FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS
Battle lines are drawn over a domain once reserved for high
The counterattack began on May 14, when ACC commissioner John
Swofford stood before the conference's nine football coaches at
the league's spring meeting to discuss an issue he never thought
he'd have to confront: televised college football on Friday
nights. Two days later Swofford announced that ACC schools had
voted unanimously against playing football on TV during a time
slot traditionally allotted to high school games. "We hope to
send a strong message that Friday night high school football is
sacred," says Swofford. "I never want to bite the hand that feeds
The ACC action came in response to the NCAA's repeal of a rule
prohibiting televised college football games after seven on
Friday nights. The change slipped through as part of a wider
NCAA deregulation effort; many who voted for it have admitted
they didn't realize what they'd endorsed. Too late. Conference
USA, the Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West have
already scheduled several Friday night games for next season.
"Friday night games offer exclusive national TV exposure to
schools that don't normally get very much," says Mountain West
associate commissioner Bret Gilliland. "While we don't disregard
the impact on high school football, we also don't think it will
be that significant."
Certainly, Colorado State playing UNLV on a Friday night in
September won't by itself rock the landscape of high school
football, but critics fear a slippery slope: The potential for a
barrage of Friday night college games in future seasons threatens
to do even more damage to attendance-starved high school
programs. Worried that college competition could lure marginal
fans, North Carolina High School Athletic Association director
Charlie Adams has sent letters of protest to Division I athletic
directors and football coaches in his state, as well as to the
NCAA and to ESPN, which plans to air at least six Friday night
games this season. "It's the most controversial situation I've
faced in my 35 years in this office," Adams says. "We need to
slam the door on this idea and lock it."
The Big East has joined the ACC in saying no to Friday night
football on TV, and the SEC will discuss the matter next week.
But in a sports world increasingly ruled by money, television
and the fear of antitrust lawsuits, it may be hard to stuff this
genie back into the bottle. "This is a potentially tragic blow
to another sports tradition and further evidence of the
Wal-Martization of America," says H.G. Bissinger, author of the
acclaimed 1990 high school football book, Friday Night Lights.
"They're already televising bad college games on Thursdays. How
many more do we really need to see?" --Tim Crothers
Five Renowned High School Football Programs
Berwick (Pa.) High Six-time state champ Bulldogs are only team
to have won three national titles since USA Today's ranking began
De La Salle High, Concord, Calif. Last year's national champs are
on U.S. record 113-game win streak.
Massillon (Ohio) High Tigers play in 20,000-seat stadium named
after Paul Brown, famed Massillon quarterback and NFL patriarch;
they have won 22 state titles in 107 seasons.
Permian High, Odessa, Texas Other schools have won more Texas
championships than Panthers' six titles, but the Mojo remains
the most storied program in the biggest high school football
Valdosta (Ga.) High Nation's winningest program has 23 state
championships and 782-160-33 record since beginning play in 1913.
HOMOSEXUALITY IN BASEBALL
THE TOUGHEST OUT
In an unlikely confluence of interests, sports talk radio shows
and gay Internet message boards were buzzing about the same topic
last week: the letter to readers in the May issue of Out, the
nation's largest-circulation gay publication, in which
editor-in-chief Brendan Lemon wrote that he has been "having an
affair with a pro baseball player from a major league East Coast
franchise, not his team's biggest star but a very recognizable
media figure all the same." Lemon wrote he wants the player "to
come out and make my life easier."
While the letter sparked plenty of speculation about the
player's identity, it also raised a more important question: Is
baseball ready for its first openly gay player? The only living
openly gay former major leaguer doubts it. "It would be very
difficult for a player to come out today," says ex-big league
outfielder Billy Bean, who came out in 1999, four years after
his retirement. "This guy has to play in stadiums with 40,000
people. What's he going to hear if he strikes out? Overnight
this guy's career will have nothing to do with his athletic
ability. It's not a safe time to do it."
Bean could point to the comments of John Rocker, whose 1999
tirade in SI included his aversion to "some queer with AIDS,"
and of Cubs pitcher Julian Tavarez, who last month referred to
San Francisco fans as "faggots." It's worth noting, though, that
Rocker and Tavarez met with swift discipline and public
condemnation. "I disagree that the climate isn't right for an
established player to come out," Lemon says. "If you've shown
year in and year out you're a gamer, why would your teammates
not want you on the team? In a homophobic society like ours,
there will always be a risk for a public person to come out. It
takes a person of courage to do this."
Bean, however, believes career suicide would be a waste of that
courage. "If [Lemon's partner] is not ready to come out, it
won't do anyone any good if he does," says Bean. "It needs to be
a positive experience, or no one else will want to follow him."
PlayStation is passe. Dominoes are dead. Card games are so five
minutes ago. The latest locker room activity for jocks with
downtime: chess. Among the pros who've been known to sacrifice a
pawn or two are NBA players Steve Smith, Erick Strickland and
Chris Webber, North Carolina basketball guard Joe Forte, big
league pitchers Rick Reed and Pete Harnisch, and nearly the
entire roster of the Knicks. (Larry Johnson is considered the
most avid player on the team, Latrell Sprewell the best.)
Why are athletes suddenly seeing the world in black and white?
"There are parallels between chess and sports strategy," says
Forte. "Different pieces have different strengths just as
different players have different strengths. Outthinking your
opponent applies in both areas." For Johnson the game's appeal is
simpler: "I picked it up for relaxation. I can sit down, get into
the game and escape."
Of course, pro athletes haven't necessarily adopted all the
formal playing customs usually associated with the rarefied game.
Knicks forward Kurt Thomas is an unabashed trash talker when he
pulls up to a board, and Harnisch doesn't exactly respect his
opponent's fallen men. "When he captures your pieces," says Joe
Ausanio, a former major league reliever who's now a member of the
United States Chess Federation, "he puts them in his nose."
Shrinking From View
"Televised Sporting Event Completely Obscured by On-screen
Graphics," read a headline in last week's issue of the satirical
journal The Onion. There's more than a kernel of truth to the
parody. The amount of TV screen devoted to action coverage is
disappearing at an alarming rate. "We used to believe you only
showed one thing at a time, but the viewing environment has
changed," says Neil Goldberg, who produces NASCAR broadcasts for
Fox. "Today's audience is visually processing several things at
This month Fox introduced a new, more intrusive version of its
scoreboard graphic on baseball broadcasts: A heavy black stats
bar is seen at the top of the screen for much of the telecast.
Combine that with frequent in-game summaries and out-of-town
scores, and it's easy to understand why some fans are feeling the
squeeze. "It can become a blizzard of numbers," says Tim Scanlan,
ESPN's coordinating baseball producer, "but with the Internet,
viewers are accustomed to getting every stat on demand."
Fox in particular has taken the more-is-more idea to extremes. On
NASCAR telecasts this year a two-tier ticker runs across the top
fifth of the screen. When a drop-down bar spotlighting an
individual car's stats is added, along with a bottom-screen
banner on the driver, graphics cover more than half the screen.
"Motor sports fans are knowledgeable," says Goldberg. "We feel
they can assimilate all we give them. After all, they've been
watching Bloomberg for years."
Meet Canh Oxelson, the world's first Tiger Woods impersonator.
Oxelson, a 29-year-old Harvard grad student and 20 handicapper,
was at Pebble Beach in 1997 watching the real Tiger when someone
pointed out the resemblance. "A light bulb went off in my head,"
says the 6'2" Oxelson, whose mother was Vietnamese and father was
African-American. He's made as much as $3,000 a day working
corporate functions, weddings and golf outings. He's even stood
in for Woods during commercial shoots for American Express--the
only time he's met his double. "Up close you can tell us apart,"
says Oxelson, "but people want to believe they're meeting a
Oxelson, who'll receive a master's degree in education next
month, says he's not out for a quick buck. "I get e-mails saying
I need to get a life," he says. "I did this to pay for graduate
school. I want to do serious work in education. I've got a life."
Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., 41, by the IOC's ruling executive
board, as one of seven new candidates for IOC membership. His
father, the IOC president, dismissed complaints of nepotism,
saying, "To have a son succeed the father--in the United States
you have a very good example." Juan Jr. is vice president of the
modern pentathlon federation.
By seven major league teams, including the Dodgers, the Yankees
and the White Sox, from their telecasts, a Fox Sports Net ad in
which a character called Matt the Stall Guy enthuses about
baseball while sitting on a toilet. "Obviously some people see
these spots as bathroom humor," said Fox spokesman Lou D'Ermilio.
"We see them as humor in the bathroom."
By Lloyd's of London, the writing of new insurance policies for
Kentucky horse breeders covering the loss of foals, in the wake
of the epidemic of failed pregnancies among mares in the state
(SCORECARD, May 21). Julian Lloyd, chair of the outfit's
livestock committee, said foal insurers at the moment are "like a
home insurer in the middle of a forest fire."
That Saints running back Ricky Williams suffers from social
anxiety disorder. The 1998 Heisman Trophy winner, whose odd
behavior has included wearing his helmet during interviews, said
a psychiatrist diagnosed the disorder two months ago and that he
has been taking the antidepressant Paxil. Pharmacologists say
the medication should not adversely affect his athletic
Surfer John McDermott, 22, of Edgewater, Fla., by a 100-pound
tarpon that leaped out of the water and struck him on the head.
The unconscious McDermott was rescued by another surfer.
Three-year-old colt Dollar Bill has been chronicling--with a
little help from his owner, Gary West--his Triple Crown
experiences in diary entries on his website (dollarbill.ws). We
caught up with the outspoken thoroughbred after he finished
fourth in the Preakness for an exclusive interview.
You and jockey Pat Day had another rough ride. Was that why you
couldn't catch Point Given?
The trip was a killer. Griffinite took a left-hand turn and
caused me to check abruptly at the five-eighths pole. But I could
have run two miles, and I wouldn't have caught Point Given.
Excuses won't get me in the Hall of Fame.
How does a horse know when it's a big race day?
Fact is, on race day our trainers trick us. It's business as
usual for most of the day. Then they rope off the barn and
security gets real cranky. That's when I know it's a big day.
What do you think about before a race?
I eyeball the competition. The 99-1 horses have real bad vibes.
Knowin' you're gonna get an ass-kickin' ain't a good feeling.
Does it bother you when your jockey goes to the whip?
No. I do love a good whippin'. Some horses do and some don't.
Does a horse know when he wins?
Absolutely. Being in the winner's circle is intoxicating. People
taking pictures, kissin' ya, tellin' ya what a great horse ya
are. Then I get to go to the test barn and strut around. Ain't a
person or beast on earth don't know when he wins.
Have you given much thought to your stud career?
Next to running, makin' love is my top priority. I've got more
hormones than Carters' got liver pills.
Balto Star was gelded before the Kentucky Derby. Do the other
colts feel bad for him?
Thinking about it makes me hurt. Some sicko vet carvin' on my
family jewels is not my idea of a good day.
Have you been influenced by talking horses of the past?
Mr. Ed and Francis the Talking Mule were heroes of mine. I'll bet
50 years from now, they're better known than Monarchos or Point
Given. Think about that.
Are you the most vocal horse around?
All my 3-year-old buddies have somethin' to say. Problem is,
their owners won't give them the stage. I think most of 'em are
afraid the horse might say somethin' stupid.
Clearly, the XFL experience hasn't turned Vince McMahon and the
World Wrestling Federation off of weekly TV. On June 21, MTV will
premiere WWF Tough Enough, a reality series that will take 13
wrestler wannabes and throw them all into a house for three
months. The contestants will live and train together, and then
gradually pare down their numbers, a la Survivor, until only two
competitors are standing--one man and one woman. The two winners
will then sign WWF wrestling contracts. The WWF says it received
about 10,000 applications from wrestling hopefuls. No word yet on
whether any of them were submitted by He Hate Me....
Mike Piazza is finally getting into a New York state of mind.
The All-Star catcher (right) has been hunting for that perfect
Manhattan bachelor pad, looking at everything from lofts
downtown to luxury spreads uptown--some as pricey as $7.5
million. In the end Piazza plunked down less than $2 million for
a penthouse condo in New York's tony Gramercy Park neighborhood.
The 2,345-square-foot duplex apartment features two fireplaces
and a 431-square-foot terrace with built-in barbecue....
Viewers tuned in to MSG's broadcast of the May 15 Yankees game
in Oakland got to see an alltime high. At one point the camera
panned to the sparsely populated bleachers, where a fan wearing
a Mets cap could be seen. As announcer Al Trautwig noted what a
tough time it was to be a Mets supporter, the fan pulled out a
marijuana pipe and took a big hit. Producers scrambled to cut
away, but not before Trautwig deadpanned, "That guy's got some
issues." Says MSG producer Michael Santini, "That's the first
time I can remember showing a fan smoking pot. Of course, it was
the Bay Area."
Years since the NBA team with the worst record got the No. 1 pick
in the draft lottery (New Jersey in 1990).
Record of the Cubs in the 293 games it took Sammy Sosa to go
from 300 to 400 homers.
Winning bid placed by Enzyme Solutions of Hickory, N.C., on eBay
for the right to sponsor Busch Series driver Dan Pardus's Chevy
in the Carquest 300.
Players in the past 85 years who have had more than 500 at bats
and fewer than 10 walks in a season--a combination both Boston's
Shea Hillenbrand and the Yankees' Alfonso Soriano are on pace
for this year.
XFL helmets that exclusive distributor Wingo Sports Group of
Stafford, Texas, has left in stock; the company hopes the $200
helmets will now become collectibles.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Sheriffs in Pima County, Ariz., charged Keith Livsey, 43, with
felony endangerment for firing a gun into the air while riding
past his former girlfriend's house in a golf cart.
Minnesota governor, on his meeting with the Dalai Lama: "I asked
him the most important question that I think you could ask--if he
had ever seen Caddyshack."