WHY IS THIS MAN SAYING THE THINGS HE'S SAYING?
Listen to this radical stuff: "I don't think the fabric of higher education as we believe in it and would like to see it function in this country can stand the strain of big-time intercollegiate athletics and maintain its integrity."
And get this: "The structure we have in place as a means of controlling the activities of recruiting and financial aid must go through a dramatic change."
More: "Is there anything that can keep big-time college athletics operating within the rules? That's the real question."
September 16, 1984
Because it's a fascinating and utterly unpredictable world in which we live, the above words were spoken not by some raving anarchist but by Walter Byers. Yes, the Walter Byers, the NCAA's powerful and ordinarily reticent longtime executive director and the leading architect of the "big-time intercollegiate athletics" he's now openly criticizing. Having estimated to the Associated Press two weeks ago that as many as 30% of major sports schools cheat in a big way, and despairing of the possibility of stopping the cheating, Byers is now talking—reluctantly, he emphasizes—about a drastic remedy. In what amounts to a trial balloon, he suggests the creation of an "open division" in which those schools that choose to do so could compete on a semi-professional basis.
"I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that there has to be a major rearrangement on the part of the institutions of higher learning as to what they want to do with their athletic programs," Byers says. "I think there's an inherent conflict that has to be resolved. I'm not prepared to go into how an open division would work. But we're in a situation where we, the colleges, say it's improper for athletes to get, for example, a new car. Well, is that morally wrong? Or is it wrong because we say it's wrong?"
In raising such startling (coming from him) questions, Byers says he's also influenced by the relaxing of amateurism in the Olympics. "I've watched as the Olympics have gradually loosened the rules," he says, "and I've heard as the youngsters tell about their income to millions of TV homes. Well, I think there's growing acceptance that they ought to receive those benefits. I didn't sense any shock among the American public or the media about those disclosures. Had that come out 10 years ago everybody would be shocked."
Byers also says, "It's the Me Generation. 'It's mine and I want it now.' Well, why not? I think back in time. It used to be that a rich alumnus could get a needy kid out of a Gary, Indiana steel mill and send him to Yale. Then the NCAA came along with a bunch of rules and said, 'You can't do that.' An alumnus can't send a kid to school to play athletics? But is it wrong for the donor to give the boy the money? No, I'm feeling that it's only the colleges with the rules that say it's wrong. The coaches don't think it's so wrong anymore. The public doesn't think it's so wrong."
But does Byers think it's wrong?
He neatly sidesteps the question. "Sure, I have my own ideas, but I don't think that's my job," he says. "We're here to try to facilitate what the members want."
Byers seems to be edging toward the idea of a kind of local option for the NCAA's member schools. "For some institutions the efforts to put a ceiling on [financial] aid and recruiting limits are the problem," he says. "They'll want to go what I'd call the Olympic way. They'll say, 'Look, we can't police this thing, and there's nothing wrong with it. Let's take off the cap and let the players get what's needed, and let's go.' The other group will say, 'No, I don't think that's the way to go.' So I see an open division that would want things one way—Olympic-style 'amateurs,' if you will—and a group that says, 'No, let's keep things within an institutional framework.' "
The cynical view to take of all this is that Byers is simply reading the writing on the wall. The NCAA has suffered setbacks of late, most notably the Supreme Court's antitrust ruling voiding its TV football package and the semidefection of 105 member schools to the College Football Association. Also, it's not unthinkable that some college athletes would hope to achieve, either through a union or lawsuits, an even more sweeping liberalization than that envisioned by Byers. In speaking out, Byers may be hoping to preempt the NCAA's challengers and assure a continuing role for his organization in intercollegiate athletics.
But it also happens that Byers is essentially right in what he says. Many college sports programs are already semiprofessional, and he's merely suggesting that administrators end the hypocrisy and acknowledge as much. Since colleges won't relish getting into an all-out bidding war for talent, Byers presumably wants only what would amount to pay increases for athletes—not an open labor market. It follows that rules and enforcement would still be necessary; if you say that an athlete can have a free car, some coach will inevitably want to give him two cars. Another danger is that legitimizing semipro college sports might increase the win-or-else pressures that have led schools to flagrantly compromise their admissions and educational standards. Lest athletes become nothing more than mercenaries, pains must be taken to keep the economic liberalization Byers is talking about from extending to academics.
Does Byers really want an open division? He says only, "It's my intention in the months ahead to raise the possibility among the different forums that deal with higher education policy." It will be interesting to listen to Byers and see how his trial balloon flies.
THE BOWIE SHIFT
The more baseball people have thought about it, the more perplexed they've become by commissioner Bowie Kuhn's solution to the Wrigley Field lights conundrum (SI, Aug. 27 et seq.). Faced with a choice of allowing the Chicago Cubs, assuming they make it that far, to host the World Series in the only big league ball park without lights (resulting in the loss of a reported $700,000 per major league team in prime-time TV income) or forcing the Cubs either to install lights (and run afoul of state and city laws enacted to prevent night baseball) or to move home Series games to Milwaukee or Comiskey Park (horrors!), Kuhn came up with what he obviously thought was a Solomonic compromise. While ruling that the Cubs could play without lights at home, he sought to minimize the TV revenue loss by altering the sequence of games. This year the National League team was supposed to have the home-field advantage during the Series, playing host to Games 1, 2, 6 and 7. But Kuhn ruled that if the Cubs are the National League representative, those four games would be played in the American League city; Games 3, 4 and 5, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, would be in Chicago. Of those three, only the game on Friday would normally be played at night. As a consequence, the loss would be held to perhaps $175,000 per major league club.
The decision to deprive the Cubs of their home-field advantage was questionable enough. The Cubs have the best home record in baseball (45-23 through Sunday), and manager Jim Frey fumed about Kuhn's ruling—although Chicago alderman Bernard Hansen said confidently that the Cubs will wind up playing only two games at home anyway because "they'll sweep the first four games." Worse was the fact that the Bowie shift applies only to the Cubs and not to any other National League Series hopefuls, like, say, the San Diego Padres. As a result, it's possible that none of the American League's various World Series contenders will know until the end of the National League playoffs whether they'll be at home or on the road on Oct. 9, the day the Series is scheduled to begin. This is already playing havoc with hotel bookings in Detroit, Minneapolis, Anaheim and Kansas City and is also causing uncertainty for airlines, rental car companies, fans hoping to buy tickets and media trying to set up telephone lines. "The World Series is a floating convention, and arrangements are difficult under the best of circumstances," says one baseball writer. "Bowie's crazy decision is causing absolute chaos."
Kuhn is stepping down as commissioner on Sept. 30. Although it's probably too late for him to restore the Cubs' home-field advantage, he might at least assure a semblance of order by amending his ruling so that the Series starts in the American League city, no matter which National League team is playing. It would make what figures to be the last major action of Kuhn's 15-year reign as commissioner a little less objectionable.
ANDY TAKES A BRIDE
Latonia Race Course in Florence, Ky. began its new meeting last week with a flourish: Andy Furman, 34, the track's go-getting, anything-for-some-ink publicity man, and aide Wendy Loney, 26, were married in the paddock shortly before the first race.
"We were looking for an opening-night promotion," deadpans Furman, who had announced the nuptials with a press release inviting all media to attend. Cincinnati's WKRC-TV obliged by covering the ceremony live.
Rabbi Sol Greenberg performed the unusual service and as Furman relates it, "When he saw the television people and reporters, he said, 'We aren't going to make this a three-ring circus.' I said, 'I'm a p.r. man! What do you expect?' "
Furman, who has postponed his honeymoon until after the meeting ends next April, had hoped that his wedding would help break Latonia's opening-night attendance record of 11,117, set on the track's first day of operation, Aug. 27, 1959. But only 5,251 race-goers and wedding-goers turned out, prompting Furman to protest, "I'm not doing it again." Nevertheless, he took comfort in the fact that the attendance was 300 above last year's opening-night figure and that the handle increased by $104,000, to $645,364 ("It must've been my relatives"). All in all, said the bridegroom, "This was probably one of the best promotions I ever came up with."
A CBS promotional ad last week in The New York Times pictured John McEnroe playing righthanded. A spokesman for CBS blamed the mistake on an engraver's "artistic judgment." According to the embarrassed spokesman, the fellow flipped the photo because he thought it looked better that way.
YOU'RE EXCUSED, CONDITIONALLY
In the effort to be faithful both to the truth and to commercial exigencies, TV sports announcers must walk a fine line. For Atlanta announcer Skip Caray, the task was complicated during a recent Braves-Cubs game by the loyalty he also feels to his father, Cubs announcer Harry Caray, who was covering the game on a rival cable network. As the Braves, trailing 8-3, came to bat in the bottom of the 10th inning, the younger Caray, touching all bases, said: "If you promise to watch Susan Anton [appearing on the Braves' channel in the movie Goldengirl after the game] and you promise to patronize our sponsors, you have our permission to turn [to the other channel] and watch my dad, and we'll see you tomorrow night."
THEY SAID IT
•Jim Dickey, Kansas State football coach, asked about his 3-8 team's problem in 1983: "The alumni say it was me."
•Terry Bradshaw, on demands the banquet circuit and his TV announcer's job have made on him since retiring from the NFL: "When you're unemployed, you have to work all the time."