A NICE ALTERNATIVE
There's no doubt that the nationalistic fervor associated with the Olympics sometimes gets out of hand. But a profoundly simple statement uttered recently by Iowa basketball coach George Raveling puts Olympic flag-waving in a more favorable light than usual. Savoring his role as an assistant U.S. Olympic coach, Raveling said: "It's a chance to do something patriotic for your country without killing anybody."
THE GREAT GRAPEFRUIT CONTROVERSY
Emotions are running high over a move to adopt a smaller basketball for women. Next week the U.S. Girls' and Women's Basketball Rules Committee, the rulemaking body for women's college and amateur basketball, will vote on a proposal to abandon the standard ball, which measures between 29½ inches and 30¼ inches in circumference and weighs 20 to 22 ounces, in favor of one about an inch smaller—28½ inches to 29 inches—and weighing from 17½ to 19½ ounces. A spokesman for the National Federation of State High School Associations says that a smaller ball may well be adopted for girls in high school competition in the near future.
The idea of a smaller ball for women isn't entirely new. The now-defunct Women's Professional Basketball League used one, and an undersized ball was also tried out this past season in South Dakota high schools and in the NCAA Division II six-school Empire State Conference, whose commissioner, Adelphi University athletic director Larry Keating, says of the experiment, "One or two coaches weren't crazy about the idea, but after the first couple of weeks the reaction overall was favorable." The Women's Basketball Coaches Association voted support for a switch to a smaller ball more than a year ago, and several prominent women's coaches, including Tennessee's Pat Head Summitt, the 1984 U.S. Olympic coach, have spoken out in favor of the idea.
The main argument for changing to a smaller ball is that women's hands are too small for the full-sized one. Proponents of the switch say the objective is to improve ball handling—and, not incidentally, to make it easier for women to dunk. This, they maintain, would increase the confidence of younger players and make the sport more appealing to spectators. "Ball handling is the weakest area of our game," says North Carolina State assistant athletic director Nora Lynn Finch, the NCAA Division I representative to the women's rules committee. "With the small ball there would be fewer turnovers, and the game would be quicker and more exciting."
A regular-sized ball is used in international women's competition, but Finch and other small-ball advocates deny that the change they have in mind would put U.S. women at a disadvantage. They say that stars like Cheryl Miller and Janice Lawrence could easily switch from a smaller to a bigger ball for the Olympics and other international tournaments, and that playing with a smaller ball would actually help hone their skills for such competition. Proponents also dismiss suggestions that using an undersized ball would be an admission of inferiority; they point out that in track and field women use lower hurdles and a lighter and smaller javelin, shot and discus.
But not everybody is for the change. Texas Christian's Fran Garmon, who was coach of the U.S. women's team that won the gold medal at the 1983 Pan American Games, charges that adoption of a smaller ball would be a costly move that would mainly benefit sporting-goods manufacturers—schools and recreation centers would have to stock two sets of basketballs—and would damage the "credibility" of the women's game.
"Of course if I picked up a grapefruit, I could hold it better," Garmon says. "But we've been improving without a smaller ball. Women have gotten to the point where they can do some incredible things with the basketball: double pumping, in-the-air 360s, behind-the-back dribbles and passes. Girls are getting taller and stronger. We have women with 30-to-36-inch vertical leaps. We haven't reached our potential. If we change the ball, how will anyone know how much better we would have gotten? I don't want people to come up to me after a game and say, 'Gee, they were great, but I wonder what they could have done with a regular basketball.' "
BLANK SCREEN FOR THE BOSOX
When TV producers put their programs on the air, they're committing acts of simple faith: They're assuming that somebody must be watching. It's axiomatic in the industry that even test patterns will attract some viewers. But when New England Sports Network, a new pay-cable operation carrying Boston Red Sox and Bruin games, made its debut last Wednesday night with coverage of the Sox' 2-1 victory over the Angels in Anaheim, Calif., the telecast apparently came about as close to going viewerless as it possibly could have.
The strange situation occurred because the cable operators who serve New England's million-plus cable-equipped homes either were awaiting installation of equipment they needed in order to receive the satellite transmissions or were still dickering with NESN over financial terms. According to The Boston Globe's Jack Craig, who surveyed the cable operators, none of them had yet picked up the Red Sox telecast, a situation that could end, he said, on April 17, when 5,500 cable subscribers in Natick, Mass. are scheduled to begin receiving the games. In the meantime, no viewers saw the Red Sox on pay cable. Zero. That's oh-for-one-million-plus for the Red Sox.
Despite all this, an NESN camera crew and announcers Kent Derdivanis and Mike Andrews covered the Wednesday night game and three subsequent ones. "We have to go on, whether or not we have subscribers," says Peter Affe, NESN's vice-president and general manager. "We're fulfilling our end of the deal, and then it's up to the cable operator. We're just the wholesaler." People with satellite dishes could—and, in some cases, reportedly did—illegally pick up the games, and Derdivanis actually took comfort in this, saying, "It wasn't like we were doing a broadcast in a vacuum." He didn't go so far as to claim, however, that the Bosox telecasts had outdrawn any test patterns.
BETTING ON BOWIE
Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn is to be commended for the lawsuit he and his club owners filed last week in Montreal, challenging the Canadian government's plans to launch a betting-pool scheme next month based on the scores of major league games. Despite the inconvenient fact that Nevada sports books already legally take bets on baseball, Kuhn was fighting the good fight in seeking an injunction based on his opposition to "any form of legalized gambling on our game." The spread of legalized gambling on baseball to Canada certainly isn't something that will do the game any good. Nor does the fact that the Canadian scheme is meant to raise money for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics change anything: There's something unseemly about using sports betting money to underwrite the Olympics.
Less laudable is Kuhn's warning that the Canadian betting plan would undercut Vancouver's chances of winning the major league franchise it covets. In thus using Vancouver as a pawn, the commissioner is acting condescendingly toward both that city and Canada generally. Vancouver's bid should be dealt with strictly on its merits.
The Seattle Mariners haven't come close to a .500 record in their seven years of existence, which has made the club's start this season downright exhilarating; on Sunday the Mariners completed a three-game sweep of the Brewers, raising their season record to a surprising 4-1. But the Mariners may still have a way to go before emerging from obscurity. During spring training in Arizona, the Associated Press reported the score of one of their games as CHICAGO CUBS 7 SEATTLE SUPERSONICS 1, and John Owen of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had trouble finding fans at their games who'd even heard of the team. "Are the Mariners a new club?" one of them asked. During a game in Arizona against the Brewers, Owen finally found somebody who was familiar with the club. "We knew we'd get good seats today," the fan confided. "Because it's Seattle, we knew it wouldn't be a real big crowd."
THE AGE FACTOR
On the day before Gary Hart, whose presidential campaign has been hurt by discrepancies over the date of his birth, was trounced by Walter Mondale in the New York Democratic primary, stories hit the papers in New York City clearing up confusion about the birth date of another budding public figure. Outfielder Stan Javier, who had been reported as being one of two 18-year-olds from the Dominican Republic to make the New York Yankees' Opening Day roster (pitcher Jose Rijo was the other), disclosed that he was, in fact, 19. Javier, the son of former Cardinal second baseman Julian, had listed his birth date with the Yankees as "9/1/65," which in his native land means he came into the world on Jan. 9, 1965. But the Yankees had taken the notation to mean his birth date was Sept. 1.
If Javier were a U.S. citizen, Hart might well have his sympathy vote.
VBK, THE BAG AND BUDD
Three subjects of recent SI stories were in the news last week: 1) Butch van Breda Kolff, whose peregrinations as a basketball coach had taken him to Lafayette College, Princeton and four NBA teams, among other places, before he wound up with a high school team in Picayune, Miss. (SI, Feb. 20), came full circle when Lafayette, a school in Easton, Pa., welcomed him back as coach; 2) On the heels of his surprising defeat in the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah (SI, March 12), Devil's Bag was scratched from the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, fanning speculation that there's something wrong with the horse, who not long ago was considered a world-beater. Discounting the official explanation that he'd been held out of the Gotham because of unsatisfactory track conditions, Andrew Beyer, The Washington Post's esteemed racing writer, said flatly: "Devil's Bag is finished"; 3) Zola Budd, the 17-year-old running sensation from Olympic pariah South Africa (SI, April 9), was hurriedly granted the British citizenship she was seeking ("There is no doubt that she jumped the queue," a Home Office spokesman admitted) but still must make the British Olympic team and get the go-ahead from the International Olympic Committee before she can compete in the L.A. Olympics.
THEY SAID IT
•Ron Kittle, Chicago White Sox left-fielder, after his team lost to the Detroit Tigers' Jack Morris 4-0 on a no-hitter: "All in all, I'd rather have watched him bowl 300."
•Ray Perkins, Alabama football coach, after Ken Stabler, currently an NFL free agent, failed to appear at a recent banquet: "He's probably been traded to another banquet."