Ready or Not
Measures by the NCAA to cut costs and emphasize academics have raised the ire of coaches in various sports (box, below), and we're sorry to say that Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino, whose team is our pick for No. 1 this season, is among them. As Alexander Wolff notes in his story on the changing universe in college hoops (page 34), the reforms included pushing back the start of practice from Oct. 15 to Nov. 1. Pitino is not alone in complaining that the later start "doesn't give enough time to get ready for the season," but it's hard to understand how a coach can feel hamstrung when he has the same amount of time as his rivals to get his team ready. Besides, the season itself now kicks off a few days later—on Dec. 2 in Kentucky's case.
All in all, one would think Pitino would have enough time to whip his top-ranked Wildcats into shape for their opener against Wright State.
Maybe you were wondering why free-agent pitcher Steve Howe, who has been bounced from baseball seven times for drug offenses—number seven being a supposedly lifetime ban in June by then commissioner Fay Vincent—was given another chance last week by arbitrator George Nicolau. Vincent banished Howe, a New York Yankee at the time, after Howe pleaded guilty in federal court in Missoula. Mont., to a charge of attempted possession of cocaine, for which he was sentenced to three years' probation, a $1,000 fine and 100 hours of community service. Acting on a grievance brought by the Major League Baseball Players Association, Nicolau overruled Vincent because of evidence that Howe suffers from a hyperactivity condition that contributed to his cocaine dependency.
However, Nicolau went on to say that if Howe is caught again, he'll be out of baseball, this time (yes!) for good. What this most arbitrary of arbitrators didn't immediately explain was why a medical condition would entitle a chronic drug abuser to precisely eight chances but not nine, 10, 11 or 100.
You were right to wonder.
When questions arose last year about the solvency of the NHL pension fund, John Ziegler, the league's president at the time, accused the retired players who raised the issue—including such immortals as Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Bobby Orr—of launching an "attack upon the integrity" of the NHL. After the players filed suit in Toronto, essentially accusing NHL owners of looting the pension fund. Ziegler threatened reprisals against anyone "spreading untruths" about the league.
The NHL owners claimed the missing money was a $25 million "surplus" that belonged to them, and in 1983 they helped themselves to the funds, filing a back-dated document with an obscure Canadian government agency to make their boodling appear legal. Judge George Adams of the Ontario Court of Justice has now issued a stinging 150-page opinion rebuking not only the owners but also the NHL Players Association and its former leader, Alan Eagle-son. Adams said that the union had displayed "moral shortcomings" by uttering not a word of protest while the owners plundered the pension fund. Adams directed the owners to return the money; unless the ruling is overturned on appeal, it will cost the owners as much as $50 million, including interest, attorneys' fees and court expenses.
Meanwhile, another group of retired players has won a series of preliminary rulings against the NHL in a lawsuit brought in Camden, N.J., over the same $25 million under U.S. pension laws, which are tougher than those in Canada. This is what's known in hockey as a power play, and if the league doesn't move quickly to settle with its former players, it may find itself buried so deep in the penury box it'll never get out.
The NHL could also find itself in another kind of bind. That's because a federal grand jury in Boston is looking into the pension-fund machinations and has subpoenaed more than 20 years' worth of NHL records. If the owners make peace, prosecutors may be less inclined to push for indictments.
Bill Clinton's aides proudly refer to themselves as wonks—a newly prominent term for the sort of issue-obsessed grinds who insist on crunching budgetary analyses on their laptops next to you on the airplane while you're trying to watch Sister Act. Drawing a bead on the breed, The Washington Post quoted one Clintonite as saying that wonks are like nerds except that "wonks get dates." But it appears that wonks aren't much into sports; witness the Clinton staffer who, when told that a colleague had her picture taken with Henry Aaron, assumed the reference was to Henry J. Aaron, a noted Brookings Institution economist and author of such works as The Painful Prescription: Rationing Hospital Care. "When the Kennedys went to the beach, they played touch football," observed the Post. "When the Clintonites go to the beach, they discuss the problem of sand erosion and inadequate building setbacks."
For St. Pete's Sake
Bouquets to National League owners for deciding last week to keep the Giants in San Francisco "for the stability of baseball." But, at the same time, condolences to the good people of St. Petersburg, Fla., who were cruelly led to believe the Giants would be coming their way. Over the years baseball groups from the Tampa Bay area have been teased by the Minnesota Twins (1984), tickled by the Oakland A's ('85), nuzzled by the Chicago White Sox ('88), dallied with by the Texas Rangers ('88), kept standing on tiptoes by the Seattle Mariners ('92) and, finally, left at the altar by the Giants. Tampa-St. Pete also lost out to Miami and Denver when the National League named its expansion teams last year.
Having allowed itself to be shamelessly used by six major league clubs, St. Pete has wised up at last. No sooner did word arrive of last week's rejection than the group that coveted the Giants, reckoning that Tampa-St. Pete had suffered damages of $3.5 billion, filed suit against various baseball parties. Meantime, the two-year-old Suncoast Dome lies virtually fallow in downtown St. Pete, reminding us of the segment in the movie Mondo Cane in which aborigines in New Guinea, enchanted by the big airplanes that fly overhead, clear a landing strip in the belief that it will lure the craft to their village.
Clip and Mail (Please!)
Ron Polk, Baseball Coach
Mississippi State University
Mississippi State, MS 39762
Hey, bag the letters! O.K., so you didn't like it when the NCAA put limits on Division I baseball, cutting the maximum number of games in a season from 70 to 56, reducing the number of coaches a school can have and curtailing practice time. But this letter-writing campaign of yours is nutso. Here at SI we've received 1,200 letters from coaches, players and boosters knocking the new rules. We're told that other media types have also been swamped, as have members of the Presidents Commission, which pushed through the cuts at the 1991 NCAA convention. When NCAA president Dick Schultz was about to go on Larry King's radio show, King pointed to a box stuffed with mail and pleaded. "That's from college baseball coaches—could you tell them to stop?" Schultz thought. You should see the letters I'm getting!
Recently you wrote, ah, yes, a letter to The NCAA News: "Where is equity when college baseball staffs have just two full-time coaches but women basketball start's have three?...I must assume that if college baseball players wore skirts, they would be treated with more respect and equity."
Bad move, Ron. Word is, you're hoping to get the baseball cutbacks rescinded at the January NCAA convention in Dallas, but insulting an entire gender isn't the way to win sympathy. Neither is burying people under a ton of mail.
Yours truly, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
P.S. Do you honestly think women's sports get a fairer shake than men's? For sure, the women don't have your postage budget.
Turkey Olympics I
The Inn on Lake Waramaug in New Preston, Conn., will host a competition this week in which turkeys are entered in such categories as fastest eater, fastest runner and most majestic strut. The winners will get a Thanksgiving dinner reprieve.
Turkey Olympics II
Berlin, Sydney and Beijing are the front-runners in the bidding to be host city for the Summer Olympics in 2000, but don't count out Istanbul. Reason: A palace in that city that's being converted into a posh hotel has been offered up as headquarters during the Games for perk-loving IOC members.
In a January 1989 item on Riddick Bowe's future, The Ring, the bible of boxing, declared, "As a professional, Bowe may make a living as a sparring partner."
They Wrote It
•Bob Ford in the Philadelphia Inquirer, after the Utah Jazz's lead-footed 7'4" center, Mark Eaton (left), was injured jumping for a ball: "Now, why would he go and try that after all these years?"
•Dan Shaughnessy in the Boston Globe, "Carl Yastrzemski has finally landed where all the great ones eventually land: Home Shopping Network."
They Said It
•Bob Knight, Indiana basketball coach, whose son is back on the team after having been dismissed following his arrest last spring on a public intoxication charge: "Pat Knight is a living example of why some animals eat their young."
•Richard Petty, after a fiery crash put him out of Sunday's Hooters 500, the final race of his 35-year NASCAR career: "I guess you're supposed to go out in a blaze of glory, but I didn't mean to do it this way."