THE TIX FIX
Tickets to the Final Four are always hot items, but this year in Kansas City they were especially so because 1) Kemper Arena seats only 15,892,and 2) two of the Final Four, Oklahoma and Kansas, were very close to home. A $50 combination ticket to the semis and the final reportedly netted a seller as much as $2,000, although the Kansas City police were quite diligent in arresting scalpers. (One ticket seller tried to get around the law by selling his official Final Four T-shirt for $700, throwing in a free ticket; he was arrested.)
Only 23% of the 15,892 three-game blocks—or 3,655—were made available to the general public, and the NCAA had 325,000 requests for the tickets, which were parceled out by lottery. Who received the rest of the tickets? Well, about 40% went to the Final Four teams (1,625 per school); 14% to the National Association of Basketball Coaches, which holds its annual convention at the site of the Final Four; 11% to the NCAA for its staff, conference commissioners and other functionaries; 6% to the host conference, the Big Eight; 5% to representatives of the media; and 1% to those former players and coaches participating in the 50th anniversary celebration of the tournament.
Despite the smallness of Kemper—last year's Final Four was held in the 60,000-seat Superdome in New Orleans and next year's will be in the 40,000-seat Kingdome in Seattle—the NABC had its allotment increased from 10% to 14% this year. The coaches' organization did start the tournament back in 1939, but that does not give it the right to take so many precious tickets for its convention.
As if to prove the coaches were getting more than their fair share, four of them—Iowa Wesleyan head coach Jerry Olson, Montana State assistant Ron Anderson, North Dakota assistant Don Rockstad and another, unnamed college assistant—were arrested by undercover officers at or near their hotels for allegedly trying to sell their Final Four seats for as much as $700. Released on bonds, the coaches face sentences of 60 days in jail and fines of $500 if they are convicted. In addition, NABC president Eddie Sutton says they stand to lose their ticket privileges for future Final Four games.
All of the privileged groups, but the NABC in particular, should give some of their tickets back to the public. Arnie Ferrin, the chairman of the Division I men's basketball committee, defends the high percentage of seats set aside for coaches by saying, "My feeling is the coaches and players make this tournament." Gee, we thought basketball fans had something do with the phenomenal success of the Final Four.
KNIGHT AT THE MOVIES
There was a joke making the rounds at the Final Four that a sequel to the movie I hosiers was in the works. This film, also about Indiana basketball, would be entitled Five Men and a Baby.
Dave Bresnahan, the minor league catcher who was released after he released a potato during a minor league game last year (SCORECARD, Sept. 14, 1987), will be honored by his former team, the Williamsport (Pa.) Bills, in ceremonies on May 30. Bresnahan, who is now selling real estate in Scottsdale, Ariz., will have his number 59 retired, and he will also re-create his infamous play, in which he threw a potato over the third baseman's head, then tagged a Reading base runner with the real baseball as the runner tried to score. "I'd like to get back in the game somehow." said Bresnahan, who was batting .150 with no home runs at the time he was released by the parent Cleveland Indians. "I Love baseball."
If only he had hit taters, not thrown them.
In the NHL, 21 teams play 80 regular-season games so that five teams can be eliminated from the playoffs. (By contrast, 26 major league baseball teams play 162 games to eliminate all but four.) Consequently, hockey fans will have the opportunity to see such stalwarts as the Los Angeles Kings (30-42-8) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (21-49-10) in postseason play simply because those clubs finished fourth in their five-team divisions. The Maple Leafs nipped the Minnesota North Stars by a point even though Toronto lost 14 of its last 16 games.
As liberal as the NHL playoff format is, it is still basically unfair. The two teams that failed to qualify in the six-team Patrick Division, the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, both finished over .500 and had more points than six of the teams that did qualify. The blow is particularly cruel to Pittsburgh, which had promised season-ticket purchasers a dollar-per-game refund on 1987-88 tickets if the team didn't make the playoffs. That could cost the Penguins as much as $250,000. "We're hoping a lot of fans apply [their refund checks] toward next year's season tickets," says general manager Eddie Johnston.
The NHL should either 1) cut the number of playoff teams to 12, with second-and third-place teams playing off to see which will face the division winners; or 2) make sure the 16 playoff teams are decided on merit. In the meantime, the Maple Leafs and their supporters should be asking. "What did we do to deserve this?"
Boxing promoter Don King recently trailed along with a team of U.S. amateur boxers on a trip to the Soviet Union. Part of King's mission was to get a bead on which of the American boxers might be worth signing, but another part remains hush-hush. Said King, "I can't comment on it. All I can say is something big, big, big is going to happen between the U.S. and Russia, with me in the middle of it."
BIG MAC ATTACK?
How did Boston Red Sox manager John McNamara respond when his team was picked to win the American League East by, among others, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (April 4), USA Today, Inside Sports and ESPN? Not very well. Said McNamara to Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe, "A lot of people pick you to see you get fired, to put heat on you."
Honest, Mac, that's not what we had in mind.
THE FIRST OF 50 NCAA CHAMPIONS
The first of the 50 annual NCAA basketball tournaments drew eight teams, attracted only 15,025 people for its five dates and lost $2,531. But it did produce a memorable championship team, the "Tall Firs" of the University of Oregon, who defeated Ohio State 46-33 at Northwestern University on March 27, 1939.
Oregon's team was named for its then-imposing front line of 6'8" Urgel (Slim) Wintermute, 6'4½" John Dick and 6'4½" Laddie Gale, but under legendary coach Howard Hobson it was a fast-breaking, relentless squad led by Bobby Anet, a 5'8" playmaker. As Oregon opened up its lead in the final, Anet dove across a courtside table for a loose ball and knocked over the championship trophy, clipping off the basketball-player figurine at the top. According to Dick, a retired Navy admiral who was in Kansas City last week along with Gale and coach Hobson, "When they presented the trophy to us, they had to hold the figure on top. It was a two-handed presentation."
Hobson, 84, a member of basketball's Hall of Fame and an early proponent of both the three-point field goal and the shot clock, said of the championship game, "They say they had 5,500 people there. I think they gave half the tickets away." In attendance was James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.
More exciting than the game was the train ride home from Chicago to Eugene. Dick was from a small Oregon town called The Dalles, and its citizens threatened to barricade the tracks unless the train stopped on its way through. "Finally," said Dick, "somebody was able to reach the president of the railroad....
He said, 'All right, we'll give you 10 minutes.' " There were also celebrations in Portland, Salem and Albany before the train reached Eugene, where the team was given its biggest reception. "They were literally hanging from the lampposts," said Hobson.
THEY SAID IT
•Mackey Sasser, New York Mets catcher, on how he knew his wife was in labor: "I called the doctor, and he told me that the contraptions were an hour apart."
•Dave Leiper, San Diego Padres relief pitcher, on why he named his son Justin Casey: "I'm always up in the bullpen just in case they need me."