A STEROIDS TEST WITH TEETH
In an attempt to curb widespread use of anabolic steroids by college athletes, the NCAA last January approved mandatory random testing for such drugs at postseason championships and football bowl games. The testing program, which stipulates a minimum suspension of 90 days for those who get caught, has now bagged its first offenders.
Two North Dakota State football players, tackle Tom Smith and defensive tackle Flint Fleming, were declared ineligible when they tested positive for steroids after the defending champion Bison's first-round 50-0 win two weeks ago over Ashland College of Ohio in the NCAA Division II playoffs. As a result, Smith and Fleming, both starters, missed North Dakota State's 35-12 win on Saturday over Central State of Ohio in the semifinals. They will also sit out the championship game this week against South Dakota. While Smith, a senior, has thus played his last college game, Fleming, a junior, can play next season if he tests drug-free in 90 days.
Smith, who went from 235 pounds last summer to 265 during this season, had passed a drug test administered by North Dakota State earlier this year. Fleming, whose weight increased from 229 to 262, was not tested in the school's random program. However, both players admitted after failing the NCAA-administered tests that they were steroid users. "It's a sad thing, but we totally support the NCAA testing program," said their coach, Earle Solomonson. "We believe it is one aspect of a needed total program to combat the use of drugs on our campuses."
The NCAA's war on drugs will continue with random testing at the upcoming major bowl games. Some players and coaches may have reason to be nervous.
SNOOKER'S STORMY FOLK HERO
Alex (Hurricane) Higgins, the tempestuous former world champion of snooker, seems to have outdone his considerable self. The 37-year-old Irishman, who has already been disciplined seven times by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, faces not only a possible suspension for recent bad behavior but also criminal charges. The complaint involves an incident that occurred after the third round of a tournament in Preston, England. It is alleged that Higgins, told he would have to undergo his second drug test of the competition, flew into a rage and head-butted the tournament director, Paul Hatherell. Hatherell ended up with a gash over his left eye, and Higgins was hauled from the room by police. As he departed he was screaming, "I'm killing myself!"
Such a brouhaha is unusual, to say the least, in the decorous atmosphere of a snooker parlor, where combatants wear tuxedos and referees white gloves. But if you told a die-hard snooker fan that such a ruckus had occurred—and in England there are plenty of folks who never miss a match on the BBC (SI, May 7. 1984)—he would instantly guess that Hurricane was at the center of the storm. Higgins's career has been marked by brawls, on-air obscenities and wild drunkenness. He suffered a 10-year slump while battling the bottle, only to reemerge in 1982 with a startling triumph in the world championships. Since then he has been a folk hero in the pubs, but this latest ugliness will try the patience of his most ardent boosters. Higgins will appear in court on Dec. 17 to answer charges of criminal assault and causing willful damage to the door of the snooker parlor.
NO SIGNS OF INTELLIGENT LIFE
A thousand years from now, archaeologists will sift through time capsules and conclude beyond a doubt that the downfall of Western civilization began on the playing fields of the NFL. They will cite as evidence this quote from L.A. Raiders defensive end Greg Townsend, referring to an on-field scrap: "I wasn't going to tear his lips off. That's Lyle Alzado's bit. Maybe poke his eyes out." They'll also refer to Patriots cornerback Ronnie Lippett, explaining why he doesn't maintain friendships with players on other teams: "Once you become friends, you feel like you can't hit them in the face, poke them in the eye or slam 'em or club 'em."
Then the scientists will reseal the capsule and bury it deeper.
THE ARKANSAS HOGS, WE PRESUME
The wonderfully nicknamed Centenary Gentlemen of Centenary College of Louisiana are seen on the cover of their 1986-87 basketball media guide, entitled Dishin' It Out, eating heartily at a local burger joint. Each player is wearing his team uniform and a ball cap. Now we ask you: What true gentleman would wear his hat in a restaurant?
THE BUONICONTIS TACKLE PARALYSIS
A year ago this fall Citadel linebacker Marc Buoniconti tackled East Tennessee State running back Herman Jacobs and Buoniconti's life was changed forever. His spinal cord was damaged on the play, and he was left a quadraplegic. The life of Marc's father, former All-Pro linebacker Nick Buoniconti, was changed as well.
Nick, who has worked as a lawyer and businessman since he retired from the NFL in 1976, started learning fast about spinal cord injuries. "After the game, Marc was in a Tennessee hospital that just wasn't equipped for him," Buoniconti says. "They said, 'You have to move your son.' I had people do a worldwide search, and one of the institutions they all recommended was Jackson Memorial in Miami. The most difficult thing I ever went through in my life was watching my son get moved."
The move was the right one. Not only did Jackson Memorial have excellent facilities for paralyzed patients, it was also the home of the Miami Project, a research effort to find a cure for paralysis. Shortly after Marc's move, Nick established the Marc Buoniconti Fund as an adjunct to the Miami Project. "Because of my football connections, I'm in a good position to raise funds," says Nick. "We've raised more than $2 million since last October, and our budget is $10 million over the next five years. Already we're seeing results. We've been able to hire Sweden's Dr. ‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√±ke Seiger. He's at the top of his field. It's like attracting a superstar for your football team."
Even more heartening for Nick is the news that Marc, who still faces the prospect of being paralyzed for life, is improving. Tests in September showed he had 20% more muscle activity in his deltoids. Marc was released from the hospital earlier this fall. Two weeks ago he made the trip to the Orange Bowl, where, at halftime of the Dolphins-Jets game, he was saluted and presented with a $1 million check for the Miami Project.
Although Marc has a lawsuit pending against The Citadel, in which he claims he told team officials about neck pains before the East Tennessee game, his father harbors no resentment toward football itself. "I still think it's a great game," Nick says. "I love the game. Marc loves the game. And I don't think it's any more violent than it used to be. When you get big people hitting one another, something's going to happen."
A STEP TOWARD SAFETY
Marc Buoniconti's was one of only seven permanent spinal cord injuries that occurred in youth league, high school and college football in 1985. There were also seven deaths last year. These figures represent an incidence in each of the two categories of 0.44 per 100,000 players, down significantly from the rates a decade ago.
The statistics are from an article in a recent issue of The Physician and Sportsmedicine by Frederick O. Mueller and Carl S. Blyth, professors at the University of North Carolina. In "An Update on Football Deaths and Catastrophic Injuries," the authors credit the decline to "a ban on spearing and to a helmet standard." In 1976, colleges and high schools toughened restrictions against using the head as a weapon when tackling and blocking. And by 1980 all schools had adopted rigid safety standards for helmets.
PUNISHMENT FITS THE CRIME
When the British Columbia Lions advanced to the semifinals of the Canadian Football League championship playoffs, scalpers in Vancouver, eyeing the Grey Cup game to be played on the Lions' home field, waited for their big payday. But a funny thing happened on the way to the finals: The Lions were beaten by the Edmonton Eskimos 41-5. Last Sunday's championship game between Edmonton and Hamilton, which was won by Hamilton 39-15, had little cachet in Vancouver, and the scene outside B.C. Place Stadium was a scalper's nightmare. One guy was charging two bucks a ticket; another traded two seats for a six-pack of beer. Several mortified scalpers ended up giving their tickets away. The most entrepreneurial of them was trying to unload the tickets as "stocking stuffers." He had little success, perhaps proving that the Vancouver fan is a bit sharper than the Vancouver scalper.
DANCING THE TEXAS TWO-STEP
Broken contracts are, sadly, as much a part of big-time sports as broken bones and broken streaks. The latest welsher is football coach David McWilliams, who last week walked out on four years of his five-year, $375,000 deal with Texas Tech. After just one season, in which he took the Red Raiders to a 7-4 record and next week's Independence Bowl appearance against Mississippi, McWilliams is bolting to Texas, where he was captain of the 1963 national championship team and, for 16 years, an assistant coach. McWilliams replaces Fred Akers, who two weeks ago became the first coach in Longhorn history to be fired.
"It's just a dream come true for me," said McWilliams, who added that he didn't "feel like a traitor." He also said, bewilderingly. "In this business loyalty is always two ways, but then again, sometimes it's not."
McWilliams may not have felt like a traitor, but Texas Tech fans certainly saw him as one. A sign on a campus building read BENEDICT MCWILLIAMS and students wore MCGO buttons. Karen Pettigrew, a board member of Houston's Red Raider Club, voiced the opinion of many of the school's boosters: "I think it stinks to high heaven." Texas Tech officials, while also less than enchanted with the coach's Texas two-step, didn't try to block McWilliams's departure.
For what it's worth—and that may not be very much—McWilliams's $91,600-a-year pact with Texas is for five years.
THEY SAID IT
•Lester Hayes, L.A. Raiders cornerback, after playing against the Eagles' scrambling quarterback Randall Cunningham: "He must shower in Vaseline."
•Garry Shandling, comedian, noting that lava from the Hawaiian volcano was traveling three feet an hour: "That's one rush Jim Plunkett could avoid."