The National Hockey League has changed the format for this year's Stanley Cup finals in order to give the expansion teams in the West Division an advantage. Four of the possible seven games of the series are scheduled for the West Division rink. Traditionally, this home-ice edge has gone to the team finishing higher in the season standings.
Apparently fearing that the Stanley Cup final, matching the East and West Division champions, would fall as flat as the Super Bowl, NHL authorities changed the rule to narrow the gap between the established and the expansion clubs. But they are trying to make the best of a bad thing.
It would have been far better not to have any such Super Puck at all. Last May, the League proposed a playoff system that would have had two East Division teams playing two West Division teams in the semifinals. The finalists, obviously, were likely to be the two East Division teams, but the point of the Stanley Cup, after all, is to match the two best teams in the league.
However, in September, the NHL very quietly scrapped this plan after complaints from West Division teams. The argument was that unless one of its clubs appeared in the final the West Division would be regarded as playing second-class hockey. In the interest of image-building, the NHL has decided to have a second-class Stanley Cup final instead.
Sports administrators in Britain seem to have a penchant for going it alone. First, there was open tennis, and now the association that runs the country's track-and-field events has announced that, beginning this September, Britain will use its own version of the mile, 1,600 meters. Apparently, the standard 1,760 yard mile and its Olympic variant, the 1,500 meters (which is 1,641 yards), are just too messy. Most English tracks are 400 meters around; and the tidy logic behind running a race four times around a track instead of three and three-quarter times is understandable.
While the British are at it, they might well change the distance of the marathon, which is now 26 miles and 385 yards. That distance was established in 1908 at the Olympics in London in order to have the race start on the lawn at Windsor Castle and finish in Shepherds Bush stadium.
HOUSES WITH HOLES
There was a night recently in the new Madison Square Garden when a basketball game was delayed because of rain—through the roof. Then there was the hockey game at which 7,000 fans booed and waved signs which read "obstructed view." And for the first several days the only part of the Garden scoreboard that worked was the neon advertisement. By the end of last week the management was forced to refund the money of angry ticket holders, many of whom could only see the heads of hockey players when they moved into the corners. At least 1,500 seats will have to be raised, and virtually every railing in the Garden is being removed or lowered by workmen.
The $43 million Garden is the third poorly conceived and badly constructed indoor sports stadium opened in the last five months.
Another is the $12 million Spectrum in Philadelphia, which looks at a distance like a tuna-fish can and already has large rust stains running down its exterior. One gusty night two weeks ago the Spectrum lost a 150-by-50-foot section of its roof, as if it wasn't windy enough inside. It is so cold that Arthur Ashe remarked after playing in a tournament there recently, "I couldn't work up a sweat." At least the fans are prepared. To get their tickets in the first place, they must queue up at an outside ticket window. The scoreboard is in place but does not work, and there isn't a clock in the building.
In Los Angeles, the $16 million Forum which Jack Kent Cooke built principally for his hockey team has not satisfied all the Kings' fans, despite its plush elegance. The view from several areas is poor. There is one public restaurant—which seats 35 people—and only 3,000 parking places to satisfy capacity crowds of 17,000. In a city where just about everyone drives, the traffic jam at the Forum is particularly horrendous.
It is hard to understand why, after the number of major indoor stadiums constructed in the past 10 years, architects and builders still cannot find out what will work and what will not.
On Adams Pond in Boothbay Harbor, Me., smelting shanties are being used as hunting blinds, but instead of the quarry being mallard or canvasback, it is sea gulls. The pond, which supplies the town's water, has become increasingly polluted by gulls that congregate there after feeding at the local dump. Several schemes to discourage the birds failed, so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared open season on the Boothbay gulls. The Boothbay water company has designated one of its employees, Lawrence Andrews, to shoot the gulls whenever they appear.
Since the birds fly away at the sight of men, Andrews hides in a shanty mounted on skids. He moves the shack slowly across the ice toward the gulls and, when he gets within range, blasts away through an opening. When the ice melts, Andrews will have to change his technique, but for now, at least, he has it down cold.
HANDSOME IS AS HANDSOME DOES
The U.S. road company of tennis pros which highlights such stars as John Newcombe, Dennis Ralston and Tony Roche called off the show last weekend after playing before an audience of 87 people in Orlando, Fla. Dave Dixon's Handsome Eight were to have appeared in Tampa, but the prospect of another empty house brought the tour to a sudden halt. In 29 appearances, the tennis pros had drawn only 22,000, and of this number some had been admitted free.
After a hurried conference with Dixon last Saturday in Dallas, Lamar Hunt, the backer of the tour, said, "We certainly are not going to drop the idea. We will probably play less, one tournament a week rather than two. There is something radically wrong with what we're doing, obviously. I think our problems stem mostly from the fact that we have had no time for promotion and public relations matters. We are going to concentrate on that now. As for the players, naturally they are disappointed. But they are getting well paid, and after all, that is the main thing."
IN A FIX
After the basketball scandals in the 1950s, which happened to involve several college players who spent their summers playing ball in New York's Cats-kill resorts, the Eastern College Athletic Conference passed a rule that made organized summer competition illegal. All well and good, except the ECAC has chosen to enforce the rule only when someone hollers "Uncle Asa." Asa Bushnell is the conference commissioner and, for better or worse, some hollering reached his ears the other day.
At the center of the current dispute is an Oswego State player named, oh dear, Charley Fix. He played last summer in three YMCA-league games, and for this has been suspended under the ECAC rule. John Marsh, the organizer of the Y program, says he talked to Bushnell before he permitted Fix to compete to make certain Fix would not jeopardize his college career. "I asked Bushnell about the rule, and he told me the ECAC knew lots of college players who were appearing in similar summer programs, but it did nothing about it," says Marsh.
The ECAC apparently was forced into acting in the Fix case when the coach at rival Oneonta State protested Fix's eligibility after his team lost a game to Oswego by 24 points. Insiders say there are at least 40 other basketball players in ECAC schools who could be suspended under the same rule. Either the rule is absurd and should be changed, or it should be enforced uniformly, not when a coach chooses to complain.
After a disastrous football season—one win, nine losses and a new coaching staff—the University of New Mexico is having recruiting problems. New Head Coach Rudy Feldman tells of trying to sign an Albuquerque halfback named Robert Lee Williams. "He lives with his grandmother," Feldman says, "and we told her that we sure needed Robert Lee, that he was just the man who could help us get our football program off the ground. She shook her head and said, 'It sure is on the ground now.' "
On Valentine's Day, Bob Slocum, a senior at Union College in Schenectady, ran four hours—and 22 miles—to Saratoga Springs, N.Y. to deliver a bouquet of daffodils to a Skidmore College junior, Pam Bailey. "I called her up the night before," Slocum said, "and asked if I could run up to see her."
Though it was a windy 29° and he suffered leg cramps after 12 miles, Slocum plugged away. And, in the end, Pam was there to accept the flowers. Asked if Bob's run wouldn't make a difference in her feelings toward him, she said, "I don't get snowed easily."
Ah, the loneliness of the long-distance runner.
TAKING A CUT
Pro football clubs apparently are learning to live with player agents, but they don't hesitate to say that the newcomers are hardly welcome in the family. The personnel director of the New Orleans Saints, Vic Schwenk, says, "These agents teach boys to lie. One of the questions we ask a prospect before the draft is whether he is being represented by an agent. Four players we drafted, including our No. 1 choice, Kevin Hardy, said they were not, but they were."
Every player the Buffalo Bills picked in the draft has an agent, and the club has even been approached by agents representing players who were not drafted. Fifteen of the 16 players picked by Detroit are represented by agents, attorneys or advisors. Attorneys and advisors, incidentally, are far more acceptable to front offices than agents.
"We tell a player that he is still likely to get the same amount of money whether he uses an agent or not," says Hank Stram of Kansas City. "We remind him that if he does use an agent he will have to pay that agent a commission. A player's agent doesn't perform the same function as, say, an actor's agent, who finds jobs for his client. The player already has a job. He has only one place to go unless he goes to the Canadian league, and who wants to play there?"
Al Ward of the Cowboys put it another way: "We would rather deal with the boy personally, because the agent—at least, the ones we know—doesn't have the real interest of the football player at heart. He is doing it for money."
There are now three big operations in the player-agent field—Celebrities Investment Management Company of Washington, D.C., Pro Sports Inc. of New York (it has a public-relations agency promoting it) and a company headed by Jim Morse, a Muskegon, Mich. trucking executive who played for Notre Dame. Morse is negotiating for 32 players, including five in the first round of the draft. The usual agent's fee is from 10 to 25%, and some pro football people are saying that Morse must net close to $200,000 a year.
Veteran players believe it is good for a rookie to have an advisor or agent, because, as one of them puts it, "The more he can get on that first contract, the more he will get the rest of his pro career. But I think what I'd do is get a contract offer on my own first and then tell an agent I'd pay him 10% of anything he gets me over that."
Now there's a player smart enough to be an agent.
THEY SAID IT
•Bill Harmatz, told after winning a recent race at Santa Anita that he was getting the reputation of being a "mudder": "My kids still call me Daddy."
•Vince Lombardi, when asked if he had taken a cut in salary after dropping his job as Green Bay's coach: "If Lombardi's salary had been cut he'd probably still be coaching."