THIRD DOWN AND 55% TO GO
NFL owners and players no longer seem to be edging toward a strike. They now appear to be rushing toward one. For weeks the NFL Players Association had warned that in the absence of progress toward a new collective bargaining agreement—the old one expired on July 15—it would be prepared to strike after the season begins on Sept. 12, a strategy calculated to cause the owners maximum inconvenience. But last week there were reports that many owners, hoping to beat the union to the punch, favor locking out the players before the season begins. No sooner did those reports surface than NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey said that the union would consider staging work stoppages during training camps "to demonstrate the solidarity of the union." If this sort of one-upmanship continues, there could be a strike last month.
Whatever the exact timetable in the dispute, the question of union solidarity raised by Garvey is foremost in everybody's mind. As matters stood when the latest round of negotiations recessed Friday, the NFLPA was holding firm on its demand that the players receive a fixed 55% of the NFL's gross revenues. The owners remained just as firmly opposed—or as one of them, the Chicago Bears' George Halas, put it, "The players can stick it." A resolution of the impasse doesn't appear likely until the players convince their bosses that they're unshakable in their resolve or, conversely, until there's a break in the ranks that forces them to abandon their percentage-of-gross demand. Unfortunately, with the two sides eyeball-to-eyeball, it may indeed take a lockout or strike—or both—before one of them blinks.
How firm is the union's grip on the rank and file? The players are certainly united in the conviction that they're seriously underpaid, especially in view of the $400 million a year the NFL will take in under its new five-year TV contract. There's no gainsaying the players on that score: In 1980 the average NFL player's salary was $78,000 vs. $108,000 in the NHL, $143,000 in baseball and $186,000 in the NBA. The conventional way for the NFLPA to increase salaries would be to push for the relatively unrestricted free agency that has brought riches to baseball and NBA players. Instead, Garvey went the percentage-of-gross route, arguing that free agency wouldn't work in the NFL. He reasons that because NFL teams share TV income equally, they have little incentive to improve themselves by bidding for free agents. Of course, the NFL has never tried anything akin to true free agency because under the last collective bargaining agreement negotiated in 1977, Garvey consented to compensation to teams losing free agents so stringent as to all but rule out free agency. The possibility that free agency might work in the NFL, however, is underscored by the fact that the owners appear to be just as opposed to it as they are to Garvey's percentage of the gross. As evidence of that opposition, their latest negotiating offer, made two weeks ago, included modest raises in salary minimums and only the slightest easing of free agency restrictions. The players called that offer "insulting."
In playing the sort of waiting game that characterizes labor negotiations, NFL owners may be hoping that they can exploit a lack of enthusiasm among some players for Garvey's percentage-of-gross scheme and thereby break the union. But as last summer's crippling baseball strike demonstrated, such a strategy could backfire. The owners, in other words, are running a serious risk in trying to have it both ways. If they can't go along with the NFLPA's demand for a percentage of gross, they should show a far greater willingness than they have so far to significantly liberalize their league's antiquated free agency procedures.
ANOTHER FRIEND GONE
Joe Dugan, a lifetime .280 hitter and third baseman on the 1927 New York Yankees, which cognoscenti consider the best baseball team ever, died the other day at the age of 85. Among the mourners was 81-year-old Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt, Dugan's one-time Yankee roommate. In a conversation with The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy, Hoyt expressed his sense of loss this way: "Joe and I had some lovely times together and now he's just another one gone—just another friend gone, damn it. You think of a friend like Dugan and you don't think he's ever going to die, and all of a sudden he's not there. A part of me is gone, because I'm a composite of all the guys I ever played with."
BIG JULE AND LITTLE JOE
Remember the scene in Guys and Dolls in which Sky Masterson decks a troublesome crapshooter named Big Jule? For the bit of business to work properly, Jule should be a behemoth built along the lines of a professional football player, and indeed, the moonlighting actor who played the role in a recent production in DePere, Wis., was John Meyer, former St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Oilers linebacker and now defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. In the interest of art, the 6'2", 225-pound Meyer was knocked down in every performance by a blow to the chin delivered by Jeff Staffaroni, a music teacher who weighs nearly 50 pounds less.
By contrast, another former NFL player appearing in a production of Guys and Dolls that opened last week in Sacramento was cast in the role of Masterson, not Big Jule. The ex-NFLer was Joe Namath, whose flooring of Jule, played by a West Coast actor named Ralph Netz, nevertheless succeeded in achieving the desired David-and-Goliath effect. Although Netz, a former union negotiator, never played in the NFL, at 6'4" and 280 pounds he looks a lot like one of those defensive linemen who wreaked so much havoc on Namath's knees. Which may be why off-Broadway Joe's one-punch KO was so convincing.
It's a melancholy fact of life that the punishment the NCAA imposes on wayward member institutions—e.g., bans on live TV appearances and postseason competition—sometimes injures innocent parties. These include athletes who unsuspectingly enroll at the errant school after the wrongdoing but before penalties are announced, rivals whose games against the school can't be televised and other members of the school's conference. Because conferences usually share TV and postseason revenues, prohibiting one member from generating such income can hurt other members as well.
Some of these injustices are probably unavoidable. One that does seem avoidable, however, is now being inflicted on Fresno State. It isn't on NCAA probation, yet its Sept. 18 football game, one of three road games that a local station, KSEE-TV, Channel 24, hoped to televise live back to Fresno, won't be allowed on the air. Why? Because the opponent is Oregon, which is on NCAA probation for a variety of academic and financial improprieties. As a result, Oregon is barred from appearing this season on live TV, whether the telecast be nationwide or limited to a relatively minor market 600 miles away, namely Fresno, Calif.
The situation vexes Fresno State Athletic Director Russ Sloan, who points out that the ban on the Sept. 18 telecast will mainly hurt "our own fans who can't make the Oregon trip." Indeed, the telecast would have been of only the slightest benefit to Oregon, which stood to receive maybe $1,000 in rights and, conceivably, a bit of a recruiting boost in the Fresno area. Nevertheless, David Berst, the NCAA director of enforcement, says that lifting the ban "just isn't going to happen. That's the point of the penalty—keeping Oregon off live television."
Fresno officials say they could more readily accept the NCAA's unyielding position if the organization were similarly inflexible in other such cases. However, they note that when USC was put on probation last April for involvement in a ticket-scalping scheme that produced cash payments to football players, an NCAA-imposed ban on Trojan TV appearances was delayed until 1983 because arrangements had already been made with CBS to televise the game with Notre Dame this Nov. 27. The NCAA says a similar delay could have been arranged to accommodate the KSEE telecast had Oregon requested, but this raises the question of why Fresno State should have been at the mercy of outlaw Oregon in the matter; one would think it should be allowed to seek a dispensation in its own behalf. That the NCAA thus appears to be more solicitous toward wrongdoer than innocent—and, in this case, more solicitous toward USC and CBS than Fresno State and KSEE—understandably rankles Sloan, who says of the delay granted to USC, "It's like telling a judge, I can't go to jail next week because I already have tickets to go out on my yacht for a cruise.' "
What can be done? Perhaps KSEE can train its cameras only on Fresno State players, or superimpose black bands across the faces of the Oregon players. Or maybe, better still, the NCAA will bend way over backward and simply allow Channel 24 to air the Sept. 18 game.
NOW JUST A JUMP AWAY
Bob Beamon's near-mythic world record of 29'2½" in the long jump, which it was thought would survive to the millennium and beyond, now appears to be tantalizingly within the reach of 21-year-old Carl Lewis. Indeed, Lewis felt he had surpassed Beamon's feat Saturday night only to be deprived of the mark by a foul call that he and some spectators at the National Sports Festival in Indianapolis considered questionable. As it was, the University of Houston junior subsequently made a legal jump of 28'9" that was the second-best ever. That both the disputed jump and the legal one came within 90 minutes of a 4 X 100-meter relay in which Lewis competed lends credence to his expressions of growing confidence that he will break Beamon's record soon enough, possibly at a meet at UCLA on Aug. 7.
Because of a scheduling conflict in Indianapolis, Lewis was obliged to sandwich the relay between the first and second of his six attempts in the long jump. On his first jump, he fouled. Then 15 minutes later he ran the second leg on a 4 x 100 relay team that clocked 38.27. He and the three other runners—Tennessee's Mike Miller, Alabama's Calvin Smith and Houston's Stanley Floyd—were keenly disappointed at having failed to break the world record of 38.03. By the time Lewis returned for his second jump, other competitors were already into their third jump. Admonished by an official to hurry, Lewis fouled on his second attempt and ran through his third.
Then came the jump on which Lewis felt he broke Beamon's record—by, believe it or not, nearly a foot. But the judge raised the foul flag, prompting Lewis to sink to his knees and gesture with outstretched arms, as if to ask, "What's wrong this time?" He demanded to see the offending footprint on the claylike tracing material at the edge of the takeoff board that would have proved that he'd over-stepped. There was none, but the official stuck to his guns. "That was a world-record jump," Lewis insisted later. Based on his own instincts and on the possibly generous estimates of some onlookers, Lewis said he felt the jump was an astonishing 30'2". To be on the safe side for his next jump, he moved his starting mark back four inches. Then, taking off four inches before the board, he hit his legal 28'9". To complete his series, he made a halfhearted try on his sixth jump, which was measured at 28'3/4".
Lewis' performance in Indianapolis' 710-foot altitude—Beamon made his leap in the helpfully rarefied air of Mexico City (alt. 7,347 feet)—leaves him with the seven best jumps after Beamon's. Lewis attributes his most recent improvement to an increase in the length of his approach ("It makes my run so much faster") and his having reduced the number of meets he's entering to concentrate more on training. Whatever the explanation, Lewis says of the prospect of breaking Beamon's record, "It's just a matter of staying calm." His confidence doesn't seem at all excessive. What for 14 years had been the impossible now suddenly appears to be only too probable.
THEY SAID IT
•Jim Rice, injury-plagued Red Sox slugger, asked if there was someplace he wasn't hurting: "Yeah. At the bank."
•Luke Appling, 75, panting from the exertion of circling the bases after hitting a home run against Warren Spahn, 61, in the Old-Timers Baseball Classic in Washington: "I'm sure glad the season is over."