HOW TOP-RANKED CLEMSON MADE SOME BAD NEWS WORSE
Clemson was voted the top team in college football for the first time in its history last week, but what should have been a proud moment was tainted by the reaction of the university's president, Dr. Bill Lee Atchley, to a nine-minute report on ABC-TV concerning allegations of abuses by Tiger recruiters. Atchley maintained that ABC, which aired the report at halftime of the Nov. 28 Penn State-Pitt game, had no business doing so because an NCAA investigation into the charges was in progress, an argument vaguely reminiscent of pleas by the Nixon White House that the press leave the Watergate investigation to the proper authorities. It was an especially curious contention coming from a college president presumably committed to freedom of inquiry. In a similar spirit NCAA Executive Director Walter Byers had earlier sent a wire to ABC asking that the half-time telecast be canceled.
The ABC report was an updated version of one the network decided not to air during its telecast of the Nov. 7 Clem-son-North Carolina game (SCORECARD, Nov. 30). That decision fueled suspicions that the network was bowing to pressure from Clemson officials, who had threatened to refuse to let the Tigers take the field unless the report was scrapped. But ABC Producer Jeff Ruhe said the network held off because it wanted to talk to other sources and "to evaluate the credibility of the charges."
The charges were made by two former Knoxville, Tenn. high school football stars, James Cofer and Terry Minor, who in December 1980 signed letters of intent to play for Clemson. Last February, they changed their minds and asked Clemson for releases from those letters, only to be turned down. They then reported to the NCAA that they had been offered money to sign with the school. They went public with their story in The Knoxville News-Sentinel in June. Atchley then granted them their desired releases; however, they are not now attending any school.
December 14, 1981
Cofer and Minor repeated their allegations on camera for ABC. They said they'd been given $1,000 and $500 in cash, respectively, as "Christmas presents" from Tom C. Breazeale, a Knoxville insurance man and Clemson alumnus, for agreeing to attend the school. Cofer said he'd been offered the money earlier by Clemson Coach Danny Ford and a former Ford assistant, Bill Ware. Breazeale, Ford and Ware wouldn't talk on camera to ABC, although Ware denied to SI that he offered money to Cofer. Bending over backward to suggest that Cofer and Minor may have had axes to grind, commentator Jim Lampley told the TV audience that evaluation of their charges "must take into account the fact they were associated with Cofer and Minor's efforts to secure a release from their commitment to Clemson."
It was perhaps inevitable that ABC's motives in running the interviews would be called into question. ABC pays handsomely for the right to cover college football, and like the other two major networks, it has often been less than hard-hitting in covering sports it pays to telecast. So why the departure from established practice with regard to Clemson? Ruhe cited an ABC effort to be more "topical," but Clemson partisans claimed that the network, which is telecasting the Pitt-Georgia Sugar Bowl showdown on New Year's Day, was trying to denigrate Clemson because the Tigers are scheduled to play Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on NBC at the same hour. "They [ABC] were trying to do that [the Cofer-Minor report] to help the Sugar Bowl, and I just can't get over it," said Stan Marks, chairman of the Orange Bowl's selection committee. Clemson Athletic Director Bill McLellan agreed: "I think they were trying to promote the Sugar Bowl." Ascribing such Machiavellian intent to ABC is far-fetched. The network began preparing its report on Clemson even before bowl bids went out.
The protect-the-Sugar-Bowl thesis was also advanced by Atchley, who further said, "ABC and the media are taking it upon themselves to find out what's going on, but they should leave it to the NCAA." Atchley told SI's Bob Sullivan that Cofer and Minor came across on TV like "two young people walking through the clover, like they were coming out of heaven," and said of the ABC telecast, "It harmed the university. And it could have an effect on an outstanding coach, a good Christian, Danny Ford." Asked whether he felt the press had the right to investigate suspected wrongdoers, Atchley said, "If they break the law, they should be [investigated]. All NCAA rules [violations] aren't breaking the law."
Atchley thus appeared to be denying the press the right to examine possible ethical, as distinct from criminal, transgressions or, indeed, to look into any matter that hasn't already resulted in a conviction in court. For its part, the NCAA had already taken a somewhat different position, holding that its less-than-arm's-length relationship with ABC obliges the latter to restrain its coverage; in his telegram to ABC, Byers had suggested that if the Cofer-Minor interviews had to run, they should be aired on a newscast rather than on a halftime show.
ABC's willingness to take on Clemson and the NCAA—and the resulting implication that its game coverage is a newscast—came as welcome proof that the networks don't always have to play quite so cozy with the sports they cover. In refusing to concede this point, Clemson and the NCAA were, in effect, asserting a right to dictate the news. Given the posture of Clemson's administration, it wasn't surprising that handbills denouncing ABC were widely circulated on that school's campus, or even that the Tigers' sports information director, Bob Bradley, helpfully alerted a local sportswriter to a brush with the law that ABC's Lampley once had; in 1976 Lampley was arrested on a seven-year-old marijuana-possession charge, which was subsequently dropped. What this had to do with the allegations of under-the-table payments that the two former football recruits had leveled against Clemson wasn't exactly clear.
TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS
By going to the bother of holding a special convention last week in St. Louis, the NCAA signaled that it had urgent matters to take up. Would that organization do something at long last about the big-money, high-pressure atmosphere that contributes to academic abuses, recruiting violations and other ills besetting intercollegiate athletics? Not at all. What the NCAA did in St. Louis was to try to satisfy the desire of some of its most prominent members to make big-time college sport bigger than ever.
The schools the NCAA sought to mollify were the 61 gridiron powers that belong to the College Football Association. Those institutions would rather not have to answer to schools that don't share 1) their philosophy or 2) their success on the field and at the gate. Accordingly, CFA members had threatened to sign a contract for television coverage of their games with NBC in defiance of the NCAA, which has traditionally handled TV negotiations for its members and which had been working on a deal to sell TV rights jointly to ABC and CBS. At stake in the CFA challenge is control over TV revenues, of which CFA members want a larger share.
Concerned that it might be torn apart by the CFA mutiny, the NCAA voted in St. Louis to restructure itself along lines long favored by the big-time football powers. The realignment, which sets stricter criteria based on minimum stadium capacity and attendance for membership in the NCAA's Division I-A, makes it likely that I-A will shrink from 137 to fewer than 100 schools, with members of the Ivy League, Mid-American Conference and Missouri Valley Conference and such smaller independents as Colgate and Richmond among those being assigned to lower I-AA status.
However, the NCAA's move may not have brought all the rebels in line. Several CFA members, including Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Clemson, remained dissatisfied with the NCAA's continued insistence on maintaining final say over TV matters; with a Dec. 14 contract deadline nearing for CFA members to make up their minds on the matter, those schools indicated they might stick with NBC.
Another CFA member reportedly still leaning toward a separate CFA deal with NBC is Penn State. Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions' coach and athletic director, argued that the big football powers had to control their own destiny and that the realignment was only a first step, albeit a welcome one. Shedding no tears over the prospect that Ivy League schools, for example, will wind up in a lesser division, Paterno said, "The Ivy League is in another world. I'm in the real world." That last boast is doubtlessly accurate. However, considering the abuses and excesses that attend major college football, there's reason to question whether the real world inhabited by Paterno and other big-football devotees is necessarily the best world.
OH, NO, NOT AGAIN!
According to a reliable source, Bob Lemon is out as the New York Yankee manager. The same source says that George Steinbrenner, as is his custom, will name as the next Yankee manager a former Yankee manager. Having already rehired both Billy Martin and Lemon, Steinbrenner is now getting ready to bring back Gene Michael, who served as the Yankee skipper for 82 games before being sacked last September. Michael's return would leave Ralph Houk, Bill Virdon and Dick Howser, who now work for the Red Sox, Astros and Royals, respectively, as the only exiled managers whom the forgiving Steinbrenner hasn't deigned to bring back for another try.
THE ALPS VS. LeROY
The works of LeRoy Neiman, the mustachioed artist whose slapdash sketches of sporting scenes seemingly roll off an assembly line, show up in the darndest places. For instance, in the eighth-floor conference room in the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency building in Geneva, where Soviet and American diplomats last week held their first negotiating session on limiting intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe. Twelve American and 12 Soviet delegates sat on either side of a long table, the Americans facing windows commanding views of Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc and other snow-covered peaks beyond, the Soviets looking at a wall adorned with three Neiman prints depicting action in tennis, hockey and U.S. football.
We wouldn't be surprised if those seating arrangements wind up costing the U.S. side a Pershing II missile or two.
THERE'S A HOLE IN THE BUCKET
Don Arbour, an assistant editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, notes that during the 1981 football season Yale was four points better (23-19) than Navy, which was 12 points better (35-23) than Syracuse, which was three points better (27-24) than West Virginia, which was five points better (24-19) than Temple, which was 31 points better (31-0) than Colgate, which was 13 points better (27-14) than Lehigh, which was three points better (24-21) than Delaware, which was 53 points better (61-8) than Princeton, which for the first time in 15 years beat Yale, 35-31.
In other words, Yale was 128 points better than Yale.
THEY SAID IT
•Tom Lasorda, Dodger manager, after the firing of Laker Coach Paul Westhead: "I got nervous the other day when a friend said he saw Fernando Valenzuela in a restaurant with Magic Johnson."
•Duffy Daugherty, TV color man, claiming that Washington had 12 men on the field during a key play in the Huskies' 13-3 win over USC: "I counted all the legs and divided by two."