CRACKDOWN BY THE COLLEGE PRESIDENTS
NCAA president Jack Davis surveyed the audience of 840 college presidents, chancellors and other assorted delegates at the organization's special convention last week in New Orleans. They had just run through a day's agenda in three hours, passing 12 proposals by unanimous or near-unanimous votes. "This is a momentous occasion," Davis said. He urged the delegates to applaud themselves, and they did so earnestly.
But Davis and his colleagues may have been a bit over-zealous. Passage of the proposals drafted by the NCAA's 44-member Presidents Commission was a welcome first step toward a reform of college athletics, but more steps obviously are needed. Spurred by the many abuses associated with intercollegiate sports in recent years, the delegates enacted a measure providing that schools committing two "major" violations within a five-year period can be banned for up to two years in the second sport cited. They also ruled that coaches can be suspended for violating NCAA rules and, if suspended, cannot coach at other schools.
But these harsher penalties for wrongdoing were not the sort of daring initiatives needed to make the NCAA's much-ballyhooed concept of the scholar-athlete a reality. Two measures passed by the convention that did address academics merely instructed colleges to submit reports to the NCAA on their athletes' academic progress. No sanctions are involved, though some schools presumably could be embarrassed by reports of non-progress.
Still, the New Orleans convention broke new ground. For one, there was roll-call balloting, which, by eliminating the age-old NCAA practice of delegates hiding in an anonymous sea of raised hands, all but assured passage of the proposals. As Davis put it, a naysayer would have to admit he had voted against "motherhood, apple pie and the flag." Also, the attendance of a record number of university chief executives at an NCAA convention sent an unmistakable message of concern. "The CEOs are taking control of athletics and are going to set the standards of conduct they expect from employees," said NCAA executive director Walter Byers after the overwhelming tallies were recorded. "I don't believe they're going to continue to accept intercollegiate athletic activity blemishing the image of higher education."
The presidents haven't been exercised about athletics for very long. "We weren't attentive enough," admitted Indiana president John Ryan, the chairman of the Presidents Commission. "Then, about five years ago, everyone felt more presidential involvement was required." The creation of the commission in 1984 was one step toward assuring such involvement. Another: a measure passed in New Orleans that seeks to curb excesses on the part of boosters by requiring that a school's chief executive officer oversee the athletic department's budget.
The convention's actions were mostly symbolic. Davis admitted that if a school's entire athletic budget were jeopardized by the suspension of a big-money sport as the result of the new two-major-violations rule, "the infractions committee would probably make an exception the first time for football—that's the reality of it." He also allowed that the new legislation didn't really get at the evils of overcommercialization. But he promised that with the presidents now playing a more active role, the NCAA will no longer shrink from tackling the tougher issues. "We'll reduce pressure on coaches," he said, "and allow them to operate on a higher level of trust."
Ryan made much the same vow. "This is a beginning," he said. And what else does Ryan have in mind? "Presidents have proclaimed their concern about enforcement of rules," he said. "The discovery and timely punishment of infractions, freshman-eligibility requirements, general academic achievement and progress of student-athletes, excessive length of schedules, excessive intrusions into classrooms, use and abuse of drugs."
Ryan said his commission was on the "threshold of action" on these issues. He promised that more legislation would be introduced at next January's regular NCAA convention. Never has a pledge carried more potential consequence for intercollegiate sport. If significant reform is not addressed at that time, the high-minded rhetoric of New Orleans will ring hollow.
THE GREAT NFL FREEZE-OUT
The NFL is taking a strikingly long time to sign its 1985 first-round draft picks. As of last week, only three of the 28 first-rounders were in the fold—defensive end Bruce Smith (No. 1) and defensive back Derrick Burroughs (No. 14) with Buffalo and linebacker Emanuel King (No. 25) with Cincinnati. Overall, just 45 of the 336 draftees had signed. At the same time last year 13 first-rounders and 164 other picks had come to terms.
The big stalling point, of course, is money. In 1983 the average salary of a first-rounder went up 63%; last year it rose 23%. The total package for first-round picks in '84 averaged $431,000 a year. Management sources say the latest offers are down 20% to 25%.
The owners are hanging tough partly because, for the first time in three years, there's no serious competitive bidding for players by the USFL, which is tottering. But NFL clubs also believe retrenchment is good business. "Sanity is dictating what we do," says Mike Lynn, Minnesota's general manager. "If I took my 15 picks of '85 and paid them what the guys at their draft position got last year—and then renegotiated with my veterans—I'd have had a $6 million increase in my '85 payroll!"
Leigh Steinberg, who represents four unsigned first-rounders, disputes Lynn's Theory of Sanity. "We've gone from the great gold rush of '84 to the great freeze-out of '85," Steinberg says. "We're seeing one offer, and that's it. In some cases, we don't even see offers. The owners are crying poverty while sitting in a bathtub of gold. NFL franchises are worth more than ever. Most teams have raised ticket prices. New TV money will be coming in. On top of that, there is no USFL, and, therefore, no competition."
Negotiations are expected to drag on until training camps open in mid-July. "This is a Bastille Day signing year," one G.M. says. Bastille Day, which marks the liberation of the French, is July 14. That's also the date of the third—and perhaps last—USFL title game.
Baseball seems to be gaining popularity in Britain, and The Times of London recently tried to explain the game for any of its readers who might happen on one in the greenswards of Regent's Park. In a diagram of a ball field, the authoritative Times identified coaches' boxes as "managers' boxes" and called the rubber a "pitcher's plate." The roots and strategy of this quaint colonial amusement were explored with magisterial ineptitude.
"[Baseball] is not easy to pick up in a casual afternoon's watching," noted the writer, Ivo Tennant. "The same can be said for the language. A home run is a dinger. A pitcher does not throw the ball in hard but brings it.... The batter has two-tenths of a second to decide how to dispose of a leather ball travelling at 75 mph, sometimes straight at his head. Skilful if finite execution of stroke can earn the batter more than $1m a year. Hence the hollering over a home run.
"It is also a dangerous pastime—batters have been maimed by pitchers, and pitchers have had their jaws broken by batters, and until coaching and sponsorship become effective elements of the game in Britain, jaws will be in danger.
"Nor is it particularly gentlemanly. Some club owners in the United States claim that cheating is so rife now that all bats should be x-rayed before games. Buzzie Bavasi, a player [sic] with the California Angels, said: 'I will agree to that if the owners will have their heads x-rayed, too.' "
The Los Angeles Clippers may not be the most talented team in the NBA, but they certainly are the most litigious. In the four years that Donald Sterling has owned the Clippers, they've spent as much time in court as on it. The league has twice sued them over their unapproved move from San Diego. They've countersued. The Clippers have been involved in two suits with their old arena, and another with an Italian pro team over the rights to forward Michael Cage. They've settled with ex-general manager Ted Podleski but have a suit outstanding against Irv Levin, their former owner. Levin, who is still suing Clippers center Bill Walton and his physicians, originally acquired the team through litigation.
Now the club has taken the Milwaukee Bucks to federal court over its contention that the Bucks concealed Marques Johnson's drug problems when they traded the four-time All Star forward to L.A. last fall. NBA commissioner David Stern usually arbitrates such grievances, but the Clippers are suing him, too. That's what you get from a team whose owner, president and G.M. all have law degrees.
SAY OH, CAN YOU SEE?
The enigmatic Warren Cromartie bolted the Montreal Expos two years ago to play for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, and he became an admirer of his manager, the great slugger Sadaharu Oh. As an Expo, Cro once left a field because he thought he might get hit by lightning. And he took off after marketing his own version of the Baby Ruth, the Cro-Bar.
In Japan, Oh taught Cro patience and concentration. Cro showed his appreciation by naming his newest son Cody Oh Cromartie. "Cody goes well with Cromartie," he says. Oh Cro just didn't sound right. "I don't want my kid to remind people of a bottle of bourbon."
THEY SAID IT
•Don Baylor, New York Yankees DH, on Billy Martin and his predecessor, Yogi Berra: "Playing for Yogi is like playing for your father; playing for Billy is like playing for your father-in-law."
•John Madden, sports commentator, on why he has quit smoking and begun chewing cigars: "They taste great, and they're less filling."