In seeking to justify its continued inaction in combating acid precipitation, the Reagan Administration professes to be uncertain about the precise origins of that increasingly troubling phenomenon. For example, it refuses to accept as conclusive a wealth of evidence that the acid precipitation that has devastated lakes and rivers in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada is caused by nitrogen oxide emitted by automobiles and by airborne pollutants, primarily sulfur dioxide, spewed into the atmosphere by power plants in distant Midwestern industrial states. Far from embracing any such cause-and-effect relationship, the White House has given its support to a bill to amend the Clean Air Act of 1970 that fails to address itself to the problem of acid precipitation and, in fact, would allow sharp increases in nitrogen oxides and possibly in sulfur dioxides as well. The bill, sponsored by Representative Thomas A. Luken of Ohio, is expected to come before the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week.

The evidence concerning the origins of acid rain that the Administration refuses to accept is circumstantial. That is, there is no way of directly proving that a specific smokestack in Ohio might be responsible for killing fish in a particular lake in the Adirondacks. Yet, as judges instruct juries in the courts every day, the law gives as much weight to circumstantial evidence as it does to direct evidence, i.e., evidence based on firsthand observation, such as eyewitness accounts. And the collective judgment of scientists is increasingly one-sided in accepting that acid precipitation in the Northeast U.S. and Canada is indeed caused by distant power-plant emissions. Thus, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences concluded last fall that the problem of acid precipitation "is disturbing enough to merit prompt tightening," by up to 50% in some areas, of emission standards for power plants and other sources of pollution.

Interestingly, the Reagan Administration last week did embrace circumstantial evidence relating to precipitation-borne toxic agents of another kind. The State Department issued a 32-page report providing what it said was proof that the Soviet Union and its allies had employed lethal chemical agents—so-called "yellow rain"—against civilian populations in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan. However, even as the report was released, The New York Times was quoting one "senior Administration official" as acknowledging, "We still don't have the kind of hard, direct evidence that would remove all doubts."

The point to be made here isn't whether the State Department report is wrong or right but rather that the Reagan Administration is guilty of applying a double standard. Scientists conversant with both of the issues say that the circumstantial evidence the Administration accepts in the case of yellow rain is no more compelling than that which it rejects in the case of acid rain. Indeed, it may be instructive to contrast the somewhat defensive statement by the Administration official quoted above with the tone of the National Academy of Sciences report on acid precipitation. The report concluded: "Although claims have been made that direct evidence linking power-plant emissions to the production of acid rain is inconclusive, we find the circumstantial evidence for their role overwhelming."


It's not every day that a city of 47,333 inhabitants has two of its young men named All-America in basketball in the same season and playing against each other in the NCAA championship game, so townspeople in Gastonia, N.C. had every reason to be proud of the goings-on Monday night in New Orleans. Some of them were rooting for Georgetown, featuring Gastonia's own Eric (Sleepy) Floyd (all the more so because Judge William Gaston, for whom the city was named, was the first student ever to enroll at Georgetown), and others were rooting for North Carolina, starring Gastonia's own James Worthy. Still others were pulling for both teams, including the city's passionately neutral mayor, Thebaud Jeffers, who has tentatively scheduled Worthy-Floyd Day in Gastonia for May 28.

Floyd and Worthy grew up within a couple of miles of each other in Gastonia, but because they lived on different sides of Route 321, roughly the boundary between two school districts, Floyd went to Hunter Huss High School, Worthy to Ashbrook High. Gastonia fans still talk about the rivalry between Huss and Ashbrook during the '76-77 season, when Floyd was a junior, Worthy a sophomore. Ashbrook won the first four times the two teams met that season and was unbeaten all the way to the state 4A finals. Way to go, Worthy. But Huss also made it to the finals, and in the championship game, Huss's Scott Harper made a basket with three seconds left for a 60-59 victory. Way to go, Floyd.

By coincidence, the coaches of Huss and Ashbrook, Green Burge and Larry Rhodes, each quit soon after their stars, Floyd and Worthy, respectively, left for college. Both coaches evidently knew for whom the bell tolled, and, indeed, high school basketball in Gastonia hasn't been the same since the Floyd-Worthy era. But as he and old rival Worthy prepared for their dramatic reunion in the Superdome, Floyd said, "James and I were in Gastonia during an up time. Now it's been down. But the talent will come back." In fact, some locals feel that twins named Daryl and Dirk at Gastonia's Southwest Junior High School are destined for basketball stardom. They're distant relatives of a famous Gastonian, and their last name is Floyd.


Have you noticed the amazing season American skiers have just completed in Europe? Perhaps you haven't. Over the years this country hasn't fared all that well in either Nordic or Alpine skiing, and the public closely follows those sports only during Olympics. But now, because of what's been going on in Europe, Bill Marolt, U.S. Alpine Team director, is able to say flatly, "Things have turned around for us, no doubt about it."

Marolt has reason to exult. Following their strong showing in the world championships in Austria (SI, Feb. 15), U.S. skiers have cleaned up on the World Cup circuit. In Alpine skiing the Mahre twins, Phil and Steve, finished first and third in the men's standings and constituted, all by themselves, the third best men's team in the world. Besides winning the overall title, Phil Mahre won the combined championship and ended Ingemar Stenmark's four-year reign in the giant slalom and the Swedish star's seven-year domination of the special slalom. On the women's list, Americans Christin Cooper and Cindy Nelson placed third and fifth overall, Holly Flanders tied for second in the downhill and the U.S. won the women's team title. Counting a season-ending victory in the slalom last week in France by Cooper, Americans won 13 World Cup races, the U.S.'s most successful season ever.

Even more remarkable was the U.S. showing in Nordic skiing. By winning the final 15-km. race of the season last week in Italy, Bill Koch wrapped up the first World Cup overall cross-country championship ever by an American. Last month in Sweden Koch and another American, Dan Simoneau, finished first and second in a 30-km. race, and on Sunday Koch, Simoneau, Tim Caldwell and Jim Galanes became the first U.S. men's team ever to win a cross-country relay.

Marolt insists that the U.S. triumphs are the result not of luck but of a successful overhaul of the country's skiing program. And he buoyantly says, "Now we'll just have to achieve the same success in the 1984 Olympics."


In recent years there have been many allegations of cash payments and other improper inducements to college basketball players. Mark Aguirre, then playing for DePaul, told the Chicago Tribune two years ago that when he was in high school, one unnamed college coach offered him $5,000 and a new car if Aguirre would attend the coach's school, and another promised $10,000 and a trip to Hawaii. Last February several members of the Portland Trail Blazers said they had been offered cars, apartments and airline tickets by college recruiters. Clemson was put on NCAA probation in the early 1970s for, in part, payments made to players by then-Coach Tates Locke; in a recent SI story on Locke (March 8), former Clemson star Wayne (Tree) Rollins was quoted as saying he had received $60,000 from Clemson boosters while attending the school. UCLA is currently on NCAA probation because, among other transgressions, several of its basketball players had received cars or other gifts from boosters. Wichita State is on NCAA probation for infractions that include gifts to players of cash and airline tickets.

Considered against this backdrop, last week's remarks by Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps on the subject of cheating in college basketball weren't the bombshell they seemed to be. Phelps frequently speaks out against what he says is rampant cheating in the sport, and he reiterated these views in an interview with New York Times Reporter Gordon S. White Jr., in New Orleans on the eve of the NCAA's Final Four. He told White he believed that as many as 50% of schools may be cheating, that $10,000 a year was the "going price" for payments to star players, that he knew of "at least seven" schools that cheated, that two of them had illegally outrecruited Notre Dame by paying athletes and that he had reported those two schools to the NCAA. But Phelps declined to identify either the players or schools involved.

Did Phelps have firsthand information to support his charges? In a subsequent TV interview on CBS, he left the impression that he didn't. Referring to one of his charges, he now spoke of "rumors" that the going rate for star recruits "may be" $10,000. Vague though Phelps's allegations to White were, they created a sensation. One reason was that the Times had for some reason seen fit to run the story on the front page. It also happened that the story broke at a time when sportswriters and coaches were all assembled in New Orleans for the NCAA tournament. The inevitable result was intense speculation by those present about which schools Phelps might have had in mind.

There were complaints that by airing his suspicions about cheating just before the NCAA championship, Phelps had unnecessarily cast a shadow over that event. Others criticized the Times for overplaying what was essentially old news. Yet the flap did have the benefit of calling attention to what practically everybody agreed was a major problem besetting college athletics. And one part of the interview that was new was Phelps's revelation that he had reported two schools to the NCAA. Because it lacks subpoena power, the NCAA is often hamstrung in enforcing its rules. Phelps admitted to SI that it's often "very difficult for [the NCAA] to do anything" with the type of information he provided. Still, tips from rival coaches are a major factor in developing those cases of cheating that the NCAA is able to prosecute successfully. That Phelps would openly speak of having come forward with information, however skimpy it may be, might encourage other coaches to be more forthcoming, too. If so, something else good will have come out of Digger's non-bombshell.


More than 400 miles of desert and roughly 180 degrees of ideology separated NFL owners and players last week as each side in the league's current labor negotiations sought to solidify support for its official bargaining position. In Phoenix, owners, general managers and coaches got together for their annual league meeting under the threat of a $100,000 pop-off fine against any owner who makes statements damaging to the party line. The threat of a fine was on Cincinnati owner Paul Brown's mind when he discussed a report that he and the other owners were considering a lockout after the current contract expires on July 15, a beat-'em-to-the-punch move to head off a players' strike during the regular season. Brown said, "I'm not in favor of it—and I hope that doesn't get me fined."

Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, an unprecedentedly large turnout of 537 members of the NFL Players' Association gathered for a convention at which Executive Director Ed Garvey rallied support for the union's chief demand that the players receive a percentage of the clubs' gross revenues. The concept was hammered home to the membership with pennants that carried the inscription: % OF THE GROSS, and while that slogan seemed more suitable for a CPA convention, no more than a handful of players opposed the union's position on either of two open votes that were taken on the issue. But First Vice-President Jeff Van Note of the Atlanta Falcons fretted that there might have been more opposition had the ballot been secret. And Chicago Bear Safety Gary Fencik said, "The people I'm interested in hearing from are the apathetic 1,000 who didn't come to the convention."

Like the owners, the union wasn't anxious for public dissent, witness its treatment of ex-Oakland Defensive Tackle Tom Keating, a former NFLPA vice-president. Keating thinks the union should push for absolute free agency rather than for a percentage of the gross, and he says he was made to feel unwelcome at the meeting, which he attended as an elder statesman. "They didn't want me to come," Keating said. "I sent in my check and my reservation blank, and they sent it back. It had been rejected, and on the bottom was a note, 'It's an Executive Committee decision, we don't want you to come.' "

Although the matter was straightened out, Keating said that when he got to the meeting, some players wouldn't talk to him, while others suggested he was "wired to management." Defending his support of free agency, he said, "Greg Luzinski makes $700,000 for hitting .265, Frank Tanana gets 400 Gs for going 4-10, and that's what free agency's done for baseball. Don't tell me a guy like Al Davis wouldn't open the checkbook in a minute for the chance to stick it to those other owners. But nobody in the association wants to hear talk like that. They think the owners are just going to hand over the store to them."

Putting the best face on things, Van Note said, "I still think it was a thrilling thing to see 537 players there. And I think it impressed the owners, too." As for the snubbing of Keating, Van Note attributed it to "a certain small faction." And at least nobody in the union was suggesting that anyone be fined $100,000 for refusing to parrot the party line.


•Howard Cosell, informed by a reporter for the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise that authorities were investigating an apparently illegal pari-mutuel betting scheme at a celebrity golf tournament hosted by the attorney-turned-sports-caster: "You're dealing with a lawyer and a brilliant mind. That's absurd."

•Derek Hardy, head golf pro at Snee Farm Country Club in Mount Pleasant, S.C. and Beth Daniel's teaching pro, on why he charges $1,000 for a single lesson yet offers a series of 13 lessons for $140: "If you expect a miracle, you should expect to pay for one."

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