BARELY TOUCHING THE PLATTER
The NCAA Presidents Commission, a group of 44 university presidents supposedly dedicated to correcting the many abuses in intercollegiate athletics, held a meeting in Kansas City, Mo., last week, and one wonders why it even bothered. The commission contemplated a full platter of proposed reforms but then went to bed hungry; by the time the two-day meeting ended, the presidents had decided to sponsor only a single proposal at the full NCAA convention in San Diego in January.
The one reform that received the presidents' blessing was a proposal to extend Bylaw 5-1 (J)—which mandates minimum standardized test scores and grade point averages for freshmen athletes at Division I colleges—to apply to Division II schools as well. The measure would close a big loophole in Bylaw 5-1 (J): Many athletes who can't meet its requirements have elected to attend Division II schools and junior colleges rather than sit out a season and bone up on their studies (SCORECARD, Aug. 4). "There is strong emphasis among chief executives to strengthen academics," University of Maryland Chancellor John Slaughter, the Presidents Commission chairman, said in defense of the measure. "Higher education is there to educate the student. Academics must take precedence over athletics."
Despite such lofty words, the commission otherwise gave no firm evidence of any commitment to reform. It discussed proposals to make all freshmen ineligible for some varsity sports and to tie the number of a school's athletic scholarships to its athletes' graduation rate, but it deferred action on both. Slaughter explained that the commission was "not prepared at this time to try to ram something through the convention in a relatively short amount of time." Not prepared? Freshmen were ineligible for varsity football and basketball from the 1930s to 1971, and proposals to reinstate such a ban as a way of making freshmen athletes concentrate on their studies have been advanced for years, so the presidents have had plenty of time to consider the matter. The idea of tying scholarships to graduation rates has been kicking around for quite a while, too.
October 12, 1986
The commission also appeared to be dragging its feet in requesting further study of several reforms proposed by the American Council on Education. These measures—which include cutting the size of coaching staffs, shortening seasons, eliminating spring football practice, reducing periods of recruitment and cutting the number of scholarships—would not only save money but would also reduce some of the pressures on students who participate in big-time college sports. Slaughter said that the presidents were "in harmony" with the ACE's proposals and were concerned that athletics today "require an excessive amount of time and energy on the part of the participants, thus unwisely reducing the time that can be devoted to academic concerns." However, instead of acting immediately on the ACE proposals, Slaughter said that University of California at Berkeley Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman will chair a committee whose recommendations on the proposals could be taken up at a special NCAA convention next summer.
It's possible to study things to death, and the sorry state of affairs in college sports is obviously something that requires action. Until it acts more forcefully than it did in Kansas City, pardon us if we give the Presidents Commission a new name: the Presidents Omission.
NOT THAT FAR OVER THE HILL
Former U.S. Davis Cup player Ron Holmberg remains reasonably fit—and still plays a mean game of tennis—at 48. Fortunately, he has retained a sense of humor, too. For a decade he has been telling the one about a guy who pointed him out on the court and said, "That guy used to be Ron Holmberg." Now Holmberg has another story for the joke bag. He was in an over-35 singles match on an outside court at the U.S. Open last month when two women passed by. One of them asked, "I wonder what this is?"
The other replied, "I think it's the over-70s competition."
PIANISSIMO, BUT CON GUSTO
And now, ladies and gentlemen—the Columbia University Marching Quartet! That's what the fans were treated to on Saturday during halftime of Penn's 42-7 win over Columbia at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Their ranks depleted by the Rosh Hashanah holiday, only 4 of 60 musical Lions made the road trip from New York. Undaunted by their chamber-music size, the Columbians waded boldly into Beethoven's triumphal Ode to Joy. Then, in a tribute to the late New York artist Jackson Pollock, the band grabbed streamers and formed an abstract expressionist painting on the field. Finally the instrumentalists rendered a map of Philly which, the announcer said, included "all of the city's major points of interest." One member of the quartet held up a sign saying LIBERTY BELL, then a bandmate held up a sign saying EXIT, and the ensemble hurried off the field. W.C. Fields would have chuckled.
THE SULTANS OF BEING SWAT
The Red Sox' Don Baylor wrapped up a painful season Sunday: He was hit by 35 pitches, breaking the American League record of 24, previously held by three players. Baylor also holds the AL career record of 227, but he says, "It's not exactly a record I stayed awake as a kid dreaming about." This attitude would appall the man who holds the major league career record, Ron Hunt, an infielder who batted .273 in 12 National League seasons. Hunt attracted baseballs the way a magnet attracts paper clips; he was hit by 243 pitches before he retired in 1974. And he was darn proud of it. "Once, I fouled off 15 pitches against Nolan Ryan before he finally hit me," Hunt recalled the other day. "Then he walked the next three batters and I scored. We won 1-0. I think that was my greatest game."
UNIQUE POST-OP THERAPY
On Sept. 22 Colgate football coach Fred Dunlap underwent double bypass heart surgery for clogged arteries. Five days after the operation the 57-year-old Dunlap sat in his hospital bed with his team's playbook in his hands, listening to Colgate's 21-12 loss to Cornell on the radio. Last Saturday, with his doctor's permission, the 11-year veteran was in the press box as Colgate lost to Holy Cross 16-12. Though recovery from a double bypass can take several months, Dunlap was actually coaching—not calling every play as he ordinarily does, but discussing offensive strategies with acting coach Mike Foley, who was on the sideline. "This is a little long for me, I usually take a nap every two hours," said Dunlap after the game. "It didn't bother me, though. I would have been more frustrated watching the game at home. The fact that I feel I helped a little bit was better therapy." Foley said with admiration and understatement, "He's a tough old war-horse."
In Seoul last week, NBC Sports officials were literally peeking over the shoulders of their Korean counterparts during broadcasts of the Asian Games. Twenty NBC production people jotted notes and diplomatically voiced criticisms. Why double-team this dry run for the '88 Olympics? Because 70% of NBC's pictures two years hence will be supplied by Korean television, and the network considers it crucial that these shots be up to speed.
NBC professed to be "pleasantly surprised" at the quality of the Asian Games feed. To be sure, the Korean production, which NBC will supplement in '88 with cameras of its own, was far better than the hash Mexico dished up during World Cup soccer, or the lifeless TV the Soviets presented during the Goodwill Games. "Very simple, very safe, very by-the-book coverage," was the assessment of NBC executive producer Mike Weisman.
But not without a few problems. For one thing there was little sense of drama or color in the Korean telecasts. When the Japanese winner of the steeplechase collapsed at the finish line and writhed in pain, the cameras followed the other runners as they crossed the line. Too often the coverage seemed regimented. In water polo, the director called up crowd shots after every goal, even when the crowd was sitting on its hands.
The Korean replays tended to be inconclusive and end too soon. In basketball, for instance, it was impossible to analyze a contested charge because the replay cut out before the defending player fell backward. And in boxing, the knockout punch was shown, but the jabs that set up the punch were ignored. Another problem: Korean microphones consistently picked up the crowd noise but rarely were in position to catch the grunts and groans of the contestants.
NBC staffers were pointing out these and other problems to the Koreans last week, but always in the gentlest fashion. "Like all creative people they have fragile egos and a lot of pride," said Weisman. "Any criticism is awkward to give. You try to be diplomatic." That effort paid off, and eventually the Koreans were demanding harsher critiques. Terry Ewert, NBC's coordinating producer for the Olympics, said a standard exchange went like this:
Korean: "Please—what do you think of our coverage?"
American: "It's fine."
Korean: "No, what do you really think?"
American: "It's fine!"
Korean: "No, what do you really think?"
"They were shy to show us their coverage in the beginning," Ewert said. "But they listen." At one point Ewert suggested to his Korean alter ego, Kim Sung-Soo, that he use a ground-level camera on gymnastics, the better to show the height of Chinese gymnast Li Ning's leap in the floor exercises. As Ewert described what he meant, Kim scribbled notes. The next night the replay showed all of Li's lift. "They haven't just taken our criticism and blown it off," said Ewert. The Koreans have a pragmatic reason not to blow it off. "We'll make them happy," said Lee Jung-Suk, general manager of Olympic TV and radio for the Korean Broadcasting System. "They're big clients."
If anything threatens to disrupt the harmonious relationship between the television crews it is the supercharged Korean political scene. During the Asian Games, the Koreans objected to an NBC News story reporting the bombing at Seoul's Kimpo International Airport and the demonstrations at the opening ceremonies. Korean officials argued that NBC has a vested interest in the success of the Olympics. This discussion will surely continue as the Games approach.
But for the moment, all is serene in the Land of the Morning Calm. Oh, there was that one incident: NBC producer Larry Cirillo mistook a Korean TV representative for a gofer and told him to fetch a Coke. But otherwise the NBC people behaved admirably, even to the point of taking off their shoes, in accordance with Korean custom, when entering production trucks. Now that's getting off on the right foot.
THEY SAID IT
•Betsy Cronkite, when told that her husband, Walter, an avid sailor and former anchor, wished to die on a 60-foot yacht with a 16-year-old mistress by his side: "He's more likely to die on a 16-foot yacht with a 60-year-old mistress."
•Mookie Wilson, Mets outfielder, explaining why he was wed in a ballpark: "My wife wanted a big diamond."
•Paul Madison, sports information director at Western Washington University, asked when he knew this year's football team, now 2-1, would be tough: "On Picture Day. We've got some really ugly guys on the squad, and that never hurts."
•Earl Weaver, on his first sub-.500 season with the Orioles: "One good thing—the memory of this'll help me stay retired."