PAY FOR PLAY
In what may have been a symbolic first step toward openly professionalizing college athletics, Nebraska's one-house legislature last Friday passed, by a 26-23 vote, a bill decreeing that football players at the University of Nebraska be paid a stipend. The action won't put cash into the hands of Cornhusker players anytime soon: Nebraska governor Kay Orr may veto the measure, and even if she doesn't, under the terms of the law it won't go into effect unless four other states with Big Eight schools pass similar legislation, an unlikely occurrence. Still, the bill's maverick sponsor, Senator Ernie Chambers of Omaha, told SI's Doug Looney that he hoped the Nebraska vote would "put pressure on the NCAA and provide national leadership for compensation of players."
Chambers has pushed for this measure for nearly seven years on the grounds that Nebraska football players—like those at other big-time football schools—generate huge amounts of revenue for their university but are "denied compensation and forced to live with the fiction that they, like flowers, exist on air, sunshine and water." Chambers has a point. Though a scholarship player may receive tuition, fees, room, board and books from his school—a package worth $32,500 over five years to an out-of-state Husker—NCAA rules make it almost impossible for him to earn spending money and bar him from accepting any money for incidentals except from close family members or guardians. As a result, some players from poorer families don't even have enough money to pay for a movie ticket. It's hardly surprising that some accept under-the-table cash from agents and boosters.
Chambers tends to overdramatize the demands of football, describing the players as virtual slaves. Yet he accurately points out that Nebraska's football program took in more than $9 million in revenues in the past fiscal year while distributing just over $600,000 in scholarships. As valuable as a college scholarship is, it's certainly worth asking if football players—and perhaps athletes in other college sports—don't also deserve adequate spending money.
You never know who—or what—is going to sponsor a race car anymore. If negotiations work out between the Penske racing team and Bridge Publications, the best-seller Dianetics, by L. Ron Hubbard, a self-help tome published by Bridge that serves as a sort of bible for the cult religion Scientology, will sponsor defending champion Al Unser's car in next month's Indy 500. "This could open the door for sponsorships by both publishers and movie production houses," says Kevin O'Brien, director of marketing for the CART racing series.
It should be pointed out that neither Unser nor anyone else with the Penske team is said to be a member of the Church of Scientology, which Hubbard founded and which has long been beset by charges of fraud and misrepresentation. But the Dianetics negotiations have convinced O'Brien that he should approach other publishers and moviemakers for sponsorships. O'Brien says Indy cars would be great vehicles for promoting upcoming summer releases: "Can you imagine a car racing down the straightaway at Indy with Gone With the Wind on it?"
Denver fans still haven't gotten over the Broncos' 42-10 thrashing by the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII. This is the latest bit of black humor to make the rounds in Colorado:
Q. How many Broncos does it take to change a tire?
A. One—unless it's a blowout. Then the whole team shows up.
THE NEVER-ENDING STORY
If you had six or eight free hours, you might have been able to watch an NHL playoff game last week. There were so many fights and infractions that the contests seemed interminable, and most postgame statistical summaries read like police blotters.
Of eight games played on Saturday, only Hartford versus Montreal had no major penalty or misconduct and resulted in fewer than 60 penalty minutes. The brawlers from Boston and Buffalo racked up 474 penalty minutes in the first three games of their Adams Division semifinal; the NHL playoff record is 611 penalty minutes set in a six-game Quebec-Hartford series a year ago.
In case you're wondering, there are only seven more weeks of on-the-ice mugging before the playoffs are over.
STILL A JAYHAWK
For about 24 hours last week UCLA thought it had a new basketball coach to replace the fired Walt Hazzard (SI, April 11). Kansas coach Larry Brown flew in to talk to Bruin officials on Thursday, just three days after his Jayhawks had won the NCAA title, and he left Los Angeles the next morning having orally accepted the Bruins' offer. By midday Friday, Brown's secretary had typed up his letter of resignation, and Kansas sports information staffers were transmitting bio information on Brown to UCLA for a press release on his hiring. But sometime that afternoon Brown had a change of heart. When Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick came by to talk to his apparently departing coach, Brown startled him by announcing, "I'm staying."
Brown seemed glum when he made that decision public at a Friday evening press conference. Only he knows exactly why he chose to stay put—he has long regretted having left UCLA in 1981 after coaching there for two seasons—but several factors were said to have influenced his decision, including a misunderstanding over the wording of a point in his proposed UCLA contract. The wording was reportedly fixed up, but Brown kept thinking about friends in Kansas and he had trouble shaking doubts about the Bruin job. Not a man driven by money, he said on Saturday that he had become "embarrassed" two days earlier while listening to the generous offer UCLA was making. "That kept hitting me the whole time," he said. "I didn't feel I'd done anything for UCLA to deserve it.... They wanted to do so much for me, and something about that didn't feel right." And so Larry Brown remains in Kansas.
Speaking of Kansas, in the final regular-season Associated Press college basketball poll, the Jayhawks were ranked 33rd. They also failed to make the final SI Top 20.
Last week it became clear that the legally shaky NFL rule prohibiting college underclassmen from turning pro is a farce. Facing the threat of a lawsuit by Pitt running back Craig (Ironhead) Heyward, a fourth-year junior who wants to turn pro this year to help support his family, the league declared Heyward and former BYU tight end Trevor Molini (who also has a year of college play remaining) eligible for its April 24-25 player draft. The NFL tried to play down the significance of its decision, but the fact is that the door to pro football is open for any underclassman who does one of three things:
1) Signs with an agent, thereby forfeiting his NCAA eligibility. Ohio State wide receiver Cris Carter was allowed to enter a supplemental NFL draft last year after having been kicked off the Buckeye team for signing with an agent. Heyward recently became involved with one, perhaps hoping for the same result.
2) Gets kicked off his college team for disciplinary reasons. Heyward stopped going to classes in January and was suspended by Pitt coach Mike Gottfried. It seems to have become a rule of thumb that if you've been booted off your team, the NFL will allow you in early.
3) Gets expelled from school. Molini was expelled from BYU a year ago after he was arrested for fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance. He later pleaded guilty to the charge. Bingo—he's in the draft.
It helps, of course, if you also threaten to sue, as Heyward did. In fact, the NFL is so fearful of a court challenge to its ban on drafting underclassmen that it might capitulate if any college player raises the possibility of a lawsuit over the issue. It's all quite silly. Football players deserve the same freedom as basketball players, plumbers and sportswriters to enter their profession whenever they wish. By granting that freedom only to scofflaws, the NFL is embarrassing itself.
THEY SAID IT
•Jim Frey, Chicago Cubs general manager, rejecting tradition as an argument against installing lights at Wrigley Field: "If we went by tradition, we'd still be playing without gloves."
•Jerry Reynolds, coach of the Sacramento Kings: "I'm not Bobby Knight. But I can work on my profanity."