ONE VOTE FOR A PLAYOFF
Now that the college bowl games are over, it may be a good time to revive proposals for a playoff system to determine a national collegiate football champion. Bob Waters, football coach at Western Carolina, which went all the way to the finals of the NCAA's Division 1-AA playoffs before losing to Southern Illinois, has some pertinent thoughts on the subject, particularly since his team played 15 games this past season and some critics argue that a playoff requires college athletes to participate in far too many games. Waters disagrees.
"As far as the players are concerned," he says, "I'm not sure it's bad at all. It's exciting, and it's fun for the kids. It's not as tough on them as it is on the administrators and coaches, who need to get done in less than a week the arrangements we work on for six months for the regular season—things like transportation, hotels, meals."
As for adverse effects on course work, Waters says, "Studies indicate that players do as well academically during the football season as they do in the off-season. But when you're in a playoff it takes a lot of understanding by the coaching staff and the administration and faculty. As coaches, we need to make sure we don't demand too much of the players' time. As administrators and faculty members, we need to understand that there are times when special arrangements may become appropriate. Some of our players had the option of taking final exams on time or waiting until they return to campus after the Christmas holidays. I don't believe we sacrificed anything academically."
Asked if he thinks the top colleges in the NCAA—those in Division 1-A—should adopt a playoff system, Waters enthusiastically agrees. "A national championship playoff in Division 1-A would be the biggest sports event in America," he says. "Why, it would be more exciting than the Super Bowl."
Lefty Driesell, Maryland's basketball coach, dislikes flying but has to do a lot of it when he's trying to recruit players. His most rewarding, but ultimately most frustrating, trip occurred nine years ago, when he almost snared the fabulous Moses Malone. Malone agreed to come to Maryland but then changed his mind after receiving a multimillion-dollar offer to turn pro right out of high school.
Recalling a different trip three years ago, Driesell told John Feinstein of The Washington Post, "I didn't even want to go because the kid wasn't that good. But Tom [Abatemarco, a Maryland assistant coach] said I should see him. So there we are on this plane, and all of a sudden oxygen masks come down and the stewardess is tellin' us to put them on because we're losin' air pressure.... I thought. 'Damn, this is it. I'm gonna die.'
"And what bothered me was, it was on the way to see a lousy player. If I got killed goin' to see Moses, that would be O.K. Moses was worth dyin' for."
LETTERMAN LANDS ONE
By way of parodying Olympic commercialization, TV comic David Letterman got it in his head awhile ago to try to have his late-night program designated the Official Talk Show of the 1984 Olympics. After that idea got nowhere with the L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee, Letterman also struck out in efforts to become a sponsor of the Canadian luge team. But then he heard from sports officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where his show is televised, and Late Night With David Letterman became—seriously, folks—the official talk show of the U.S. Virgin Islands Olympic Team.
In biting at Letterman's hook, the Virgin Islands Olympic Committee hopes to get TV exposure in the mainland U.S. that could result in contributions to its hard-pressed team. It expects to send 35 athletes to L.A. (the Virgin Islands have never participated in the Winter Games), and while no member of a U.S. Virgin Islands team has ever won an Olympic medal, the VIOC this year has hopes of doing well in some sports, especially swimming. Of the Letterman tie-in, Hans Lawaetz, secretary general of the VIOC, said, "It's a comic-type show and we were hesitant at first. But we're in a bad situation and need to raise money." An aide, David Dizenfeld, added, "We aren't interested unless this is serious. These athletes spend a lifetime at this. We don't want anyone to demean them."
Letterman will visit St. Thomas this week to tape several five-minute segments for airing on his show in February. Although it's unlikely that Letterman will play the relationship entirely straight, the show's producer, Barry Sand, promises to honor the VIOC's wishes for a dignified approach. "We're not going to do anything terrible," Sand says. "After all, we're their official talk show."
GORDIE ON THE GO
Although it has been a long time since Gordie Howe strutted his stuff on the ice, the old hockey star still seems a dominating force whenever he shows up in an NHL arena—or, at any rate, it's beginning to look that way. Howe, a spokesman for Emery Worldwide, the airfreight people who sponsor the Emery Edge Award (which goes to the player with the best plus-minus performance: points scored by his team when he's on the ice vs. points given up), is in the process of visiting all 21 NHL cities to salute last season's team leaders. Nothing very special about that, except Howe has been to 12 cities so far, and each time the home club has come up with a victory.
With Howe in attendance, the Montreal Canadiens, who were off to their worst start at home in years—3-4-0—beat the Quebec Nordiques. When he visited Boston, the Bruins knocked off the Vancouver Canucks to move into first place in the Adams Division. The next night he was in Buffalo, and the Sabres defeated the St. Louis Blues to regain first place from Boston. When he stopped by the Meadowlands in New Jersey, the lowly Devils hadn't won a game in six weeks. Result? New Jersey 3, Chicago Black Hawks 2. Peter Maher, the Calgary Flames' radio announcer, ran into Howe and inquired solicitously, "When are you coming to Calgary?"
Howe's 12-game streak remained intact through the holidays while he took a break from his travels, but it will be on the line again on Monday, Jan. 9, when he resumes his tour in Detroit. The last-place Red Wings will be decided underdogs against Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. If Howe gets by that one, watch out. He may go 21-0.
CAN'T SKATE, BUT CAN HE SHOOT?
Speaking of Gretzky. he's not so great. At least, a 3-year-old colt with the same name as the star center has a long way to go to match his namesake's winning ways. In three outings at Aqueduct this winter, Gretzky has finished well up the track, and behind horses with names that are also reminiscent of the rink. It's Frigid and Red Wing Dream finished one-two in Gretzky's first race, and Sweet Devil won the second. Before his third start last week Gretzky displayed unsportsmanlike conduct by breaking through the starting gate and throwing his jockey. Perhaps the colt knew what was coming. He finished dead last, 33 lengths behind the winner, Hockey Fan.
THE CABBAGE PATCH KID FROM NEW YORK
Jerry Hobbie is a 6'2" junior who plays guard for Fordham University's basketball team. Fordham is in the Bronx, in New York City, and Hobbie grew up in New Jersey, on the other side of the Hudson River. He's not a particularly gifted athlete, but he's a typical "New York" player, a product of playground basketball. He's a tough-looking kid on the court, his eyes intense, his mouth often set in a thin line as he runs and runs and tries and tries. "That's the way I learned to play," he says. "You always give 100 percent. You never give up."
In Palo Alto, Calif. last month, where Fordham went to play in the Stanford Invitational, something of a miracle happened. As Fordham lost 73-56 in the opening round of the tournament to North Carolina's powerful Tar Heels, the California crowd fell in love with the kid from New York. They liked the way he looked, the way he hustled, the way he scrambled after loose balls, the way he used his body to take offensive fouls. They yelled with glee when he stole a ball from Carolina's Michael Jordan and went the length of the floor for a layup, and they were enthralled by his unorthodox lefthanded set shot from the hip. "He wrists the ball," says SI's Roger Jackson. "It's kind of like a long jumper, though you can't call it a jumper because he doesn't jump. He shoots flatfooted."
Hobbie scored eight points against Carolina, and the next night sank 13 straight foul shots and had a career-high 21 points as Fordham beat San Jose State 89-74 in the consolation game. The crowd was ecstatic. Whenever Hobbie made a good pass they cheered, and when he scored they gave him an ovation. At the end of the game they chanted, "M-V-P! M-V-P!"
At halftime during the final between North Carolina and Stanford, some fans spotted Hobbie in street clothes standing with his teammates. They surrounded him, asking for autographs. He was led onto the floor, handed a basketball and asked to try one of his patented set shots from near midcourt. He missed his first try, but when he sank his second the crowd went wild. Stanford's amiable president, Donald Kennedy, came over and shook his hand. "Transfer!" the crowd shouted. "Transfer!" Admirers carried him off the court on their shoulders. He was selected to the all-tournament team, and while North Carolina's Sam Perkins was voted the outstanding player, the PA. announcer called Hobbie the "people's choice for MVP." A Stanford student from New Jersey started a Jerry Hobbie Fan Club, and after the holidays the university paper plans to run a box called The Hobbie Watch to keep its readers updated on Hobbie's doings.
Fordham head coach Tom Penders, who calls Hobbie the Cabbage Patch Kid of Stanford, says, "Jerry has the ability to make things happen. He seems to rise to the occasion." Hobbie himself says, "I guess the fans wanted to have something to do before the championship game. I play sort of a playground game—I'm flashy. Maybe too flashy, but I guess they liked my style of play. I wish we had more fans like that at home."
THEY SAID IT
•Frank Layden, the once corpulent Utah Jazz coach, who has shed 60 pounds: "I've always had a great body. It was inside the one everybody saw."
•Ernie Johnson, Atlanta TV reporter, after Braves centerfielder Dale Murphy, a teetotaler and staunch family man, was named National League MVP for the second straight year: "Dale's going to go out and paint the town beige."
•John McKay, beleaguered coach of the 2-14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, asserting that he'd be back for the 1984 season: "I'm not burned out. I'm burned up."
•Chi Chi Rodriguez, aging pro golf star, on losing distance off the tee: "The older you get, the longer you used to be."