A LOAN AT THE TOP
The NCAA's new proposal on cash for athletes benefits only the
Spring is supposed to be the season of renewal, but it has been a
bleak few weeks for the basketball program at Arizona, where four
nonsenior starters from the NCAA finalist Wildcats have declared
themselves eligible for the June 27 NBA draft. As of Monday, 15
underclassmen from 13 other schools also had said they wanted to
turn pro. Meanwhile, on April 10, the NCAA's management council
passed a proposal that would enable certain underclassmen to turn
their athletic talent into instant cash by taking out a one-time,
$20,000 bank loan, with the promise to pay it back, presumably
from the earnings they would make as pros.
The only thing more ludicrous than the message this idea
conveys--Stay in school! We'll pay you!--is the notion that such an
inducement could compare with the kind of coin awaiting a
first-round draft pick. Asked last week whether a $20,000 loan
would have enticed him to return for his senior year, Arizona
forward Richard Jefferson laughed and said, "Heck no. That would
barely cover the down payment on my Mercedes."
Given the glacial pace at which NCAA legislation moves and the
fact that only about 250 of its 363,000 student-athletes would be
eligible for the loans, it's vexing that the NCAA would spend so
much time doing so little to help so few. The loan program,
scheduled for a vote by the board of directors this week, would
be modeled after the NCAA's disability-insurance plan. In that
plan American Specialty Underwriters (ASU), a Massachusetts
insurance company determines, with help from pro personnel
experts, which prospects in baseball, basketball, football and
hockey are probable high draft picks and thereby qualify for
coverage. Under the loan rule the NCAA would serve as a conduit
between ASU-approved athletes and a yet-to-be-determined lending
institution. Each student would pay back his loan after he left
school, regardless of whether he became a pro.
Although the NCAA is to be applauded for easing its draconian
regulations on compensation, it's troubling that it's not
addressing the needs of all its student-athletes. The few
commonsense proposals that are floating around, such as one for a
special fund to cover such expenses as airfare home for the
holidays, are still years from being enacted. "This is exactly
what's wrong with our sport," says St. John's coach Mike Jarvis.
"All the attention is being paid to a few superstars instead of
the majority of kids."
A study by the NCAA's subcommittee on agents and amateurism found
that many of its regulations concerning pay-for-play could be
traced to Victorian England, where aristocrats concocted arcane
rules to prevent commoners from participating in their sporting
events. "The idea was to create class distinctions," says
subcommittee chair Christine Grant. Given the windfall to come in
2003, when CBS's 11-year, $6 billion television contract kicks
in, the NCAA should not be creating greater class distinctions.
It should be catering to the masses. --Seth Davis
Pro Prospects of Arizona's Departing Underclassmen
Gilbert Arenas 6'3" sophomore guard. Has shooting range and
athleticism to excel as NBA two guard. Possible lottery pick.
Jason Gardner 5'10" sophomore guard. On small side with iffy
defense but quick and has range on jumper. Late-first-rounder.
Richard Jefferson 6'7" junior forward. One of five best athletes
in draft; stellar Final Four propelled him into top half of first
Michael Wright 6'7" junior forward. Classic tweener: undersized
as power forward and lacks ball handling skills to play small
forward. Second-rounder at best.
KING OF FOOLS
Ostensibly owing to the popularity of its Freestyle commercial
(SI, March 12), Nike said last week that the airing of another ad
featuring Kings guard Jason Williams has been put on hold. The
provocative spot was to depict Williams's complexion
transmogrifying from black to white as the commercial progresses.
"The premise is that there's no black basketball and no white
basketball," says Nike spokesman Scott Reames. "Jason's point is,
'I play basketball; it doesn't matter what color my skin is.'"
It does, however, seem to matter to Williams what color someone
else's skin is. During a Feb. 28 Kings-Warriors game, Santa
Clara, Calif., lawyer Michael Ching, 39, an Asian-American,
heckled Williams with such comments as, "Get used to sitting on
the bench." According to Ching and others in the stands, Williams
responded with a slur-filled screed that, by comparison, makes
John Rocker, Allen Iverson and Charlie Ward look like beacons of
enlightenment. After calling Ching a "slant-eyed motherf-----,"
Williams mimicked the rat-a-tat of gunfire and announced, "I'll
shoot all you Asian motherf------. Do you remember the Vietnam
War? I'll kill y'all like that. Just like Pearl Harbor." (The
rudimentary history lesson will follow the diversity training.)
Williams concluded by asking Ching, "Are you a fag?"
After an investigation, the NBA fined Williams $15,000, and he
issued a mealy-mouthed apology ("I did not intend any disrespect
to the Asian community or any other community...."). The league
then deftly spun the incident into near oblivion before one of
its most marketable players could become a cause celebre.
Still, an uncomfortable question lingers: But for race, what
accounts for Williams's celebrity? Would the NBA and Nike
continue to promote him--not to mention gloss over his appalling
transgression--were he not white? This season alone he has been
suspended for violating the league's drug policy and sagely
remarked that as a child he should have spent more time
practicing his jump shot and less time reading. Williams is
undeniably flashy, but name another point guard with a big-time
endorsement deal and star status who averaged less than 10 points
a game, ranked 27th in assist-to-turnover ratio and is so erratic
he's often benched during key stretches of games.
In part because of the thorny issues it evokes, Williams says he
hates his nickname, White Chocolate. "Forget all of y'all who are
tripping about this racial stuff," he said of his crossover
image. The real concern is why people aren't tripping more about
this racial stuff. Regardless, the sobriquet is fitting. Like
white chocolate, Williams was tantalizing at first. But the more
we taste, the less appealing he becomes. --L. Jon Wertheim
Q Why do baseballs float?
A They're hard (ask anyone who's felt a Roger Clemens beanball).
They're heavy (a regulation baseball weighs a solid 5 1/4
ounces). And unlike footballs and basketballs, they're not
filled with air. So when Barry Bonds hits a tater into McCovey
Cove, as he did last week when he smacked his 500th career
homer, why doesn't the pill disappear into the depths? Turns out
a baseball, which is made up of a cork-and-rubber center, 219
yards of wool yarn, 150 yards of cotton string and a cowhide
cover, isn't dense enough to sleep with the fishes. According to
Robert Adair, professor emeritus of physics at Yale and author
of The Physics of Baseball, for an object to sink it must weigh
more than the fluid it displaces. A baseball, like a steel
battleship, weighs less than the displaced water. "Most organic
things float," says Adair. "They're not dense enough to sink. A
baseball is mostly organic materials." Good news for all those
souvenir-seeking McCovey Cove sailors.
The song may encourage buyers to go for the peanuts and Cracker
Jack, but when it comes to concession sales, nobody tops the beer
man. Vendors selling suds at big league parks--by far the most
coveted of stadium sales jobs--can make as much as $200 a game.
All hawkers, as stadium vendors are known, are paid mainly on
commission, which ranges from 10% to 20% of their sales. "The
more effort they put into it, the more they make," says Tom
Olson, who runs the concessions at Milwaukee's Miller Park. Beer
vendors typically make a smaller percentage (10% at Miller versus
12% to 15% for food vendors) because their product moves faster
and costs more. Hot dog and souvenir vendors earn in the $75 to
$100 range. Peanut and soda guys are low on the totem pole;
they're lucky to pull in $75 a game.
Crowd size, weather and the length of a game all affect sales.
"You do much better business on a hot, muggy night," says Dan
Smith, a senior VP for concessionaire Volume Services America.
"Now that games are longer, you've got a much bigger window to
sell. Back in the '70s, when guys like Ron Guidry pitched
two-hour games, you really had to move." Who staffs the stands?
Most vendors are part-timers; many are retirees or
schoolteachers, who, like their students, make the most of
summer by spending it at the ballpark.
Word for Word
Last week, Stephen Dunn, a professor of creative writing at
Richard Stockton College in Pomona, N.J., won the Pulitzer Prize
for poetry for his 11th collection, Different Hours. Dunn, who
played basketball at Hofstra in the late '50s, has used sports
in his work as a metaphor for the travails of everyday life.
Here are excerpts from some of his sports-themed poems.
From Losing Steps
It's probably a Sunday morning
in a pickup game, and it's clear
you've begun to leave
fewer people behind.
Your fakes are as good as ever,
but when you move
you're like the Southern Pacific
the first time a car kept up with it,
your opponent at your hip,
with you all the way
to the rim. Five years earlier
he'd have been part of the air
that stayed behind you
in your ascendance.
On the sidelines they're saying,
He's lost a step.
Later while they make love, he thinks of
Mantle's long home run in the '57 Series.
The Gauchos cornered me
behind the 7-Eleven;
a broken finger, bloody nose.
Something attacked my father's heart.
The horse in the fifth
My crucial shot rolled round
the rim, then out.
My favorite second baseman
had gone 0 for 5--there it was,
in black and white. How many of us
could bear a daily record
of exactly what we'd done?
The phone lines of the Jacksonville office of investment company
Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown, after a fan at Safeco Field hung a
banner during Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez's April 16 return
to Seattle that read NEED A LOAN? call 1-800-252-ALEX. The phone
number, a cheeky reference to Rodriguez's $252 million contract
with Texas, happened to be the same as that of the investment
By 2001 Hall of Fame inductee Dave Winfield, that on his plaque
in Cooperstown he'll be depicted wearing the cap of the Padres,
for whom he played eight seasons, rather than that of the
Yankees, for whom he played an equal span, or the Blue Jays,
with whom he won a World Series. "I went with the team that gave
me my first opportunity," said Winfield. The Padres also
recently gave Winfield, who's on their board of directors, a new
Pop Warner Little Scholars Inc., by Gator Rebhan, 34, coach of
the two-time national Midget Division champion Suniland (Fla.)
Sundevils. Pop Warner suspended Rebhan, claiming he had his
players run up the score in a 56-6 win over the Marshall Heights
Bison of Washington, D.C., in this year's Pop Warner Super Bowl.
Says Rebhan, "They're trying to break up the team by getting rid
of the coaching staff."
In anticipation of a bankruptcy filing, Quokka Sports, the San
Francisco company that ran SaltLake2002.com, NBCOlympics.com,
FinalFour.net, Golf.com and CART.com. The Salt Lake Organizing
Committee is using its own resources to run the website of the
2002 Games until another partner can be found.
The stadium of English Unibond League soccer club Witton
Albion. Thanks to a sponsorship deal the team recently signed
with a beverage-store chain, the venue will now be called Bargain
The Goodwill Games have always been an oddity on the
international sports calendar. The brainchild of media
billionaire Ted Turner, who founded them in 1986 to foster better
U.S.-Soviet relations, the games have become increasingly
irrelevant in the post-cold war era. What's more, although hefty
appearance fees have helped attract elite athletes such as
Michael Johnson and Marion Jones, the event has never caught on
with the public. Television ratings have been paltry for the four
summer games and one winter games, which combined have lost $100
So it wasn't a complete shock when speculation arose last week
that AOL Time Warner, parent company of Turner Sports (and SI),
may be balking at picking up its $30 million share for this
year's Goodwill Games, scheduled for Aug. 29 to Sept. 6 in
Brisbane, Australia. Given the well-publicized cost-cutting at
the company and Ted Turner's decreased influence in the newly
combined AOL Time Warner, the games look to be an easy target.
"Anything this company can do to save money it will do," says
Andrea Rice, media analyst for Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown. "If AOL
can't turn around the Goodwill Games financially, it may decide
to divest from its investment."
Advocates of the games may be encouraged that Turner protege
Terry McGuirk has been recently installed as the CEO of Turner
Sports Teams, which oversees such AOL Time Warner properties as
the Braves, the Hawks and the Thrashers. McGuirk says the
company's pro teams won't be subject to the same tight budget
restrictions as other divisions. Whether that protection extends
to the Goodwill Games remains to be seen, but Mark Lazarus,
president of Turner Sports, says, "We believe the Goodwill Games
are an important piece of our company's portfolio."
Organizers hope to show this year that the games can make money.
Brisbane organizing committee chairman Wayne Goss says his event
has secured 19 corporate sponsors, who'll provide a total of $18
million. That, plus AOL Time Warner's share, would assure that
the games at least break even for the first time. Says Mike
Sculley, executive director of the organization bidding to bring
the 2005 games to Phoenix: "Obviously the games have to start
turning a profit or I wouldn't blame AOL Time Warner for pulling
Michael Jordan's back! Yes it's true: Jordan is returning...to
the big screen. Twentieth Century Fox has just bought a script
called Like Mike, about a teen who receives a pair of Jordan's
sneakers and discovers they have magical powers. The kid puts on
the shoes, is transformed into a hoops stud and catapults to the
NBA, leading the Bulls to a title. (Hey, it's Hollywood.) Lil'
Bow Wow, the 14-year-old rap sensation, is in talks to star. MJ's
involvement has yet to be determined, although screenwriter
Michael Elliot says, "I'm hoping he'll be in it."...
A strange twist in Reggie Miller's divorce case: Although Miller
and his ex-wife, Marita Stavrou, finalized their divorce earlier
this month, they're still fighting over assets. On April 17,
Stavrou filed a petition in State Supreme Court in Manhattan
asking Miller to explain "several substantial transactions" to
Miller's former teammate Mark Jackson. Miller's lawyer, Jim
Buck, acknowledges that Miller wrote checks to Jackson but says
the money was to pay off gambling losses. Buck also says the
money was rightfully Miller's and the sums are minor compared
with Stavrou's $5 million settlement. (For example, Jackson
received three checks in 1999 totaling $15,000. Jackson couldn't
be reached for comment.) "This is a bitter knee-jerk reaction by
Marita to embarrass Reggie," says Buck. Stavrou's lawyer
declined to comment....
Former Oilers defensive back Bo Eason has written Runt of the
Litter, a semiautobiographical play that's generating heavy
buzz. Runt features Eason telling how he was pushed by a
domineering father and how he labored in the shadow of his
brother, former NFL quarterback Tony Eason. Last week Castle
Rock optioned the feature rights to Runt, and the play, which
recently workshopped in L.A., may open on Broadway this fall.
Big leaguers with the surname Martinez, the most common last name
in the majors.
Big leaguers with the surname Smith.
Sports Emmy Awards won by NBC for its tape-delayed Sydney
Olympic broadcasts, including one for Live Event Turnaround.
Home runs in the first nine games at Milwaukee's new Miller
Park, 16 more than in the first nine games at County Stadium
Speed at which the Cardinals' Bobby Bonilla's fastball was
clocked during his first career pitching appearance, a
one-inning stint in a 17-4 loss to the Diamondbacks in which he
yielded two runs.
Position players from 1900 to 2000 with fewer at bats in their
careers than the nine the Yankees' Paul O'Neill had in New York's
17-inning, 6-5 victory over Toronto.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Apex Fitness of Thousand Oaks, Calif., has introduced a line of
Oreo- and peanut-butter-cup-flavored energy bars laced with the
for the record, this season has been a really good experience."