NOT O.K., OKLAHOMA
While being introduced before their NCAA women's basketball final against Stanford on Sunday in Knoxville, Tenn. (page 48), Auburn players carried symbolic red ribbons. They were protesting the University of Oklahoma's unexpected—and shameful—decision to drop women's basketball. "It feels like a major slap in the face and a major step backward [for women's sports]," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, who wore a red ribbon on her shirt. "It's something very, very hard to understand."
Oklahoma officials said that their women's basketball team, which went 7-22 and drew an average of only 206 fans per home game this season, simply wasn't worth the cost. According to Don Jimerson, the assistant athletic director who oversees women's athletics, the basketball program was eating up nearly a quarter of the school's annual $1.3 million women's sports budget. He said that the basketball funds will be reallocated to other women's sports programs, including a planned women's soccer team.
But consider the numbers for a minute. The $1.3 million that Oklahoma spends on women's sports makes up less than 10% of its total athletic-department budget of $15.4 million. The school spends several million dollars on football and it can't even run an honest program; the Sooners are in the second year of a three-year NCAA probation for recruiting and rules violations. That probation is costing the athletic department an estimated $750,000 to $1 million a year in lost bowl and television revenue.
"It seems to me that the University of Oklahoma has some serious Title IX problems," said attorney Ellen Vargyas of the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C. "There are significantly more opportunities for male athletes than for women athletes at OU." Vargyas believes that women athletes could win a broadly based Title IX suit against the university, and certainly would win one demanding that women's basketball be revived. Title IX guidelines specify that in sports such as basketball, if a school has a men's team, it must also field a women's team if women at the school both want one and are able to field a viable team. The Sooners' women's team is emphatically viable—it had nine straight winning seasons before going 11-16 in 1988-89—and at least a couple of players are considering suing.
Astoundingly, some state and university officials were puzzled by last week's uproar. Among the confused was Oklahoma Governor Henry Bellmon, who told The Tulsa Tribune, "They'll still have intramural basketball, won't they? We have never had total equality in women's athletics, and I don't know that we ever will have.... There is no women's baseball or women's wrestling. I have heard of women's mud wrestling."
"How in the world can you justify taking the program away from kids based on attendance?" asked Louisiana Tech women's coach Leon Barmore. Indeed, college athletic programs are supposed to exist not to pack bleachers and churn out revenue, but to give students another type of educational opportunity—the chance to develop their athletic talents at the highest level. As for the lack of fan support, Oklahoma could pull in larger crowds if it tried hard enough. "If an institution gets a good coach and markets its women's basketball program, the program can pay the majority of its way," says women's athletic director Donna Lopiano of Texas. "We do it. Tennessee does it. It takes a commitment on the part of the university." Oklahoma, where is your commitment?
SUMS IT UP
Considering how often men's sports programs gobble up athletic department funds to the detriment of women's teams, the University of Arkansas at Monticello may have the most truthful nicknames in college sports. Its women's teams are known as the Cotton Blossoms. Its men's teams are the Boll Weevils.
No team has endured more oddball injuries in recent years than the Atlanta Braves. In 1982 outfielder Terry Harper dislocated his shoulder while standing on deck vigorously waving a runner home from third base. In 1984 infielder Randy Johnson dislocated his thumb while pulling up his socks.
Two weeks ago pitcher John Smoltz suffered slight chest burns while trying to take the wrinkles out of his shirt. At first it was reported that Smoltz had been trying to iron his shirt while wearing it; Smoltz later said he had been using a hand-held steamer, not an iron, and that the steamer had spit hot water onto his chest. Either way, Smoltz probably ought to send his shirts out to a laundry next time.
BRING BACK THE LOCKOUT!
It's a good thing baseball's owners ended their spring training lockout as soon as they and the Players Association came to general terms on a new basic agreement on March 19. If the two sides had waited to work out the fine points, camps would still be shut and big leaguers would be out playing one-a-cat at the local junior high.
Last week the two sides haggled over roster size. The deal that ended the lockout called for the retention of 24-man rosters until next season, when the number returns to the traditional 25 that was abandoned four years ago. Because spring training opened so late, the deal also allowed teams to carry 27 players for the first three weeks of the season. But last week players and owners battled for several days over how much the 25th, 26th and 27th players would be paid and how and under what stipulations the players would be sent to the minor leagues at the end of three weeks. No one seemed to dispute that 27-man rosters are preferable, given the shortness of spring training, and the issues were finally resolved on Monday. But owners and players had to go through another silly set-to first.
With luck, baseball's bickering will be over just about the time the Mariners, Expos, Tigers and Braves clinch their division titles in September.
AND THERE'S MORE
Early in spring training, the Pirate management split up the team for a few days and had the pitchers and catchers travel from McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., to a separate practice facility three miles away. The Players Association—we're not making this up—asked that the players be reimbursed 20 cents a mile for gas. The Pirates refused to pay.
THE FORESIGHT BROTHERS
When the NBA signed a four-year, $600 million television contract with NBC in November, nobody was happier than brothers Ozzie and Dan Silna. Ozzie, 57, and Dan, 45, will soon be collecting $4.6 million a year from the deal even though they don't work for or own any part of an NBA team.
The Silnas did own the Spirits of St. Louis of the American Basketball Association in 1976, the year the NBA and ABA merged. Because the NBA made room for only four of the six ABA teams, ABA owners had to decide which two of their teams would be left out. The owners of the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers, the New York Nets and the San Antonio Spurs persuaded Kentucky Colonels owner John Brown and the Silnas to fold their teams in exchange for compensation. Brown settled for a single $3.3 million payment from the Spurs, the Nets, the Nuggets and the Pacers.
The Silnas held out for more. They signed a deal that guaranteed them one seventh of the combined annual television revenue from those four teams. And because the deal included no expiration date—a monumental oversight on the part of the four new NBA owners—the Silnas are entitled to the TV money in perpetuity.
"I love basketball, and I wish we could have been involved in the merger," says Dan. "But I don't regret our deal." One would imagine not. He and Ozzie have already received more than $5 million from the settlement. And although the Nets, the Nuggets, the Pacers and the Spurs have been trying to persuade the Silnas to accept a multimillion-dollar buyout, the brothers say they aren't interested.
That faint cheering you hear in the distance is for the new nondrinking section at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. The cheering would be louder, but the section—to be set up at any NFL exhibition games held in the stadium—comprises only 313 of the bowl's 82,000 seats and is located at the back of one end zone, more than 60 rows up.
Forty-Niner coach-turned-TV commentator Bill Walsh recently lectured at a couple of football clinics and realized how much he misses coaching. "I found myself leaving the clinics and saying, 'Gee, I know this stuff,' " says Walsh. "You have all that knowledge, and when you get out of [coaching], there's a certain melancholy."
Walsh, 58, has therefore decided to return to coaching in a small way. This month in Palo Alto, Calif., he will conduct the first in a series of camps for NFL quarterbacks and quarterback coaches. Working with one NFL team at a time, he will teach the same solid basics—how to take a snap, drop back, set up, release, etc.—he instilled in quarterbacks Ken Anderson, Dan Fouts, Joe Montana and Steve Young during the past two decades. The sessions will be videotaped so that after the quarterbacks leave they'll be able to use the tapes for a refresher course.
The Jets and Raiders have already signed up for April sessions, and Walsh thinks he may work with quarterbacks from the Browns, Seahawks, Chiefs and other teams before summer camps begin in July. Walsh charges $10,000 per week-long session. "When he first mentioned to me that he was thinking of doing it, I told him, 'Enroll me right now,' " says new Jet coach Bruce Coslet, who played and coached under Walsh. "The number one premise when a quarterback gets to the pro level is that he knows everything. But their technique can slip. They need drills to reinforce it, over and over again. And I can't think of anyone who's a better teacher and technician than Bill."
Coslet says that Jet quarterbacks Ken O'Brien and Tony Eason are eager for the tutoring sessions. "They need a breath of fresh air," he says. It seems Walsh does, too.
For the Soviet Union, it's a notion as radical as perestroika itself: sport for the least-favored rather than for the elite athlete. But that's precisely what the Soviet sports authority Goskomsport has embraced by joining the Special Olympics movement, which gives mentally retarded citizens the chance to train and compete regardless of how athletically skilled they are.
Moscow's interest in the movement grew as other Eastern bloc nations entered the Special Olympics fold: first Poland, then Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Sargent Shriver, president of Special Olympics International, held preliminary discussions with the Soviets at their request in October and firmed up their commitment during a five-day seminar in February. The U.S.S.R., which has an estimated eight million retarded citizens, expects to begin with 100,000 Special Olympians and increase the number to 400,000 within two years. Soviet television will also broadcast 90 prime-time minutes of the European Summer Special Olympic Games in Scotland this July.
Olympic boycotts sometimes served as flashpoints for the cold war. The expansion of the Special Olympic family reflects a welcome easing of international tensions. Alexander Potemkin, the counselor of the U.S.S.R.'s cultural department and embassy, says that by creating a Special Olympics program, the Soviets will "synchronize our moral compass" with those of other participating nations.
SPLASHY DASH FOR CASH
Swimming's past met its future last week in the cavernous old natatorium at the University of Iowa. During a break in a Junior Olympic meet, seven of America's fastest sprint swimmers—among them 50-meter freestyle world-record holder Tom Jager and Olympic hero Matt Biondi—took to the pool for a semirevolutionary event billed as the Dash for Cash.
The swimmers were to race each other in a 50-yard freestyle sprint for $10,000 in prize money put up by the Oral-B dental products company. The winner would get $5,000; if he broke 19 seconds (Jager also has the world's best time at this distance: 19.05), he would receive a new Ford Bronco II as well. While the idea of swimming for prize money may seem startling, this was actually the fourth Dash for Cash in the past four months. Jager had won two of them and $16,500, Biondi the other and $9,500.
Jager, 25, more or less invented the Dashes. Since graduating from UCLA in 1987, he has often butted heads with his sport's domestic governing body, U.S. Swimming (USS), over its neglect of postcollegiate swimmers. In 1987, when Jager first suggested something akin to a Dash for Cash, he recalls that the idea was rudely dismissed. "It wasn't like they said, 'Thanks for the idea, but no thanks,' " Jager says. "It was, 'Thanks for the idea—it is ridiculous.' "
Last summer, after hearing that Biondi was returning to competitive swimming after giving up his attempt to make the 1992 Olympic water polo team, Jager called him and proposed some races for cash. Biondi went along eagerly. The first Dash was held in December in conjunction with a college meet in Long Beach, Calif., and was won by Biondi.
Some Dashes have been single-elimination, one-on-one events. The times swum at these events have been scoffed at by purists—having only two swimmers in the pool significantly reduces turbulence—but they've also been spectacular. In ABC-televised match races in Nashville, Tenn., two weeks ago, Jager and Biondi bettered Jager's world 50-meter free record of 22.12 four times, with Jager finally reducing the mark to 21.81. USS, seizing the dash idea as its own, put on the Nashville event. This irked Iowa swim officials, who believed their Dash might have gotten TV coverage if not for the Nashville races. "They [USS] screwed us royally," said one Iowa staff member.
Before a noisy crowd of 2,800, Jager outtouched Biondi in the Iowa City race, 19.12 to 19.18. Said a heady Jager afterwards, "Instead of just looking at the bottom of the pool and thinking about swimming back and forth, now kids can think, I can't wait—someday I'll be swimming for the car."
THEY SAID IT
•Chris Corchiani, North Carolina State basketball player, to ESPN announcer Dick Vitale, after the shinypated Vitale suggested Corchiani meet Vitale's 18-year-old daughter, Terri: "Mr. Vitale, does she have hair?"