John Calipari is the apotheosis of the ambitious, Armani-wrapped basketball coach. Since taking over the University of Massachusetts's humdrum program six years ago at age 29, Calipari has guided the Minutemen to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament (in 1992) and to a No. 2 ranking in some current preseason polls. Charming and well-spoken, "Coach Cal" still wears his ambition on his well-tailored sleeve. But last week he got roughed up in the public prints. The Boston Globe reported that seven of the Minutemen's 13 scholarship players are on either academic probation or warning despite taking such courses as Sports Broadcasting, and Sex, Drugs and AIDS. The NCAA requires athletes to be in "good academic standing" to be eligible, and the UMass student handbook defines good academic standing as a cumulative C, or 2.0, average or better. Yet, because the university routinely allows students on probation to participate in extracurricular activities, three of the four players whose grade point averages slipped below 2.0—Marcus Camby, Donta Bright and Tyrone Weeks—will suit up when the Minutemen open the season against Arkansas on Nov. 25. The fourth, Michael Williams, will miss that game only.
The UMass coach was uncharacteristically vague in his response to the revelations, in part because the players' privacy rights under the Buckley Amendment had already been violated by the disclosures. But in the past Calipari has spoken to many of the relevant issues.
•He likes to argue that he should take on players who are at academic risk because UMass is a state school, chartered "to educate the commonwealth." He doesn't mention that the academic snorkelers who have turned the team around are from Atlantic City, Baltimore, Hartford and the Bronx.
•He points out that the Minutemen's 75% graduation rate is better than that of the student body as a whole (67%) and the national average for Division 1 basketball players (46%). He doesn't mention that the 75% figure is for a decidedly small-time recruiting class that came to UMass as freshmen in 1987, before Calipari arrived on campus.
•He invokes a range of academic safeguards he has instituted, from mandatory study halls to tutors who sometimes travel with the team. He doesn't mention the flip side of all that vigilance: that if players are on the verge of flunking out in spite of it, they might not belong at UMass at all.
Not cited in the Globe report is high school star Mark Blount, a seven-foot senior from Yonkers, N.Y., who was briefly tangled up with notorious New York City street agent Rob Johnson. Blount has drifted through six high schools, encountered discipline problems and failed to meet his required test score under Prop 48, yet UMass accepted his verbal commitment in August. "He's the first kid in history to pick a college before he picked a high school," says recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons.
University officials had hardly-gone from hemming to hawing last week when the Springfield Union News published details of Calipari's contract. In addition to a base salary of $132,000, he keeps 94% of the estimated $300,000 net from his summer camp and a flat $50,000 from season-ticket revenues. Another $50,000 a year, provided by a university foundation, is stashed in a pension fund in his name. Meanwhile UMass, a university still trying to recover from budget cuts that forced the elimination of faculty positions, lets him keep 35% of all postseason tournament revenue and the school's share from one road game of his choice—all told, another $35,000 or so per year. That's a total of almost $550,000, excluding Calipari's personal deals with Nike, Spalding and Champion, which surely add another 100 to 200 grand to the pot.
Calipari isn't the only coach making big bucks, and similar academic atrocities occur at other big-time schools. We just don't know the details because the numbers rarely come to light. But Calipari is taking away plenty. Given that UMass hasn't had a player in the NBA since Julius Erving, it bears asking: What exactly are his Minutemen taking away?
Fast Food for Thought
Sports and commerce sometimes make bizarre bedfellows. Paper-products manufacturer and sometime river polluter Champion International lends its name to a series of Whitewater races, and Skate America is sponsored by Sudafed, which contains ephedrine, a banned substance that could get the most sublime ice queen deposed from the Olympics. But there's no pairing stranger than a recent endorsement deal featuring Oakland Athletic manager Tony La Russa, who's a prominent vegetarian and outspoken animal-rights activist. In a commercial for Wendy's—that's Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers, if you're scoring at home—La Russa responds to the prospect of a chicken-and-bacon sandwich drenched in marinara sauce with a "Yes!" so heartfelt that it could open the spigots of your salivary glands.
La Russa says he understood the ad to be for the chain's salad bar or stuffed baked potatoes. "I screwed up," he says. "I'm not making any excuses." In fact, the man who has a reputation for being baseball's most cerebral skipper shouldn't mope. By casting doubt on the proposition that there's no animal more intelligent than man, La Russa, who has said he may donate his fee for the commercial to animal-rights groups, has made a valuable point for the animal-rights cause.
Out of Site
Plans to build a museum for the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, of which Jim Thorpe is the most-distinguished member, are on hold because Indian artifacts have been unearthed at the proposed site in Harrisburg.
The River Defiled
A new Whitewater scandal has hit the news, but, so far at least, there's no evidence Hillary had anything to do with it. A federal grand jury in Phoenix on Oct. 13 charged eight men, including a river guide, with conspiracy and destruction of federal property for allegedly dynamiting the Quartzite Falls on Arizona's Salt River in an effort to make the treacherous rapids easier to navigate. A U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman called the damage irreparable.
The Quartzite Falls, which cascade through an area known as the Little Grand Canyon, 100 miles cast of Phoenix, were formerly rated a Class 6 rapid, the kind of water that would make even Meryl Streep a little queasy. Two rafters were killed on the run in 1993. Now, thanks to what prosecutors say was a series of at least five bombings carried out by the defendants between August and October of last year, the Falls are about a 3. "Pretty much a ripple," is how Gail Peters, a member of the local chapter of American Rivers, an environmental group, characterizes Quartzite.
As for the defendants, who face up to 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines on the two charges, Peters has nothing but harsh words. "It's like these guys were too lazy or too incompetent to run this rapid or go around it," she says, "I hope they get the book thrown at them."
Or, if you will, get sent up the river.
Keeping Up with Jones
Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones has been grumbling of late about NFL rules that limit each franchise to a½8 share of league licensing deals. As Jones pointed out to The Washington Post last week, merchandise bearing the Cowboy logo generated 28% of all NFL Properties revenue in 1993. Still, don't hold your breath waiting for the league's other 27 owners to offer Jones—or anyone else—a bigger slice of the pie. Cleveland Brown owner Art Modell put it this way: "We are 28 fat-cat Republicans that sit around the league meetings and vote Socialist."
The Caged Boy Swings
For as long as he can remember, Chase Russell saved up his money. Holiday cash from relatives, money for cutting lawns, paychecks from a job at a Subway sandwich shop—everything went into a kitty that slowly swelled until, several months ago, it exceeded $5,000. That's when Chase, a 16-year-old honor student and high school infielder, decided he wanted to spend his nest egg on something to help him fulfill his dream of getting a college baseball scholarship: a batting cage outfitted with an Acupitch, the same pitching machine used by 15 major league teams.
With the support of his father, Rick, Chase had trees cleared from the backyard of the family home in University Park, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. He had light poles put up and the eaves of the house trimmed back to make room for the cage. A few of the people doing the installation work were so taken with Chase's determination that they donated their time. "He doesn't want to chase girls, drink beer or do crack," Rick says. "He's just a 16-year-old who wants to hit a baseball."
Before he started work on the cage. Chase went door-to-door in an effort to reassure anxious neighbors by explaining that he's merely trying to compensate for his 5'7", 135-pound frame with practice, practice, practice. He promised not to hit late into the night. And he pledged that in two years, after his senior season, he would donate the cage and all the equipment to the local school district and youth league.
Nevertheless, some neighbors have circulated a petition objecting to the batting cage as a threat to their peace and quiet and the value of their property, and urging the city to have it torn down. University Park building official Jim Olk has told the Russells that the cage went up without a proper permit and that they risk fines of $2,000 a day if they're not successful in appealing the city's ruling.
Fortunately for Chase, both his parents are lawyers, and local zoning laws make no mention of batting cages. "It's neither a fence nor a garage, so those statutes don't apply," Rick says. "It's a wonderful legal issue—certainly wonderful enough to keep in litigation for the 22 months until he goes off to college."
Nobody Watches Either
We noticed the other day that The Weather Channel has signed on as the official sponsor of the U.S. team handball squad. Which raises the question: Whatever do the two have in common?
Right Men for the Jobs
After Navy finally ended a 10-game losing streak by beating Lafayette 7-0 on Oct. 15, the Midshipmen's coach, George Chaump, was asked about some pregame defensive adjustments. Why had he moved his regular strong safety, junior Joe Speed, to cornerback, pairing him with senior Chris Hart? And why had he turned over the starting free-safety job to a freshman, Gervy Alota?
Said Chaump: "We needed a little speed at cornerback and alotta heart in the secondary."
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
On last Sunday's World Championship Wrestling "Halloween Havoc" card in Detroit, after Hulk Hogan defeated Ric Flair in a match refereed by Mr. T, Hogan was presented his belt by Muhammad Ali.
They Said It
Dallas Maverick No. 1 draft pick, on the Mavs' prospects: "Now that I'm here, we'll turn the program around 360 degrees."
If the cathode-ray tube seems disconcertingly barren during this season of athletic work stoppages, fear not. Over the next few years at least seven new sports cable networks could start piping their signals into your home. Is this progress at its best or a pileup on the information superhighway? You make the call.
Network/ Launch Date
What They Say About It
What We Hope It Won't Be
The Golf Channel
Golf tournament coverage, call-in golf talk, GolfCenter, a golf shopping show, golf instruction.
"Golfers love the game with a deep passion," says I'GC president Joe Gibbs. "Now, for $6.95 a month, they can tune into it whenever they want."
Jay Randolph fielding phone calls from insomniac sickos wanting to know how the ball bites on poa annua.
Classic Sports Network
Classic events, documentaries. Bud Greenspan's Olympic Memories, old shows like Home Run Derby.
"We're opening the last major vault of untapped entertainment programming," says CSN president Steve Greenberg.
The Sorrow and the Pity of Fred Merkle, brought to you by Xerox in 12 parts.
Gaming Entertainment Television
Coverage of gambling from horse racing to jai alai and, where local law allows, a sort of OCB-on-couch betting. Viewers will be able to place bets by phone.
"Our plan is to combine all of the development and excitement of the cable industry with the gaming industry," says GETv president Nelson Goldberg.
A round-the-clock infomercial for 900-number scamdicappers.
Two women's sports networks
Ex-NBC Sports executive Mike Weisman 's group is preparing a mix of live sports, taped events, talk and fitness. Rival Liberty Sports intends to spin off programming now airing on its 14 regional sports channels.
The Weisman camp has claimed the name Women's Sports Network; Liberty promises to emphasize live events. Industry experts agree that, at best, only one start-up will survive.
A vehicle for the resurrection of Diana Nyad's broadcasting career.
Cable Health Club
Aerobic shows, nutrition and perhaps more than you'll care to see of personal-trainer-to-the-stars (Body By) Jake Steinfeld.
"Twenty minutes of uninterrupted aerobic conditioning at the top of every hour," Steinfeld promises.
Station IDs with Jake saying, "You're watching P.E.-TV! Don't quit-or touch that dial!"
Sports news and information available at any time of the day or night, a la CNN Headline News.
"This would be a SportsCenter fan's heaven," says an ESPN spokesman.
Wolf Blitzer in a parka at the Iditarod, referring to his network as "the Trey."
A motor-sports network
With auto racing, motocross, powerboating, etc., vroom to spare.
Another ESPN project ("the Quad"?), which, like "ESPN3," wouldn't start up until systems expand channel capacity.
Chris Economaki making offensive remarks. (Though if nobody's tuned in to hear it, does it make a sound?)