SI's Frank Deford reports on last week's decision by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), a group comprising nearly all the world's top male players, to break away from the Men's Tennis Council—which has run the tour for 18 years—and form its own circuit, to start in 1990:
Until the early 1970s, tennis players conscientiously promoted their sport. After the Ashe-Smith-Newcombe generation moved on, however, men players too often fell to bickering—usually stars against nonstars, over issues such as the division of fees and prize money—and gradually lost their clout in the Byzantine world of international tennis. Now the players are trying to reassert their influence.
This new assertiveness became apparent in early 1987, when former Jimmy Carter presidential aide Hamilton Jordan took over as the ATP's executive director. Jordan felt that the ATP should be an analogue of the powerful PGA, which actually runs the men's pro golf Tour. But there are vast differences between golf and tennis. The PGA Tour is tidy and mostly American and has a 10-month season; tennis is messy and international, and its circuit is never-ending. Golfers are more mature, conservative and respectful of tradition; too many tennis players are puerile, egocentric and unwilling to handle responsibility.
November 14, 1988
Nevertheless, the ATP moved ahead. In August it warned that it would break away and start a new tour if players weren't given a greater voice in the Men's Tennis Council, a body composed, like Gaul, of three parts: the ATP, the directors of the regular tour events, and the International Tennis Federation (ITF), which oversees the Grand Slam tournaments, the Davis Cup and the Olympics. Each group has three representatives on the nine-member council.
The players felt they deserved more than a one-third say in running their sport. They also wanted changes in the Grand Prix, such as more freedom to choose when and where they play and an eight-week off-season. But when ATP and council representatives met in London last week to discuss these issues, the talks broke down. The ATP announced that it will proceed with its new tour, and said 20 big-name players have signed up to play the tour, including No. 1-ranked Mats Wilander, Boris Becker and Andre Agassi.
The tournament directors are now the ones on the spot, and most will be meeting in Europe and America in the next month to choose between, as Jordan puts it, "the devil they know and the devil they don't." What bedevilment might a new tour bring? At worst, there might be more tournaments and more fragmentation; inexperienced ATP personnel might prove to be incapable administrators; and a vindictive ITF might force top ATP tour players to compete against one another for qualifying spots in Wimbledon and other Grand Slam events.
What good might transpire? The ATP tour could be streamlined and better structured than the Grand Prix, with the best players meeting each other regularly, as they do in women's tennis. In that case, the Grand Prix, which has belatedly said it will reform itself, would have to make good on that promise or be forced to fold its tent.
Let's face it: Men's tennis is a mess. A PGA-style system just might help. Why not give the new devil a chance to put up or shut up?
There have been reports since late in the baseball season that Yankee owner George Steinbrenner will trade star first baseman Don Mattingly if the offer is right. What's right? Last week Cub manager Don Zimmer happened to see Steinbrenner at a social function in Tampa and, as a joke, sent him a note saying that the Cubs would give up five every-day starters—former MVP second baseman Ryne Sandberg, shortstop Shawon Dunston, outfielder Rafael Palmeiro, first baseman Mark Grace and catcher Damon Berryhill—as well as 1984 Cy Young winner Rick Sutcliffe, in exchange for Mattingly. Zimmer says Steinbrenner replied with a note that read, "We'll need one more player."
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
The award for the best costume of the Halloween season goes to NHL president John Ziegler as the Invisible Man. Even as his league has been beset by a spate of high-sticking and fighting incidents, Ziegler has been nowhere in sight. His assistant, NHL executive vice-president Brian O'Neill, is the man charged with handing out suspensions, but you would think O'Neill wouldn't be left alone to try to argue—in the face of an avalanche of negative publicity—that the league is committed to eliminating intentional stick fouls. Someone should tell Ziegler that his sport needs real leadership and that Halloween is over.
In October, Pomona and Pitzer colleges in Claremont, Calif., hosted the 1988 Intercollegiate Tennis Coaches Association Rolex Southern California Small College Regional Men's Singles Championship.
That's a hard name to top, but somebody already has. A three-on-three basketball tournament this weekend will be called The 1st Annual One and Only Gus Macker 'fer Sure, All-Hollywood, All-Sandblaster, All-Corey, All-Joe, All-Maz, All-World, All-Galaxy, All-Universe Invitational Takin' It to the Colonel's Bucket Three-On-Three Outdoor Backyard-Style Call Your Own on the Beautiful Campus of Long Beach State Charity Basketball Tournament.
Don't ask us to translate.
TRULY NO. 1
Notre Dame defeated Rice 54-11 last week to remain No. 1 in the nation. Even more impressively, the Irish received the College Football Association's Academic Achievement Award for the fourth time in the eight years it has been conferred. The award is given to the CFA school that graduates the highest percentage of its scholarship football players within five years of their matriculation. Notre Dame not only won—Penn State, Kentucky, Duke and Virginia were the runners-up—but it also turned in the first perfect record in the history of the award: All 24 football players who entered Notre Dame in the fall of 1982 had graduated by last June.
A SCIENTIFIC FUN HOUSE
Which is more educational: 1) listening to a science lecture, or 2) driving an Olympic bobsled, climbing across a 20-foot-wide man-made cliff, judging five Olympic sports against an expert in the field and running a 10-meter dash against top Canadian sprinter Angella Issajenko? Please don't say the lecture.
Education is the essence of the $3 million sports exhibition on display through next October at the Ontario Science Center in Toronto. All the athletic challenges listed above—and others—are offered. The visitor sits in an actual bobsled in front of a large screen and takes a simulated run with wind in his face to learn about aerodynamics; he gets a sense of Olympian sprint speed by racing next to a life-sized image of Issajenko moving along a wall.
There's humor to be found, too: An exhibit on the materials used to make sports equipment compares the gear of a hockey goalie with a suit of armor worn by a medieval jouster. Suffice it to say that goalies have no reason to gripe about how uncomfortable their protective outfits are.
THE GIRLS OF SUMMER
A tip of the cap to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., which on Saturday unveiled a permanent exhibit on women in baseball. The display pays tribute primarily to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), which Cub owner Philip K. Wrigley founded in late 1942 as possible replacement fare in case major league play was suspended by WW II. The major leagues never shut down, but the AAGPBL lasted until '54, providing good, hard-nosed baseball that drew nearly a million paying fans in some years. One historical nugget provided by some of the 150 or so former AAGPBL players who gathered in Cooperstown for Saturday's festivities: In the mid-'40s at least two AAGPBL games were played at Wrigley Field at night, under temporary lights.
Ron Rothstein, coach of the Miami Heat, an NBA expansion team, was recently named Man of the Year by the North Miami Chamber of Commerce. At the time Rothstein had lived in the Miami area for two months.
THEY SAID IT
•John Brodie, NBC broadcaster, on the ever-changing girth of golfer Billy Casper: "He's won more titles at more weights than Sugar Ray Leonard."
•Marv Levy, Bills coach, whose team has three linebackers from Penn State: "You can't be too rich, too thin or have too many Penn State linebackers."
•Gerald Perry, first baseman for the Braves, whose attendance this past season was a meager 848,089: "This would have been a good year to paint the seats."