THE REAL CULPRITS
The NCAA is often held responsible when others are to blame
In the two months since the NCAA first suspended St. John's
point guard Erick Barkley, coach Mike Jarvis has likened the
association to everything from the Gestapo to Kenneth Starr, all
the while portraying Barkley as an innocent victim. When reports
surfaced that NCAA officials were investigating Barkley's SAT
scores, Jarvis said, "The next thing you know, they'll want to
check his birth certificate to see if he's a U.S. citizen, and
if he's not, maybe they'll deport him."
The NCAA doesn't have to look quite that far into Barkley's past
to unearth potentially damaging information. This season Barkley
had numerous telephone contacts with agent Andy Miller; Barkley
even surprised Jarvis on March 21--four days before he announced
he was turning pro--when he brought Miller to Jarvis's office for
a discussion about Barkley's future. Records subpoenaed in an
unrelated court case involving Miller also show numerous
telephone contacts over the past five months between Miller and
Anthony Carela, the summer-league coach whose car swap with
Barkley caught the attention of the NCAA's gumshoes in the first
Attacking the NCAA has been the in thing for college basketball
coaches and the media as well, but some of the facts undercut
their sanctimony. The NCAA was assailed as heartless when it
suspended Michigan's Jamal Crawford because of his relationship
with a Seattle businessman who had acted as a de facto guardian
when Crawford was in high school. Newspaper reports later
revealed evidence, however, that the businessman was an aspiring
agent who provided Crawford with cash, jewelry and cars, and that
the man apparently tried to launder the gifts through his
foundation. The NCAA was also criticized for ending the college
career of Auburn's Chris Porter, who claimed he had taken $2,500
from an agent to keep his mother from being evicted from her
house. But investigators can find no eviction notice or lien on
the property, and Henry County records show that taxes on the
place were paid several days before Porter met the man who
arranged the money transfer.
Jarvis was still bible-thumping about the NCAA during a coaches'
meeting last week at the Final Four. If Jarvis wants to be an
effective messenger for change, he should first make sure that
his own house is clean. --Seth Davis
A PIQUED PETE
Davis Cup captain's McBarbs give Pete Sampras that upset feeling
As of Monday, no snarky words had been heard from John McEnroe
on Andre Agassi's recently sprained right ankle, but hey, there
was still time. The U.S. Davis Cup team was to play the Czech
Republic in a second-round tie beginning on Friday in Los
Angeles, which left a whole week for captain Johnny Mac to
question Agassi's commitment, guts and patriotism.
The Americans should plow through the Czechs, even with Agassi,
the world's No. 1 player, limited by the sprain he suffered last
week during the Ericsson Open. That's because No. 2 Pete Sampras,
fresh off his victorious Ericsson run, is set to anchor the
U.S.--despite a lingering distaste for McEnroe that nearly made
Sampras quit this year's Davis Cup campaign. "I didn't want to
play," Sampras said last Saturday of this week's tie. "John
questioned my word publicly. That was awful."
Sampras had committed himself to this year's Davis Cup run, but a
30% tear of his right hip flexor during the Australian Open
forced him to withdraw from McEnroe's debut as captain at
America's opening-round match in Zimbabwe in February. In
response, McEnroe expressed doubts about Sampras's support of the
team and, when asked about his implication that Sampras might not
be injured, shot back, "That's the implication." This was a
stunning admission from a roundly perceived players' coach.
McEnroe's charges hit Sampras like a punch in the face and left
him sleepless for three nights. Mac's half-hearted apology--if
you're offended, I'm sorry--in a phone conversation didn't make
the idea of playing for him any more palatable. Only Sampras's
original commitment to play kept him in the mix. He figures
McEnroe had only one reason to say what he said. "He panicked,"
Sampras said. Message to Andre: Show up, win, and, whatever you
do, don't limp. Captain Queeg has his eye on you. --S.L. Price
Knees Are Knocking in NFL
Predictably, as of Monday no NFL owner or executive had
acknowledged the significance of the seemingly unholy alliance
between the XFL and NBC, but to say that Paul Tagliabue & Co. are
concerned about the marriage of new league and old network is
putting it mildly. "I didn't think that league was going to have
any legs," said one NFL team chief executive at last week's
owners' meetings in Palm Beach, Fla. "But now, who knows?"
Who indeed? With last week's announcement that NBC had bought 50%
of the XFL, which will begin play on Feb. 3, 2001, the league got
a jump start--kick start is more apropos since World Wrestling
Federation chairman Vince McMahon is the moving force behind the
XFL--unparalleled for a start-up. The XFL will have a game of the
week in prime time, specifically Saturday evenings from February
through April. It will also have the backing of a major network
and a powerful TV executive, Dick Ebersol, NBC Sports chairman.
The new arrangement raises other concerns for the NFL, beyond the
XFL's heightened TV exposure and the union of Ebersol and
McMahon, two of the brightest marketing minds in sports.
McMahon's nine hours of weekly wrestling programming, on USA
Network and UPN, figure to be promotional magnets to attract the
viewers that the NFL is losing--males 12 to 24.
True, the NFL could suggest that the new league will be as bogus
as the WWF. (Ebersol and McMahon insist the games will be
unscripted.) But the NFL must be careful if it adopts an
NBC's-in-bed-with-a-sleazeball position. The image of McMahon as
buff buffoon is passe--owing to his success as a marketer, McMahon
has become a player in boardrooms across America. WWF matches on
USA Network, for example, outdrew Monday Night Football by 47%
last season in the male 12-to-14 age category, and males 12 to 14
not only buy things but also are football's fan base.
For the NFL the timing of the announcement couldn't have been
worse. Just as the old warhorse was banning group end-zone
celebrations, there was Mc-Ebersol proclaiming that the XFL
would be fun, fun, fun. Cameras and microphones everywhere. A
shorter play clock. No fair catches. Bulletin board material
galore. ("We're going to encourage our players to speak their
minds," Ebersol said. "It'll be about creating personalities.")
Yee-ha! McMahon further stuck it to the established league when
he said, in reference to the legal difficulties of several NFL
players, "People with felonies won't be allowed in the XFL."
That's a low blow coming from someone whose organization has its
share of crotch-grabbing lowlifes. But this NFL-XFL match might
be a low-blow kind of fight.
VEECK STRIKES AGAIN
Trading off the Menu
The pantheon of lopsided baseball trades--Nolan Ryan and three
others for Jim Fregosi? Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen?--has a
Mike Veeck-engineered addition worthy of his surname. Last month
the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League dealt broadcasters Jim
Lucas and Don Wardlow, official scorer Chuck Manka and a wind
machine to the Charleston RiverDogs of the South Atlantic League
for a case of crab cakes and a pound of shrimp.
It's no fish story. Both teams are owned by a group that includes
Veeck--son of legendary impresario Bill--and comedian Bill Murray,
but the deal was done more for people than for pub. Lucas has
sold ads in the Charleston area for three winters and can now
settle there permanently; Wardlow, who's blind, will benefit from
the no-ice-to-slip-on weather in South Carolina; and Manka has
family in the state. Plus Charleston's new wind machine, which
will be used to spew dollar bills during between-inning
promotions, is top of the line.
The deal originally sent 'Dogs announcer Dave Raymond to the
Saints, but he instead took a job with the Triple A Iowa Cubs,
leaving Saints general manager Bill Fanning with little more than
egg--er, crab--on his face. Not that that's a bad thing. "They're
going to enjoy those crab cakes and shrimp back in St. Paul,"
Wardlow says. "There's not a lot of good seafood there."
Whistle-blower Whistle Blowing
As if it wasn't bad enough that some fans were already convinced
that referees are crooked, a study released last week by the
University of Michigan athletic department revealed that gambling
among college basketball and football refs has affected the
outcome of games. Nearly 2% of the referees surveyed said that
the point spread had influenced the way in which games were
called. Though none of the respondents admitted to having gambled
on games they officiated, two reported that they had been
approached by someone about fixing a contest.
The questionnaire, which was sent to 1,462 male and female
Division I officials, drew 640 responses, a 48.3% rate that is
high for a mail survey. A whopping 84.4% said they had gambled,
mostly in casinos or lotteries, since becoming an official, while
40.3% gambled on sporting events. Here are other breakdowns:
21.6% bet on an NCAA basketball tournament, 13.9% on college
basketball and 7.5% on college football.
Former Pac-10 football referee Bill Richardson knows of at least
two college officials whose gambling--one bet on horses and one
was involved in a Super Bowl pool--diminished their chances of
working Division I games. "A lot of guys think the study's
results are no big deal, but we have an image to uphold," says
Richardson, who refuses to glance at a sports page on a day he's
officiating for fear that the point spread might subconsciously
affect the way he calls a game. Richardson said he was
"dismayed" by the study.
"Do I think officials bet on the golf course?" asks another
veteran ref, who requested anonymity. "Yes. Do they roll dice in
a casino? Sure. I even know of one ref who bets on major league
baseball. But do college basketball referees bet on college
basketball? I would be astounded if that were the case with any
of the guys I've worked with in my 25 years of officiating."
The NCAA, which sponsors mandatory gambling-awareness clinics
for its refs, last year began doing extensive background checks
on its officiating candidates for the NCAA basketball tournament
and in 1999 bounced one referee from its list for providing a
suspect answer to a question concerning his thoughts on
wagering. In football, conferences are responsible for those
checks, which are done with varying degrees of rigorousness.
Bill Saum, the NCAA's director of agent and gambling activity,
takes the study seriously because he says officials represent an
"at-risk demographic" for betting. "Like athletes and coaches,"
says Saum, "officials are aggressive types who tend to think of
themselves as invincible."
Defying a schedule that forced her to perform her free skate in
the dreaded first slot and skeptics who questioned her
dedication, Michelle Kwan won the women's world figure skating
championship last week. Her performance earned skating's
youngest old-timer--she's 19, though it seems she has been
around forever--her third world title in five years.
Rule number (of 14) reportedly ordering ball boys at the
Ericsson Open not to ogle Anna Kournikova.
Indianapolis blocks through which Roy Jones Jr. was borne on a
portable throne for a press conference.
Police calls made to the Newport Beach, Calif., home of Dennis
Rodman since July 1998, mostly about noise.
Poundage of aluminum number 33 (honoring Ron Dayne) stolen from
Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium.
Minnesota's basketball team's GPA (up from 1.7) under Dan
Monson, who took over after academic scandal.
TV crews that showed up to cover a fallacious New York City
April Fools' Day parade at which John Rocker was to have been on
a float spewing racial epithets.
A titanium device, between two of 26-year-old Seattle Slew's
vertebrae, in a procedure that veterinarians hope will alleviate
compression on the spinal cord of the 1977 Triple Crown winner.
The family of Joe DiMaggio, which is resisting San Francisco's
plans to name a playground after the Yankee Clipper, saying a
bridge or an airport would be a more appropriate honor for the
Mike Ditka, from entering Harrah's casino in New Orleans,
after allegedly throwing a cigar at a pit boss and swearing at
the man who made a ruling that reportedly cost the former Saints
coach thousands during a craps game several weeks ago.
Collin Peterson, a pro-hunting, pro-trapping, People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals-opposing Minnesota congressman, and
the Humane Society, in a fight to ban interstate transport of
birds for cockfighting.
Cain Coldcocks Abel
When Gary Payton and Vernon Maxwell of the Sonics had to be
restrained from going after one another with a chair and a free
weight, respectively, after a practice last week, we started
thinking about other celebrated dustups between jocks sporting
the same colors.
METS: MARCH 2, 1989
Hernandez, longtime critic of Strawberry, tells reporters that
Kevin McReynolds, not Straw, should have been 1988 Mets MVP.
At spring training photo shoot, Strawberry says, "I'd rather sit
next to my real friends." Hernandez replies, "Why don't you grow
up, you big baby?" Strawberry, saying, "I've been tired of you
for years," leads with left jab.
Have joint session with team psychiatrist; during introductions
before Mets' home exhibition opener, Strawberry plants wet buss
on Hernandez's cheek.
REDSKINS: AUG. 19, 1997
After reports of bad blood between the two during previous
season, Davis disparages Westbrook at practice, making
statements suggesting Westbrook is gay.
Minutes later, as Davis stands on sideline, Westbrook sucker
punches him, wrestles him down and savagely beats him in attack
recorded by TV. After Westbrook is pulled off, Davis rolls on
ground, gashed face buried in hands.
Westbrook fined $50,000 by Redskins and suspended for one game.
Most teammates reportedly outraged at attack. Westbrook
apologizes without mentioning Davis, who leads NFC rushers two
years later; Westbrook yet to fulfill potential.
WIZARDS: DEC. 10, 1997
Murray tells lady friend, who's tape-recording conversation,
that he thinks Strickland is gay, and she plays conversation on
Strick's answering machine.
Later that day, hours before a game in Charlotte, Strickland
knocks on Murray's hotel room door; when Murray opens it, Strick
launches haymaker that connects with Murray's left eye.
Murray emerges with seven stitches and swollen lip; Strick, a
bandaged left wrist. Both fined $25,000 by Wizards. Each
player's girlfriend said to be upset about reports linking her
man to tape-recording woman.
RED WINGS: JAN. 18, 1994
Primeau complains about uncredited assist from night before.
Teammates tell arena workers to announce assist for Primeau over
P.A. system during practice. Primeau goes after instigators and
fists fly when Probert intercedes.
Primeau lands several punches before Probert, who was not in on
the joke, knocks him down; assistant coach pulls Probert off
Primeau, who remains prostrate on ice.
Primeau reopens cut on right hand, ultimately leads Wings to
1995 Stanley Cup finals; Probert emerges with scratches on face,
and reputation as enforcer intact.
DURHAM BULLS: WHENEVER
Cold war sets in when fireballing rookie phenom Nuke begins
sleeping with lusty, busty Bulls groupie Annie Savoy, whom
Crash, the wily seen-it-all veteran catcher, is hot for too.
Nuke called up to the Show, crushing Crash, who takes exception
to the news as related by unabashedly happy Nuke during
late-night poolroom Bull session; Nuke drops Crash with wicked
Crash congratulates Nuke for throwing punch with nonpitching
hand. Nuke goes on to presumably successful major league career;
Crash breaks minor league homer record, gets the girl.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Five hundred Yankee Stadium tickets for the June 9 Yanks-Mets
game have been reserved for sale in tandem with tickets for what
YankeeNets, the conglomerate that owns both teams, calls the
Nets' "playoff drive."
clean up their own houses.
Michigan man who missed a $2 million shot at a Final Four
contest, on Rick Barry's tutelage: "This week was about me
seeing Rick as a human being."