CALL FOR A FRESH START
Next month marks the 15th anniversary of the NCAA's decision to allow freshmen to compete at the varsity level in big-time college football and basketball. It was an unexpected and highly controversial decision at the time—one opposed by many coaches and most academicians, and motivated by economics—and it has proved to be a mistake. Colleges hoped to save money by eliminating freshman teams and squeezing an extra year of play from their athletes, and they've done so. But in the process they have made it tougher for freshman athletes to adjust to college, both academically and socially.
Joe Paterno isn't the only one pushing for a return to freshman ineligibility (page 64). Last month the presidents and chancellors of six major universities—Maryland, North Carolina, N.C. State, UCLA, Miami and Minnesota—submitted a resolution to the NCAA advocating an end to freshman eligibility in Division 1-A football and Division 1 men's basketball. Division 1 schools will vote on the matter at the NCAA convention, to be held in San Diego from Jan. 6 to 10. Passage of the resolution would place the freshman eligibility issue on the 1988 NCAA convention agenda.
Various aspects of the issue will no doubt be debated in San Diego: Does an athlete retain four years of eligibility even though he sits out as a freshman? Would ineligibility undercut Bylaw 5-1(J), which sets minimum academic standards for entering freshman athletes? Would freshmen be allowed to practice? With such questions yet unanswered, it's possible that the proposal could meet resistance or be tabled in San Diego. That would be a shame. A majority vote in favor of the measure would begin to turn the clock back 15 years—and thereby take collegiate sports a big step forward.
When Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman was named a finalist for the Lombardi Award, coach Earle Bruce agreed to accompany him to the awards ceremony in Houston. He did so with trepidation. "I was reluctant to go, because I saw what was happening to coaches in Texas," Bruce said. "My winning percentage is only about 75 percent." Bruce added, "Hey, that's why you are seeing more coaches go into the cattle business—because cattle don't have alumni."
SHHHHHH! DON'T WAKE THE BABY
Lisa Ortlip-Cornish, coach of the women's basketball team at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., is mixing career and motherhood very nicely. At practice sessions this season, Ortlip-Cornish has been carrying her two-month-old daughter, Brooke, against her chest in a baby harness. She leaves the infant there even as she coaches.
"Having to keep quiet at practice, that's the only real hassle," says Ortlip-Cornish, who as a player led Villanova to the AIAW final four in 1982. "That and not being able to run. What I'll do is have my assistants stand beside me, and I'll say "Yell this, yell that,' and they do."
Now, if only Bob Knight would give that a try....
HARNESS SLOWS TO A TROT
In just three years the Breeders' Cup has become a thoroughbred-racing jewel (SI, Nov. 10). In the same three years the Breeders Crown, harness racing's answer to the Cup, has become a modest success but has failed to resuscitate a sagging sport. The culmination of the 1986 Crown series, a four-stakes card staged last month at New Jersey's Garden State Park, offered a glittering $2,375,900 in purses, but circumstances made it a bittersweet affair.
The Crown cannot escape the malaise that pervades all of harness racing. The decline in trotting and pacing, which started more than a decade ago, is blamed in part on the sport's continuing image problems. Once a staple at county fairs, trotting and pacing have always seemed the unsophisticated cousins of thoroughbred racing, and doubts about its integrity were widespread even during its heyday in the 1940s and '50s. According to an industry report, 30% of today's harness fans still question whether the sport is on the level. To change this perception, racetracks have tightened security and the North American Harness Racing Marketing Association has been established to promote a new image. But there has been no perceptible payoff. Since 1980 on-track attendance nationwide is off nearly 20%.
Another reason for the slump is increased competition for the gambler's bet. In the New York City area, where harness racing was once immensely popular, off-track betting, two daily state lotteries and legalized gambling in Atlantic City have all sprung up since 1970. In that period patronage at harness meets has fallen 70%.
Scrambling for new ideas, the lords of harness racing came up with, among other things, the Breeders Crown. Whereas the Breeders' Cup runs all its stakes on one date, the Crown is a 12-race, $5.1 million series spread out over four months. Last year the 10 tracks that hosted Crown events reported increases of 52.7% in attendance and 46.1% in handle. This year the first eight stakes, held at tracks across the U.S. and Canada between August and November, again drew larger than average crowds. And the final four races not only attracted 21,326 fans, a record at Garden State for harness racing, but also attracted a rare live TV audience through a deal with ESPN.
But it was only a momentary triumph. Harness racing fared so poorly at Garden State Park generally that management announced recently that the sport has been discontinued for 1987.
As people around the country see the snow fall and dream happily of a white Christmas, the Head Nut sits at home and broods. "This is the toughest time of the year for me," he says. "When the golf courses are closed, I'm miserable."
At least the weather allows the Head Nut an opportunity to answer the mail, which has piled up since July, when he formed the Golf Nut Society of America. From his home—Nut House, in Brush Prairie, Wash., in emulation of the USGA's Golf House, in Far Hills, N.J.—the Head Nut processes membership applications and mails certificates and bag tags to new members. On one side of the tag is printed the society's motto, THE LUNATIC FRINGE OF GOLF, and on the other is a personal registration number under the words "If you're not registered, how can you be committed?"
"I watch golfers on TV and whenever I'm playing in a tournament," says the HN, a scratch golfer who plays in dozens of amateur events each year. "If I see someone who seems nuts about golf, or does something nutty, I write a letter asking if he'd like to join. We're just getting started—we've got about a hundred members." Perhaps the most famous Nut is Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan, whose passion for the game prompted the HN to send him the standard GNSA entrance exam. Test questions ask how many times you've played in snow, whether you played on your wedding anniversary, how many golf-related divorces you've suffered, how many times you've "quit the game forever." Jordan passed, sent in his entry fee and has risen to the GNSA's directorate.
The Head Nut, who is a 39-year-old computer salesman named Ron Garland, has nearly qualified for the U.S. Amateur several times, currently is the Oregon state amateur champion, once shot 66 during a tornado and has a happy marriage. "I used to go out for putting practice at night," he says, "and my wife would stay in the car and shine the headlights on the green. She's definitely a Nut herself."
CAN YOU FIND BO?
Remember the grade-school art of snowflake making? Most of us do. But Dr. Thomas Clark, a physician with the University of Michigan Health Services, experienced a deprived childhood. For some reason, he never cut a single snowflake as a kid growing up in Mason, Mich.
So two years ago, when Clark learned from a health services secretary how to create a lacy six-point design, he developed the passion of a convert. Soon Clark had progressed to representational designs; today the health services offices are buried under a blizzard of paper snowflakes, many of them depicting Michigan football or winter sports scenes. "As far as I know, this is unique," says Clark of his mètier. His flakes will be formally exhibited next month in the university's Horace H. Rackham Building. If you study the patterns shown here, you can find some classic Clark designs: a dog team and sled, figure skaters, even Bo Schembechler in his trademark shades. Look closely—no two Bo flakes are alike. The fourth flake is a self-portrait of the artist, busily at work.
THEY SAID IT
•Dale Tallon, Blackhawks broadcaster, during a game between Chicago and Winnipeg: "I wouldn't say it's cold, but every year Winnipeg's athlete of the year is an ice fisherman."
•Diane Akers, expressing her happiness over her husband Fred's job switch from coaching Texas to coaching Purdue: "I look better in black than I did in orange."