When the NBA board of governors meets in Coronado, Calif. later this month, it will consider a proposal for a split-season playoff format similar to the one that baseball wound up with in its strike-marred 1981 season. The split season's chief proponent, Detroit Pistons General Manager Jack McCloskey, views the scheme as a way of infusing the NBA with the extra shot of excitement it so obviously needs. The league's attendance and television ratings have been sluggish, its 82-game regular season seems to drag on interminably and the disparity between have and have-not teams has helped put a number of franchises in deep financial trouble.

Under McCloskey's proposal, the NBA season would be divided into two 41-game halves broken by the All-Star Game. As at present, 12 of the 23 NBA teams, six from each of the two conferences, would qualify for the playoffs. Divisional winners in each half would automatically receive playoff berths, with byes going to teams that win both halves or, in the case of different divisional winners, have the best records for a half season. The remaining playoff spots would be filled by teams with the best records in either half season.

Had McCloskey's proposal been in effect this season, there would have been no change in the 12 playoff qualifiers. "Nine out of 10 times you'd get the same teams under either format," McCloskey concedes. "The teams that will most likely win both halves—the Bostons and Philadelphias—will be there year after year. But the plan would create a stimulus for the have-nots. Several teams are completely out of the playoff picture after 20 or 25 games. This would give new life to teams that are young or that suffer injuries early in the season."

There's already a lively debate over the concept of an NBA split season. Joe Axelson, vice-president for NBA operations, who on July 1 will become the Kansas City Kings' general manager, calls it "an interesting idea." Washington General Manager Bob Ferry feels it would only create confusion. Others complain that a split season has minor league connotations; Celtic G.M. Red Auerbach calls it "stupid and bush." A more specific objection is that the possibility of earning a playoff bye by winning both halves might not provide sufficient incentive for a first-half winner to try its utmost during the season's second half. In baseball's split season, some of the first-half winners, having already sewed up playoff berths, practically sleepwalked through the second season. Partly for that reason, fans had trouble taking the split-season races seriously, and attendance and TV ratings suffered.

Baseball fans, of course, traditionally tend to resist gimmicks that dilute regular-season races. In contrast, the NBA has taken a more-the-merrier approach to playoffs, from which relatively few teams are eliminated during the regular season. But that's exactly why a split season in the NBA may be superfluous. This season Atlanta, Washington and New Jersey all struggled early because of injuries or inexperience, but all rallied to earn playoff berths; with so many berths available, no second season was necessary to qualify them for postseason play. Only five clubs—Kansas City, Utah, Dallas, Cleveland and San Diego—were drummed out of playoff contention early. The real issue is whether teams as poorly run as San Diego and Cleveland deserve the chance of a second season. Those feckless franchises must be overhauled if the NBA hopes to correct the competitive imbalance that's at the root of most of the league's ills. Adopting a split season would treat a symptom of those ills, not the causes.

The book section of the May 23 Los Angeles Times contained a review by Robert Dawidoff, who, according to a credit line, "teaches history at the Claremont Graduate School." Another contributor to the section, Edward Condren, was identified as "a member of the English Department at UCLA." Somewhat less conventional were the credentials of one Chris Wall, who reviewed—and panned—a Macmillan-published book by Harvey Frommer, Rickey and Robinson: The Men Who Broke Baseball's Color Barrier. The credit line on Wall's review identified him as a former Northwestern basketball player who "once fouled Magic Johnson."


A commercial now being aired in Baltimore features Oriole Third Base Coach Cal Ripken Sr. at the family dinner table with Cal Ripken Jr., the Birds' third baseman. As sometimes happens during Oriole games, the elder Ripken is busily flashing signs to his son. When the father, after touching his cap, rubbing his chest and so on, asks if the son recalls the meaning of that sequence of gestures, the latter replies, "Sure, that's the sign for 'Pass the peas.' "

Cal Sr. presses on. "Remember this one?" he asks, wigwagging another sign.

"Sure, that's 'Pass the pot roast, but hold the gravy,' " says Cal Jr.

"And do you remember the sign for 'Drink your milk, Cal'? "

When the son appears puzzled, the father shouts, "It's 'Drink your milk, Call' "

The commercial is for the Mid-Atlantic Milk Marketing Agency.


It's official: Wayne Gretzky's performance this past season was impossible. In recognition of Gretzky's 92 goals, 120 assists and 212 points, which exceeded the previous NHL records by 16, 11 and 48, respectively, the Edmonton Oiler star was honored last week as hockey's recipient of the Seagram's Seven Crowns of Sports award, which is conferred annually on 11 professional athletes in seven sports who achieve the highest "productive efficiency ratings" for their specialties. The PER, as it's called, is based on a theoretical maximum rating of 100. Several other athletes in the eight-year history of the award scored in the mid-90s, but a rating of more than 100 was, by definition, considered unattainable. Gretzky's figure was 104.16.

We find the idea of a performance that exceeds a "maximum" both statistically and semantically baffling. Neverthless, we can't help being intrigued by a couple of other calculations offered up by the Elias Sports Bureau, which administers Seagram's ratings. Elias reckons that Gretzky's 92 goals were the equivalent of an 85-home-run season by a major league baseball player and that his 120 assists would translate into 220 runs batted in. As for Gretzky's 212 points, Elias says those were the equivalent of 3,000 yards rushing in a single season by an NFL running back or 50 touchdown passes by an NFL quarterback.


The Dallas Cowboys have been trying hard to justify a decision they made last season to withhold the news from Place-kicker Rafael Septien that he had suffered a hernia. Team doctors discovered the hernia while treating Septien for a pulled groin muscle, but Coach Tom Landry and other club officials say they chose not to tell him about the condition right away because the doctors assured them that Septien wouldn't aggravate the hernia further by kicking. The decision to keep Septien in the dark might also have had something to do with the fact that he was "in a nice groove," as another Cowboy functionary, kicking consultant Ben Agajanian, put it. "I knew that if he would take it slow, everything would be O.K.," says Agajanian. "And I just felt that it would be for the good of the club and for the good of Rafael if he continued to kick." And so, Septien kicked. He wasn't told he had a hernia until the season ended. He underwent corrective surgery in April.

The team doctors, Marvin Knight and Pat Evans, decline comment on the Cowboys' failure to inform Septien about the hernia, and it appears that they won't have to answer further for their handling of the case. That's because Septien, who's still employed by the club, isn't making too much of a fuss. He says, "As it turns out, everything is O.K." But Septien also says, "I feel this way: As a person, I had a right to know. What if something really bad had happened to me? I should have been better informed."

Septien did indeed have a right to know. Dr. William Clancy, head of the University of Wisconsin's sports medicine department, says that it's unethical for team doctors to fail to keep a player apprised of his medical condition. "I don't care who pays the bill," Clancy says. "If you're taking care of a player, he's your patient, and your responsibility is to him first." Clancy's view is borne out by the American Medical Association, which holds that doctors have a duty to keep patients fully informed "even though the physician is paid by the employer." That last phrase comes from Section 5:08 of the AMA's Principles of Medical Ethics—in case the Cowboys and their doctors care to take note.


With a possible strike looming in the NFL, there has been little progress toward a new collective bargaining agreement between management and the NFL Players Association to replace the one that expires on July 15. A paradoxical and seemingly positive effect of the stalemate, however, is that NFL clubs and agents may have less difficulty reaching agreement on individual contracts covering free-agent veterans and rookies. In past years, such negotiations have sometimes dragged on well into July and beyond, but fewer stragglers are expected this year. For example, things are moving along nicely with first-round draft choices; at least seven of them have already signed and several others are reportedly close to doing so.

The early signings may not be an accident. Federal labor law gives unions the exclusive right to negotiate wages for their members, but under its collective bargaining agreement with the league, the NFLPA waived that right, freeing players to negotiate salaries on an individual basis. Nobody seems to know for sure what will happen if no new collective bargaining agreement is reached by July 15, but the best guess is that unless that waiver is extended, the right will revert to the union. In that case, individual negotiations between players and their teams presumably would no longer be allowed. And as matters now stand, neither the league nor the NFLPA appears interested in an extension.

The NFLPA's position on that score is understandable. The union's executive director, Ed Garvey, welcomes any chance to clip the wings of agents, with whom he has had his share of difficulty; gaining sole power to conduct salary negotiations for unsigned players would be just such an opportunity. In fact, Garvey's distrust of agents is an element in his union's demand that player salaries, now negotiated individually, be tied to a fixed percentage of NFL owners' gross revenues. The NFL, of course, has its own reasons for trying to outflank player agents. By appearing ready to let negotiating rights revert to the NFLPA, NFL clubs are putting the squeeze on agents, who can't help being nervous about the prospect of losing their ability to negotiate for players—and, not incidentally, their commissions. This may be why some players—or their agents—appear ready to come quickly to terms. There is speculation that some players may also wind up settling for less money than they ordinarily would, especially considering the riches the clubs will get under the new network TV contract. If that happens, those players will have come up losers no matter what else happens during the course of this year's NFL labor-management showdown.

Congratulations are in order to the University of North Carolina, which won four national championships during the 1981-82 school year. Tar Heel teams beat Georgetown 63-62 for the NCAA championship in basketball, Johns Hopkins 7-5 for a second straight national title in lacrosse and Central Florida 1-0 to win the AIAW soccer championship. Even more impressive was UNC's 285-190 victory over Rice in the finals in New York City of the College Bowl, a national intercollegiate quiz competition descended from the radio and TV show of that name in the '50s and '60s. After all, in order to win that one, the four members of the Tar Heel team had to prove themselves wiser than Owls.

Rosalie Loeding, an associate professor at Illinois Benedictine College, a school located 35 miles southwest of Chicago, warns that cheerleading can be dangerous to one's health, or at least to one's vocal chords. "What [cheerleaders are] doing is screaming constantly the whole time, shrieking when somebody makes a touchdown or a basket," she recently told the Chicago Sun-Times. "Nobody can scream for three or four hours without doing a lot of damage." Loeding suggested that cheerleaders try to rely less on their voices in generating crowd excitement and more on horns, whistles, rattles, cowbells and other noisemakers. Loeding is a voice teacher and vocal therapist. It goes without saying that she's not an ear doctor.



•Pat Haden, who retired last week as the Los Angeles Rams quarterback, explaining how off-season knee surgery contributed to that decision: "When I woke up and looked down at my knee, I thought, 'My God, what's that?' "

•Ralph Perretta, former San Diego Chargers center, predicting failure for the upstart United States Football League, which plans a season running from March through June: "All the football players I know are playing golf during those months."

•Thomas Wilson, a spokesman for Interior Secretary James G. Watt, explaining why his boss had the department's official seal redesigned so that an American buffalo, which had been depicted looking to the left, now faces the other way: "He thought that the right side should have equal time."

•Jay D. Hair, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, bestowing his blessing on the aforementioned design change: "The fact that he didn't replace the buffalo with a bulldozer indicated that at long last James Watt may be moderating his views toward wildlife."

•Bianca Jagger, discounting the importance of sex: "Unless there's some emotional tie, I'd rather play tennis."

•John Sterling, Atlanta Hawks TV announcer, after Referee Joe Crawford called a technical foul on Hawk Coach Kevin Loughery for a relatively mild protest of a call: "Joe Crawford must be the most sensitive person since Elizabeth Barrett Browning."