points, Hogan said, "should never have been accepted as college students. With only a few exceptions, their high school grades were below average.... [The colleges] shamelessly bargained for their services. Inducements were offered. To describe such bidding as scholarship aid is only to add to the hypocrisy practiced.... This was the introduction of these defendants to higher education.... Is it strange that they found the idealism and the search for truth in the classroom inconsistent with their commercial arrangements?" Hogan's words might apply just as well both to college sport's recent academic transcript scandals and to the current allegations of point shaving during the 1978-79 season by basketball players at Boston College.
Calls to abolish athletic scholarships in favor of aid on a need-only basis continue to be heard. Opponents, however, argue that such a move would lead to under-the-table payments. Although it is hard to imagine that cheating could be any worse than it already is, the abandonment of athletic scholarships—or, more properly, grants-in-aid—is unlikely. Most major college presidents seem to regard high-powered varsity sport as an acceptable adjunct to higher education whose benefits are worth both the economic costs and even the attendant excesses. One hopes those presidents might hear out Dr. William Marshall, the athletic director of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., which, as a Division III school, awards no athletic scholarships and scrapes by on a modest athletic budget that depends on general school funds. Largely because of low overhead, Franklin and Marshall is able to offer 22 men's and women's varsity sports, with, astonishingly, 498 of the school's 2,000 students, or 24.9%, taking part. This compares to, say, the University of Southern California, where 620 of 17,199 students, or 3.6%, play 20 varsity sports.
"Like other institutions at this level, we look at intercollegiate athletics as part of the educational enterprise," Dr. Marshall told SI's Brooks Clark. "We're funded as a department of the college, and whether we win, lose or draw, we know what our budget for the year is going to be. We hire a football coach not because he's going to fill a stadium, but because we think he'll teach young people. We don't have great sums of money tied up in athletic grants-in-aid, and we don't have a handle on a young man or a young woman that says, 'We've given you a scholarship, now we expect you to perform.' When I hear about schools dropping sports, it makes me sad, because once a program is dropped—whether it's an academic or athletic program—you limit opportunities for young people. I can't understand schools that say, 'We can't afford to have wrestling or gymnastics,' or that cut out cross-country or golf. If a school is spending millions on grants-in-aid for sports, how can it not afford to have a sport that has almost no overhead?"
Whatever the outcome of the CFA-NCAA dispute, the athletic powers engaged in it—on both sides—might learn a lesson from tiny Franklin and Marshall. They might accept that the first priority facing them isn't to extract more money from TV. Rather, it's to rescue big-time college sport from its troubled state and put it more squarely in the framework of campus life, where it surely belongs.
BACK, BUT NOT BY POPULAR DEMAND
It's only too true: Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier are fixing to come out of retirement, Ali to fight a yet-to-be-selected opponent in November in Columbia, S.C., Frazier to meet either Scott LeDoux or John Tate that same month in Atlantic City, Cleveland or Las Vegas. The parallel comebacks of the two fighters add a melancholy twist to their famous rivalry: Now they seem to be vying to determine who's the bigger fool.
So let's meet the combatants. In this corner, weighing 244 pounds, is the 39-year-old Ali, who hasn't fought since last October, when he failed to win a round in a punishing 11-round TKO loss to Larry Holmes. Ali's speech is slurred, a possible sign of punchiness. His career was interrupted for more than three years after he was stripped of his title in 1967 for refusing military induction, and for more than two years when he retired in 1978 after winning the heavyweight title for the third time.
And in this corner, weighing 236 pounds, is the 37-year-old Frazier. He hasn't fought for five years; in his last bout, on June 15, 1976 he was separated from his senses while suffering a brutal beating at the fists of George Foreman.
Some athletes, of course, have done well at advanced ages, including George Blanda, Ken Rosewall, Gordie Howe, Pete Rose and, in boxing, Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore. But, except for Howe, none of them laid off for a significant length of time late in their careers. The severe beatings Ali and Frazier took in their last fights, compounded by long layoffs, extra weight and their ages, make them candidates for serious injury. So which of the two archrivals, Ali or Frazier, is going to prove to be the bigger fool? Unlike their three memorable fights in the ring, this one could wind up as a draw.
ROADWORK IN STOCKHOLM
Somehow we find this story of another former heavyweight champion more heartwarming. It concerns Ingemar Johansson, 48, who has no intention, so far as we know, of returning to the ring. Now the proprietor of a motel in Pompano Beach, Fla., Johansson has weighed as much as 280 pounds in recent years, but when somebody bet him that he couldn't finish the biggest road race in his native Sweden, the Stockholm Marathon, he accepted the challenge.
Johansson trained by jogging 90 minutes a day under a blazing Florida sun, paring his weight to a relatively svelte 246 pounds. When the Stockholm Marathon got under way earlier this month, there Johansson was, one of 8,000 entrants seeking to complete a course that wound through city streets and ended in Stockholm Stadium. Still a national hero, Johansson drew cheers from the crowd of 270,000 lining the route, but the most touching scene occurred in the stadium, where spectators politely applauded when Bill Rodgers won in 2:13:26, then waited expectantly for Johansson. It was quite a wait. Finally, there was a roar from the 10,000 people still, remarkably, on hand as Johansson came into view and lumbered across the finish line in 4:40:13. Happy at having won his bet, he puffed to reporters, "It was tougher than I expected, but I never doubted I'd finish. With such fantastic support from the public, I never thought of giving up."
SAY HEY, IVAN LENDL
One of the many charms of the annual Volvo International tennis tournament in tranquil North Conway, N.H. is the soft-ball game traditionally held on the village green for the touring pros, many of them foreigners who don't know first base from a wild pitch. During this year's game, you could see the smooth-stroking (in tennis, that is) Czech star Ivan Lendl, who lost in the semifinals of the Volvo to the eventual champion, Jose-Luis Clerc of Argentina, awkwardly trying to master the intricacies of swinging a bat. Or you could see South Africa's John Yuill being flummoxed by a routine fly ball to left field. Or Angel Gimenez, a 5'4" Spaniard, seeking some sort of advantage by coming to the plate perched on the shoulders of 6'2" Jim Delaney. And there always seemed to be some base runner vainly trying to advance two or even three bases on a caught pop fly, the necessity of tagging up having eluded him.
But if some of the tennis players didn't quite get the hang of softball, they did show a nice satirical touch at the expense of the local chap who was serving as umpire. As touring pro George Hardie wrote in International Tennis Weekly. "A line drive was hit down the leftfield line. Signaling fair, the umpire was immediately besieged by players asking him to check the mark. When that ploy failed, he was kindly asked to play two and, in the ensuing imbroglio, two or three runners crossed the plate before order was finally restored. To the ump's credit, he stuck by his guns in the face of quite a multilingual barrage."
Please sign that man up to umpire at Wimbledon.
HE PLAYS FOR THE LOCAL (CA)NINE
A sheep dog belonging to Jennifer Sedlak of Westminster, Md. recently performed in a talent show for animals at a 4-H fair. The dog scooped up ground balls and grabbed pop flies, much in the manner of the Baltimore Orioles' slick-fielding third baseman. Hence the animal's name: Dog DeCinces.
SINGING THE SPLIT-SEASON BLUES
By any measure, baseball's poststrike decision to adopt a split-season format has been a disaster. One of the innovation's avowed objectives was to create more playoff loot by squeezing in intradivisional playoff games before the usual interdivisional playoffs. Yet this could have been achieved without a split season; playoffs simply could have been staged between the first-and second-place finishers in each division. Which leads us to the other questionable motive for split-season play, namely, to rekindle the interest of fans turned off by the strike. Had baseball's elders simply resumed the season after the settlement, there would have been four ongoing and exciting division races. Instead, the imposition of a "second" season created an early-season torpor that has contributed to disappointing poststrike attendance. So far anyway, the split season hasn't rekindled interest but has further deadened it.
All this is in addition to the integrity issue raised by the clumsy attempt to tinker with the time-honored rhythm of a baseball season already disrupted by a 50-day strike. Under the original split-season scheme, if the same team had won both halves of the season, it would have been matched in playoffs against the team in its division with the second-best overall record. But that raised the disturbing possibility that a club with a shot at the second-best overall record could have got into these playoffs by deliberately losing games so that the first-half winner would also become the second-half winner (SCORECARD, Aug. 17, et seq.). Belatedly seeking to close that loophole, the lords of baseball last week amended the format by ruling that if the same team wins both halves, it will go into the intradivisional playoffs against the second-place team from the second season. Alas, it remains, as before, possible that the team with the best record in baseball could miss the playoffs. What's more, contrary to the impression Commissioner Bowie Kuhn sought to convey, the new format doesn't completely eliminate the integrity problem because a situation could arise in which it might be possible for a first-round champion to handpick its playoff opponent by intentionally losing games. Indeed, these dangers would have lurked in almost any playoff proposal.
With luck, attendance may yet pick up and the circumstances that could tempt a team to consider throwing a game will not occur. Even so, baseball purists were understandably disoriented last week by a strike-riddled season in which the Phillies' Steve Carlton had a 10-3 record while his team was 5-7. You see, Carlton's record was for both halves of the season, while the Phillies, who won the first half of the National League East, were struggling in the second half and...aw, forget it.
'ATTA GIRL, ANN, PUNISH 'EM
A Boston Globe reporter interviewed a Red Sox fan named Ann from Maiden, Mass. at Fenway Park the other day and came away shaking his head. Ann said that during the strike she was so mad at players and management alike that she vowed she'd never attend another game. Her presence at Fenway, she hastened to add, meant she'd merely decided to change her tactics. She explained:
"This morning I woke up and started thinking 'Why shouldn't I go? If I don't go, who do I hurt?...The only person I hurt is myself, because I enjoy baseball. So I figure I'm not going to give them the satisfaction of upsetting me any more than they have.' That is basically why I'm here—to get back at them."
Ann paused before applying the cruncher. "If I get really vindictive," she said, "I'll buy season tickets."
THEY SAID IT
•John Hannah, upon seeing his billing on the cover of the Aug. 3 issue of SI as THE BEST OFFENSIVE LINEMAN OF ALL TIME: "Oh, Lord, help me. This is going to be a long year."
•Barry Beck, New York Ranger defense-man, on why he modeled underwear at a fashion show: "I thought it would be good exposure."