A FORFEITED CUP
There's no arguing that the best-of-three America's Cup series between Michael Fay's challenger, New Zealand, a 133-foot monohull. and the San Diego Yacht Club's defender. Stars & Stripes, a 60-foot catamaran, last September was a mismatch. Skimming across the surface like a water bug. Stars & Stripes, skippered by Dennis Conner, trounced New Zealand in two straight races. The question before New York State Supreme Court Judge Carmen Ciparick last week was whether the San Diego Yacht Club, in responding to Fay's monohull challenge with a catamaran, had acted in accordance with the Cup's 102-year-old trust document, the Deed of Gift.
Ciparick ruled that the club had not. She declared that the use of a catamaran against a monohull violated the deed and ordered the San Diego Yacht Club to hand over the Cup to Fay, thereby dealing a blow to both the club and the city of San Diego, which had hoped to reap as much as $1.2 billion by hosting a 1991 Cup defense. "[The club] was well aware of the risk it ran when it chose to follow the unprecedented course of defending in a catamaran," wrote Ciparick in her decision. "Barely paying lip service to the significance of the competition, its clear goal was to retain the Cup at all costs so that it could host a competition on its own terms."
While Fay broke out champagne in Auckland, officials in San Diego seemed to be stunned. Claiming that Ciparick had changed her course from a literal reading of the deed to an interpretative one, Tom Mitchell, a race-management spokesman, said, "If we had known she would rule on fairness, we might not have sailed the catamaran. We didn't worry about spirit or intent; we worried about what the deed said. Now she says spirit was more important." The yacht club will appeal Ciparick's decision.
In truth, the judge gave equal weight to the wording of the deed and the intent of its author, and San Diego lost on both counts. While Fay must bear some of the blame for the mess the 1988 America's Cup became—he opened the can of worms by challenging San Diego in a boat different from the 12-meter yachts used in Cup races since 1958—it was San Diego's decision to abandon fair competition that created the mismatch and tarnished the reputation of the world's oldest sporting trophy. Mitchell's words revealed more than he probably intended about the spirit in which San Diego approached last year's races: If we had known she would rule on fairness, we might not have sailed the catamaran.
The judge reminded both sides that the defender of the Cup "is bound to a higher obligation than the victor of the Stanley Cup or the Super Bowl." That obligation, simply put, is to play fair. Now as the defender, Fay must keep the playing field level for the next challenger. To say he will be watched closely is an understatement.
Western Carolina relieved Bob Waters of his football coaching duties last week and reassigned him to the newly created position of associate athletic director. Waters, 50, whose 116-94-6 record over 20 seasons makes him the Catamounts' winningest coach, was diagnosed four years ago as suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, a paralyzing and usually fatal neuromuscular disorder (SI, Aug. 24, 1987). Waters vowed to beat the affliction, but even as his resolve held strong, his health declined. Last season he had to coach from a wheelchair, using a portable respirator to help him breathe and a microphone to amplify his whisper of a voice.
Waters was in the middle of spring practice when university chancellor Myron Coulter informed him by letter of his reassignment. Coulter said Waters was no longer providing the team with "the necessary level of leadership and instruction" and noted that last year, when Western Carolina fell to 2-9, the Catamounts didn't play "good, tough, hard-nosed football." Waters argued that he was fully capable of continuing as coach for at least one more season, but the university's board of trustees supported Coulter's decision.
Even if Western Carolina wins a few more games this fall, its football program won't be the same without Waters's courage and inspiration. "Bob is a fighter, and one of the reasons he has fought to stay alive is to be coach of this football team," says his wife, Sheri. "Now he has to find another reason to fight for his life."
TIMES, THEY ARE A-CHANGIN'
Credit the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants for keeping pace with the wants of their fans. The Padres will offer sushi at their concession stands this season, while the health-minded Giants will serve up yogurt, salads and tofu hot dogs. Both teams have done some family planning, too: They have installed diapering tables in the restrooms—men's and women's—at their stadiums.
A SEMIOPEN FIELD
The NFL's limited free-agency program turned out to be a success after all—a limited success, that is. Of the 619 players declared unconditional free agents in February, 229 switched teams by the April 1 signing deadline. The average salary of the first 100 who changed teams jumped from $146,500 to $259,300, not including incentives; figures on the later signees were not immediately available.
Some of the league's weaker teams took full advantage of the free-agency plan. While AFC champion Cincinnati took on no free agents, woebegone Green Bay signed 20 and Kansas City 17. NFL owners will surely cite all these numbers when the antitrust suit filed against them by the NFL Players Association comes to trial in U.S. district court in Minneapolis, as it is expected to this fall. The owners want the court to believe that NFL players have as much freedom to switch teams as the league's competitive structure can possibly bear. But the NFL's free-agency plan was fundamentally unfair: The best 37 players on each team—the ones who would command the highest bids in an open market—were put on a "protected" list and were not eligible for free agency. In effect, they were punished for being too good.
Which raises a question: When the top 1,036 players have virtually no freedom of movement, how free can the league claim to be?
PART OF THE PROBLEM
CBS basketball analyst Billy Packer should never be mistaken for a journalist. In past years he has, as a part of his job, helped set up games for the network through his friendships with coaches—a considerable conflict of interest for someone expected to comment on games frankly and critically. CBS says that these days Packer lends only his expertise, not his connections, in the area of matchmaking, but Packer, like many other sports announcers, is still basically a promoter. When asked the other day by the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader what he thought the future might hold for Eddie Sutton, who resigned on March 19 as Kentucky's basketball coach, Packer assailed the Herald-Leader for its investigations into payments to players and other NCAA rules violations allegedly committed in the Wildcat program. "The people of the state of Kentucky ought to boycott your newspaper," Packer told the Herald-Leader. 'The newspaper's been a major part of the problem, if not the problem. It serves no purpose to the university.... The constant repetitive articles.... It seems I've been reading that crap for a whole year."
The Herald-Leader won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for its college-basketball investigations, and it has continued to report on alleged wrongdoing at Kentucky in the face of anonymous threats to its staff and property. Even university president David Roselle last week distanced himself from Packer's remarks, indicating in comments made privately to a Herald-Leader reporter that he considers the paper's work fair.
Packer had a brush with the media back in 1980 on the subject of improprieties in college sports. Unaware that reporters were in the audience. Packer told the Williamsburg (Va.) Sports Club that as an assistant coach at Wake Forest in the 1960s, he had altered a transcript to get Charlie Davis, a high school star with poor grades, into a prep school program so he might eventually play for the Demon Deacons. "I was good at cheating," Packer went on to say. "I would have made a great head coach at an outlaw school. Was I ashamed of it? Hell, no. I always thought the bottom line was I could help [high school prospects] out.
"I was always proud of what I did for guys like Charlie Davis. I know a lot of guys who weren't too smart, and they're doing pretty well for themselves now."
Those remarks created no small stir at the time, and Packer issued this clarification: "What I [said] could be true. But [it has] no business appearing in a newspaper." Packer has since maintained that his comments about Davis were just a joke. His attitude toward sports journalism might be characterized in much the same way.
THEY SAID IT
•Bob Froese, New York Ranger goalie, after fans at Madison Square Garden showered the ice with plastic mugs given to them as a promotion: "I'm just glad it wasn't Machete Night."