With Fans Like This....
Jim King, a member of Florida's House of Representatives and an avid Florida State booster—not necessarily in that order—was the major force behind a 1991 state law enacted to hinder the NCAA in its policing of Florida schools. That law stipulates that Florida athletes facing NCAA inquiries will be granted every constitutionally guaranteed due process protection. Ironically, the law is now working against the Seminoles in an eligibility case involving four of their football players who allegedly took money and gifts from an agent last fall (SI, May 16, et seq.). According to David Berst, the NCAA's head of enforcement, the case could have been decided "in a matter of days," but it will now take much longer.
Significantly, the law does not impose the same due-process requirements on the schools as it does on the NCAA. So, in late July, in an attempt to anticipate NCAA sanctions, Florida State president Talbot D'Alemberte suspended guard Patrick McNeil for three games, linebacker Derrick Brooks and tailback Tiger McMillon for two games apiece and offensive tackle Forrest Conoly indefinitely. D'Alemberte asked the NCAA to speedily rubber-stamp these sanctions, but the NCAA, obligated to follow its own procedures, could not. Instead, the NCAA sued in federal court to overturn the statute, virtually guaranteeing that the fallout from the off-season scandal will haunt FSU well into the regular season.
FSU officials, who on Monday suspended for two games a fifth player, guard Marcus Long, after he acknowledged his presence at a dinner paid for by a prospective agent, plan to go ahead with their self-imposed sanctions. But they do so at considerable peril. If FSU uses a player whom the NCAA later finds to be ineligible, the school risks penalties, including the forfeiture of victories.
If the NCAA loses the suit, consequences are unclear. How could the NCAA preside over a member institution when that institution is not obligated to follow NCAA rules? If the NCAA wins the suit, as it did in a similar case in Nevada last year, it should decide the fate of the four players fairly quickly. The Seminoles may be hoping for that. They may also be hoping that, in the future, "helpful" legislators aren't quite so helpful.
There is speculation that the Las Vegas Posse, one of four U.S.-based Canadian Football League teams, might not complete its first season. The Posse, which is 3-5, is averaging fewer than 12,000 fans per game in the 32,000-capacity Sam Boyd Stadium. On Monday, Posse stock was selling at $2.38 per share on the NASDAQ Exchange, down from a high of $5.25 in early May.
But if the Posse disappears quicker than a tourist's bankroll at the crap table, it has been a memorable season. Herewith a few lowlights:
•Last December majority owner Nick Mileti, a pizzazz kind of guy in a pizzazz kind of town, arranged for Melinda, a magician wearing a G-string and a bikini top, to announce the team name at a press gathering. Melinda climbed into a make-believe cannon on the stage at the Lady Luck Casino Hotel and, after an explosion and much confetti and streamers, emerged from a nearby box holding a sign that read POSSE.
•The Posse held its training camp in the back parking lot of the Riviera Hotel and Casino. The field was 70 yards long—40 yards shorter than CFL regulation—making the execution of long pass plays all but impossible. Then again, the end zones at Sam Boyd Stadium are five yards shorter than CFL regulation.
•To declare war on the oppressive Vegas summer heat—the temperature on the artificial turf for the June 29 exhibition opener registered 146°, for example—Mileti called together reporters and presented a tableau of cheerleaders sitting on ice blocks and nosetackle Roy Hart taking a sledgehammer to a pair of thermometers. It's not as if the Posse has a home-inferno advantage, though—Vegas has lost three of its four home games.
•Mileti's cheerleaders, who are among sports' more scantily clad, ran through the Saskatchewan Roughriders' bench area, distracting the players, during a July 16 home game. Griped Roughrider coach Ray Jauch, "Naturally the players are going to look at the young ladies and take their minds off the game for at least a few seconds." In keeping with the Posse's plucky battle against the heat, the Posse Showgirls also dash through the stands spraying patrons with squirt bottles.
•The Posse mascot is a group of horses (with riders) that have, er, left their mark during pregame festivities. To say that the team is not drawing flies, therefore, is not entirely accurate. In fact, the Posse pooper-scooper crew has become a fan favorite. The team has not.
Yes, in a city that boasts the Continental Indoor Soccer League Dustdevils, the Roller Hockey International Flash, the U.S. Interregional Soccer League Quicksilvers, the International Hockey League Thunder, the National Volleyball Association Vipers and more than a little Don King, the Posse has distinguished itself as the crown jewel of Las Vegas trash sport.
The comments that Denver Bronco quarterback John Elway made before his team's final preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals last week—"I could care less.... This game means absolutely nothing, just like this whole preseason"—sting the ears of fans who shell out as much as 45 bucks to sit in the stands for these games. Still, Elway was voicing an opinion that was heard more and more around the league in past weeks.
The notion that four or live preseason games are necessary to prepare a team for the season is absurd. Further, it's a pity that fans pay top dollar for games that are often little more than controlled scrimmages. Before one preseason game the opposing coaches got together and decided they would blitz only four players in order to protect the quarterbacks. Says one coach, "That kind of thing happens in the preseason all the time."
When it comes to preseason football games, it's obviously caveat emptor.
Slaying the Monster
John Hancock Fantasy Day at Fenway Park, a benefit for the Jimmy Fund, a Boston-based charity, attracted more than 100 amateur sluggers last Saturday. SI reporter Dave Gabel was among them.
Upon emerging from the Red Sox dugout I immediately fixated upon baseball's most famous barrier, the 37-foot-tall Green Monster. I had heard about its petrifying effect on batters. And when my body seemed to turn to stone, I knew I had looked Medusa square in the eye.
As I waited on deck, various bits of Little League hitting advice swirled through my brain. Keep your head still. Don't take your eye off the ball. Follow through. Former Red Sox second baseman Mike Andrews, now the executive director of the Jimmy Fund, offered predictably coach-like counsel: "Don't swing for the fence." Thanks, Mike, but I was here to attack that big green wall. It was mano a monster, and I was 315 feet away.
When the public-address announcer summoned me to home plate, I thought I heard taunts coming from leftfield: "Just try and hit me, Little League reject." If fences could talk, the Green Monster would be Reggie Miller. Thoroughly intimidated, I popped up the first pitch, delivered by a machine at a comfortable 60 mph. My goal was scaled down from "hit the ball out of the park" to "hit the ball out of the infield." Second pitch: Whiff! New goal: Hit the ball out of the batter's box and stop embarrassing yourself.
A pathetic collection of grounders and foul balls followed. Gradually, though, I became comfortable with the machine's delivery. I smashed the 11th pitch sharply to third and lined the next one to left for a would-be single. "Three pitches left." warned the catcher. Two more solid hits toward third, but still no fly balls. If I could just get under this last one....
"Ping!" Ah, the sweet sound of aluminum hitting cowhide.
The ball cleared not only the Monster but also the 23-foot screen above it, the only one to do so all day. Not that I was looking, but I stumbled upon the ball at the foot of a Dumpster in an alley across Lansdowne Street. As SI went to press, Cooperstown had not requested it.
My home run was one of six hit that day, each of which earned $2,000 from John Hancock for the charity. With entry Ices and the 15 balls hit off the wall (earning $1,000 apiece), the Jimmy Fund picked up $157,000. I walked away with two conclusions: Accidents happen, and, yes, the baseballs are juiced this season.
You duh Man!
PGA player Robert Gamez quite possibly set a course record for vacuity in the September issue of Golf Magazine. When asked to name his favorite topic of conversation or debate, the 26-year-old Gamez responded, "There really isn't anything. I'm pretty low-key. I stay away from newspapers, I don't like to read, so I don't know what's going on. I don't know a whole lot to debate on."
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
As of noon Monday, radio station WJMP-AM in Akron had played Take Me Out to the Ballgame—nothing else—15,366 times since Aug. 12 to protest the baseball strike and had received no complaints.
They Said It
The Cleveland Brown rookie defensive back, on his contract that defers most of his salary until after the season: "I figured I could survive with a half-million dollars until March 1995."