WHEN IT PAYS TO LOSE
The practice of splitting postseason tournament and bowl revenues among members of the same college conference is, by and large, a good thing. The arrangement ensures that perennial powerhouses don't ladle in every last drop of gravy and that have-not schools don't go utterly without nourishment. But there's a potentially awkward problem with such share-the-wealth schemes. They can, under certain circumstances, create financial incentives to lose, a situation in sports that's patently objectionable.
An example of how losing can be more lucrative than winning occurred in the final of the 1984 Big Eight basketball tournament between Oklahoma and Kansas. Oklahoma, with a 29-3 record, had a berth in the NCAA tournament all sewed up, but the only way that Kansas, whose record was 20-9, could have guaranteed itself a spot would have been by upsetting the Sooners and receiving an automatic bid as conference champions. And the Jayhawks did win, 79-78. Had Oklahoma won, it wouldn't have taken in an extra nickel in NCAA revenue. But, because its loss put Kansas into the NCAAs, it stood to receive under Big Eight rules a share of any money the Jay-hawks earned in the NCAA tournament. As it happened, Kansas lost in the NCAA tourney's second round, and Oklahoma's cut was about $20,000, but that figure would have been closer to $75,000 if Kansas had made it to the Final Four.
None of this is to suggest that anyone is taking a barney in college sports. One look at Oklahoma star Wayman Tisdale lying abjectly on the floor after his team's unexpected loss to Kansas tells you that. So does the fact that Oregon State, with an NCAA berth already in its pocket, might have aced itself out of as much as $30,000 under the Pac-10's distribution formula by beating UCLA in the regular-season finale; the loss probably cost the Bruins an NCAA bid. Ditto Northwestern's season-ending win over Michigan that may have knocked the Wolverines out of the NCAAs and thereby cost the Wildcats as much as $30,000 or so.
May 6, 1984
Few, if any, college administrators show much concern over the situation. Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt, who heads the NCAA Division I men's basketball selection committee, dismisses any suggestion that a school might try to enrich itself by intentionally losing a meaningless late-season game as "Star Wars stuff." In fact, it isn't clear what can be done about the problem, short of divvying postseason revenues equally among all NCAA schools without regard for who wins or loses, a remedy, incidentally, that might also ease some of the financial pressures to win that lead to recruiting and academic abuses. The movers and shakers of college sport would never in a million years adopt such a drastic reform, which means it's probably worth at least considering.
THE ZAPPING OF GIPP (CONTINUED)
You mustn't blame the folks at Dick Clark Productions for what happened. You see, when they set out to make the latest installment of Celebrities! Where Are They Now?, a one-hour special scheduled for May 10 (9 p.m. E.D.T.) on ABC-TV, they dearly wanted to show a waiting America the two missing "Win One for the Gipper" scenes from the 1940 Warner Brothers movie Knute Rockne—All American. Instead, one of the scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor. So what else is new?
The Gipper saga has impressed itself on the national consciousness even though the scenes largely responsible were excised from circulating prints of Knute Rockne—All American back when Warner sold television rights to the movie in 1956. In one scene a dying George Gipp, played by Ronald Reagan, implores Rockne, his football coach at Notre Dame, to ask some future Irish team to "win just one for the Gipper." The movie then shows Rockne, years later, dramatically telling a hushed locker room full of Notre Dame players about Gipp's deathbed request. The exact reason for the deletion of these scenes was long cloaked in mystery, but SI cleared it up on the eve of Reagan's inauguration as President (SCORECARD, Jan. 12, 1981). The Gipp material had been based on a radio script, and Warner Brothers had ordered the cuts "to eliminate any possible infringement" of the copyright. In a subsequent letter to SI managing editor Gilbert Rogin, Reagan said that he had always labored under a different impression of why the deathbed scene had been deleted. "The only problem I ever heard about...was that Gipp's family had never been notified of his illness in time to get there before his death," the President wrote. "They were, of course, resentful. That's why we staged the scene with the unidentified woman there with Bonnie [Rockne]. We felt the audience would assume it was his mother, but we could not legally in any way suggest it."
The producers of Celebrities! Where Are They Now? decided to find the missing footage and include it in a segment of their show dealing with Pat O'Brien, the actor who portrayed Rockne in the movie. They arranged clearance with both John Driscoll, the author of the radio script, and MGM/United Artists, which now owns the movie, and borrowed a print of the uncut film from Notre Dame's archives. They also had O'Brien, whose Rockne impersonation had over the years become a banquet-circuit favorite, recreate the locker-room scene; this was done six days before O'Brien died last October.
If the TV show had been broadcast as first envisioned in November, both Gipper scenes would have been included. But the air date got pushed back, and after Reagan announced for reelection in January, the network decided it didn't want to risk demands for equal time by his Democratic rivals by showing him on the air as the Gipper. Accordingly, while O'Brien's locker-room scene will be presented on May 10, the deathbed scene involving Reagan has been cut from Celebrities! Where Are They Now? (although it could be edited back in for reruns after the election). This disappoints the program's producer, Al Schwartz, who says, "I don't think showing Ronald Reagan 40 years ago as George Gipp would have any bearing on a presidential campaign. Just look at how The Right Stuff helped John Glenn."
As it turns out, the league that has visited spring football on the land isn't the first to style itself the USFL. SI reporter Bruce Anderson has come across a July 11, 1966 SCORECARD item reporting the formation of a hopeful new pro league called, yup, the United States Football League. Like everybody else, we had plumb forgotten about the earlier USFL, which disappeared so fast that the current USFL was able to appropriate the name with impunity.
By the way, that 1966 item quotes Clint Murchison Jr., then the owner of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, as saying of the earlier USFL, which, incidentally, had ex-Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy among its backers, "It's an excellent way to lose one or two million a year and lose it forever. Of course, I'm only speaking from personal experience." Murchison, who bought the Cowboys for $500,000 in 1960, did indeed lose a lot of money on his team, but the losses didn't quite last forever. In March the now-ailing Cowboy owner sold the team for $60 million.
RUMOR OF THE WEEK
A rumor being heard in Olympic circles has it that East German sports doctors plan to surreptitiously impregnate their women athletes just before the Summer Games, on the theory that metabolic changes in the early stages of pregnancy can enhance athletic performance. A variation on the story is that the purpose of the planned artificial-insemination pregnancies is to alter hormonal levels so as to prevent detection of steroids. Either way, it's said that because women athletes frequently don't menstruate, or do so irregularly, the Fr√§ulein won't even know they're pregnant. Abortions would be performed after the Games.
The rumor, which was heard in Sarajevo during the Winter Olympics and refuses to go away, appears to be the latest example of a tendency to attribute the athletic achievements of East German women to ethically abhorrent methods. But responsible medical authorities dismiss stories of the supposed plan as a case of Olympic paranoia. Dr. Robert Voy, the U.S. Olympic Committee's chief medical officer, says he doubts that pregnancy can benefit athletic performance and adds, "The average woman in the first two months of pregnancy doesn't feel that great. Usually she's very fatigued and has morning sickness. And there's a weight gain." As for relying on pregnancies to mask detection of steroid use, not even the resourceful East Germans could be sure that conception occurs. In any case, Dr. Manfred Donike, the head of the drug-testing lab at the Sports University in Cologne, West Germany, notes that anabolic steroids are alien to the body and would show up in tests of pregnant women. Says Donike, "There is no absurdity which medical laymen won't dream up."
A LIFELIKE STUDY IN VULNERABILITY
The Miami Dolphins will be making their usual road trips in 1984—to New York, Buffalo and Baltimore...whoops, Indianapolis. But the Dolphin shown here, actually a life-size sculpture by Miami super-realist Duane Hanson, is taking a different journey. Exhibited since its completion in 1981 at the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami and at that city's Center for Fine Arts, the sculpture is part of a show of Hanson's work that opened last week at the Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art in Wichita and will run to June 10. The piece then will be shown at museums in Japan from mid-July to the end of November. After thus sitting out most of the NFL season in the Orient, it will return to the Lowe, which has paid $75,000 to buy it for its permanent collection.
Hanson, whose figures are cast in polyester resin and fiber glass painted to resemble real flesh and meticulously implanted with hair, often sculpts blue-collar workers and down-and-outers. He also favors athletes because he considers them "vulnerable to damage, injury and declines in fortune that make them subject to emotional distress." The model for his football player was Bob Thiele, an artist who played defensive tackle at Kent State in the early '60s and once had a tryout with the Cowboys. "I didn't want to use an actual Dolphin," Hanson explains. "People would wonder whether it looked like him and say, 'Who is it?' I wanted to make a neutral sculptural statement."
Some critics dismiss Hanson's sculptures as glorified waxwork figures, but Ira Licht, the Lowe's director, disagrees. "Waxworks don't capture the pose the way Hanson does," Licht says. "It isn't just that you can see every pore, every bruise, every drop of sweat. You can also see the expression and the exhaustion."
THEY SAID IT
•Milton Berle, at a roast of Howard Cosell: "Why are we honoring this man? Have we run out of human beings?"
•John Lowenstein, Baltimore Orioles outfielder, suggesting a possible improvement in the game: "They should move first base back a step to eliminate all the close plays."