The Knight Commission goes soft on college sports
The long-awaited Knight Foundation Commission Report on Intercollegiate Athletics, published last week, made this pronouncement: "The burden of leadership falls on [the president] for the conduct of the institution, whether in the classroom or on the playing field."
The statement has a familiar ring. Back in 1929, the Carnegie Foundation study on collegiate athletics had this to say: "The responsibility to bring athletics into a sincere relation to the intellectual life of the college rests squarely on the shoulders of the president and faculty."
After spending 18 months and $2 million studying the ethical ills of intercollegiate sports, the Knight Commission, a panel of 22 college, business and political leaders, reached a conclusion that has been obvious for at least six decades: College presidents should become more involved with their athletic departments. Unfortunately, the commission offered few specific suggestions as to what the presidents should do after they become involved.
To be sure, some of the commission's proposals have merit: awarding five-year athletic scholarships instead of one-year grants renewable at the school's option; making athletes maintain progress toward a degree to remain eligible; and, to lessen the pressures to win, signing coaches to long-term contracts. The commission also called for the creation of an independent body to certify athletic programs in much the way that colleges as a whole are certified. Certification would depend in large measure on "the comparison of student-athletes, by sport, with the rest of the student body in terms of admissions, academic progress and graduation."
But do college presidents truly want to clean up college sports? A meaningful certification system might necessitate a willingness to reshape college athletics to a degree that would not be acceptable to many trustees, alumni, legislators and students.
The Knight Commission report contains no indication that consideration was given to any of the following remedies, all of which have been suggested by tougher-minded reformers:
•Deny admission to athletes who are unqualified to do college-level work. This sounds elementary, but it could have an impact far beyond academe: It might even force the professional leagues to launch their own minor leagues and stop relying on the colleges as an inexpensive farm system.
•Eliminate athletic scholarships and base grants solely on financial need. This would not only slash one of an athletic department's biggest expenses, but would also shift the emphasis from attracting better athletes to attracting better students.
•Conversely, pay athletes and allow them to represent the schools that pay their salaries, but don't force them to enroll as students. If nothing else, at least the academic standards of the college would not be tarnished.
•Share revenues. By distributing proceeds equally within a conference or even among all schools in, for instance, Division I, the incentive to cheat might be greatly reduced.
These are extreme proposals, but the abuses in college sports are extreme as well. Bold measures are clearly needed. It isn't enough to issue vague calls for involvement by university presidents. Sixty-two years is long enough to wait.
Eric the Green
NHL star-to-be Eric Lindros comes with a big price tag
Last Thursday night, after a 3-3 tie with the Bruins, the Quebec Nordiques clinched last place in the NHL and assured themselves of the first pick in the draft for the third consecutive season. This time, though, they will have to pay even more than usual for their incompetence.
The year's draft prize is Eric Lindros, the 18-year-old center for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. Lindros is the first franchise-level talent to come out of junior hockey since Mario Lemieux saved the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1984. He is an overpowering 6'5" 218-pounder who scored 71 goals and had 78 assists in 57 games this season and conjured up visions of an even more dominating version of Edmonton's Mark Messier, last season's NHL MVP.
The Nordiques' first pick last year was right wing Owen Nolan, who received a five-season package that averaged out to $260,000 a year—a record sum for a draftee. But that's peanuts compared with what Lindros can command, which may be $1 million a year.
Lindros is already such a hot property that he has his own bubble-gum card and an endorsement contract with an equipment manufacturer. According to Rick Curran, the agent for Lindros, corporations have already offered to sponsor Lindros as a member of the Canadian Olympic team for next February's games in Albertville. This would be a lucrative and high-profile way for him to spend one of the two seasons he would have to wait to reenter the draft should he choose not to sign with the Nordiques.
Although Curran says Lindros is willing to play for whatever team drafts him, Quebec might have to pay him more than other clubs would. Quebec City is considered by many in hockey to be the least desirable place to play in the NHL because of high taxes and the Nordiques' woebegone record.
There is the possibility that the Nordiques will trade the pick, but Quebec general manager Pierre Page says he is 90% sure he won't. Still, that leaves the door slightly ajar. There is a rumor that David Poile, the G.M. for the Washington Capitals, has dangled an intriguing package before the Nordiques: the two to five (depending on where St. Louis finishes in the next three seasons) first-round picks the Blues owe the Caps for signing defenseman Scott Stevens as a free agent last summer, plus the Caps' next three No. 1 picks and two established players from a list of three.
Could one 18-year-old player be worth that much? "Right now, I would say no," Poile said. "But give me some time to think about it."
They weigh horses, don't they? They do in Oklahoma, anyway
Don't look now, but a 1,005-pound Dirty Diaper recently ran at Oklahoma City's Remington Park racetrack. Not only were track officials aware of the situation, but they posted the news on 300 video monitors around the park.
The weights of Dirty Diaper and other horses are being provided to fans at Remington through a program called The Right Weigh.
"Handicappers throw a fit if a jockey is overweight," says track racing analyst Scott Wells, who devised the program last fall. "Why shouldn't they care about a horse whose beer belly equals the bulk of half a jockey?"
Thirty minutes before each race, horses are led to a barn where they are walked onto a ground-level, electronic livestock scale. Within seconds, a digital readout displaying their weights is flashed on the monitors. Horseplayers can then check each weight against the program, which lists the horses' weights from previous races at Remington.
Remington is the only track in North America that releases weigh-in results to the public, but the practice has been standard in Japan and South America for years.
Wells, though, claims he got the idea after betting $10 last October that Buster Douglas would beat Evander Holyfield in their heavyweight championship fight. Says Wells, "Once I saw Buster on the scale, I knew I had kissed my money goodbye."
NFL owners have become too serious about the game
NFL might as well stand for No Fun League. At their annual meetings last week in Hawaii, NFL owners directed game officials to strictly enforce rules barring touchdown celebrations. Spikes are O.K. High fives are O.K. But from now on, not much else is.
Even the Ickey Shuffle is no longer safe. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue can now fine the Bengals if running back Ickey Woods does his trademark, post-TD hip-hop, even if he does it near his own bench.
"We have the best athletes in the world, and they're paid to be athletes, not dancers," says Saints president Jim Finks. "Where does it stop? Somebody's going to out-Ickey Ickey."
Earth to NFL: This is the MTV Era. Get in touch with the emotions of your players. First you outlaw the shuffle. Are smiles next? This is not to say that the league is wrong in prohibiting taunting and other unsportsmanlike antics, but brief celebrations don't hurt anyone.
"They want us to open the oven and have every cookie look the same," says Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville. "These are football players. They're human. They've got emotions. Let 'em dance."
Cincinnati coach Sam Wyche has thought up one way around the new directive. Let's go to the videotape, he says. "We are certainly a league in love with the instant replay," says Wyche. "So now, when Ickey scores, he'll just point to our big video screen in the end zone. Then we'll replay one of his classic shuffles. Let the memory of the shuffle live on."
Unless, of course, the league outlaws pointing at scoreboards.
Bjorn Borg won't come back without his wooden racket
Bjorn Borg was in Couvin, Belgium, last month, rummaging through warehouses in search of wooden tennis rackets. The warehouses belong to Donnay Sporting Goods, which made the racket that Borg, who hasn't entered a tournament in more than six years, once used to dominate tennis. Borg plans to resume competition at this month's Monte Carlo Open, but he doesn't have enough of his trusty—some tennis observers say outdated—rackets. "Many claim that it's impossible to play tennis with a wooden racket nowadays," says Borg. "I know it's possible." As for the oversized, graphite rackets of today, Borg says they don't give him enough control.
Donnay stopped making wooden rackets and money at about the same time, in 1986. In the '70s and early '80s all of Donnay's marketing and production strategy centered on Borg, and though the arrangement earned both Donnay and Borg handsome sums while he was competing, it left the company high and dry when he retired. In '88 Donnay filed for bankruptcy. French entrepreneur Bernard Tapie purchased Donnay soon after and then signed Andre Agassi, who plays with a graphite racket, to a long-term promotional contract. Donnay is healthy again.
Although Borg seems desperate to lay his hands on a few models of the old Donnay Borg Pro, the racket that carried him to victory in 11 Grand Slam championships, don't go sending him your old wooden Donnays. They aren't what he wants. Because he strung the frame at such a high tension—80 pounds—Borg's racket required several extra laminations of wood.
Donnay recently decided to use the blueprints for Borg's old rackets to make a limited number just for him. If all goes as planned, fans will get to see two tennis relics swatting balls this year.
[Thumb up]To Robert Miller, president of FTM Sports, for launching Tenacity, a program to teach tennis to young adults with handicaps.
[Thumb up]To Kevin Johnson of the Phoenix Suns, for being named President Bush's 411th "Point of Light. "Johnson was honored for founding an organization that provides tutoring and counseling for children in Sacramento.
[Thumb down]To the University of Wisconsin athletic board, which, citing budgetary reasons, voted last week to drop baseball, as well as fencing and gymnastics, for men and women. Badgers who went on to play major league baseball include Harvey Kuenn, Jim O'Toole and Rick Reichardt.
Making a List
The NHL playoffs begin on April 3, and Los Angeles Kings goaltender Kelly Hrudey is ready. Here's his list of the 10 toughest players to stop on a breakaway. Surprisingly, neither teammate Wayne Gretzky nor St. Louis Blues sensation Brett Hull makes it.
1. Pat LaFontaine, New York Islanders: He gets a lot of breakaways with his speed. No one has his lateral movement.
2. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins: He can pick the lower and upper corners with ease.
3. Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings: You know it's going to the top, glove side, and you still can't stop it.
4. Steve Larmer, Chicago Blackhawks: You don't know where the puck is going.
5. Joe Nieuwendyk, Calgary Flames: He's unpredictable, with a long reach and a scary wrist shot.
6. Theoren Fleury, Calgary Flames: He moves well laterally, and he knows what the goalie wants to do.
7. Joe Sakic, Quebec Nordiques: You can't read him at all.
8. Petr Klima, Edmonton Oilers: A great faker, he can hit any corner.
9. Mark Messier, Edmonton Oilers: He's intimidating because you know he's dying to score on you.
10. Dale Hawerchuk, Buffalo Sabres: He's a combination of everything. He studies goalies and knows what will work against each of them.
THEY SAID IT
Brian Cunnane, assistant basketball coach at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, which went 3-23 this season: "If it's true that losing builds character, then we have more characters than Disney and Warner Bros. combined."
Rollie Fingers, former relief pitcher, on the evolution of his profession: "In 1971 I had 17 saves and got a raise. In 19851 had 17 saves and got released."
Thirty days hath September, April, June and November...unless you believe the Chicago Bulls. On their 1990-91 promotional calendar, the Bulls have both an April 31 and a November 31.
Anything You Say, Al
When pitcher Al Leiter and his agent negotiated a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, they insisted on a $50,000 bonus if Leiter wins the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year Award. The Blue Jays agreed, and why not? The award is actually given by United Press International.
Replay: 10 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
Isiah Thomas of Indiana cut down the nets on our April 6, 1981, cover to celebrate the Hoosiers' 63-50 win over North Carolina for the NCAA title. UNLV didn't make the Final Four that year, but its coach, Jerry Tarkanian, made They Said It. Asked how he prepared his team for Wyoming's high altitude, Tarkanian said, "I try to tell our guys that the altitude isn't that bad because we're playing indoors."