THE FROSH RULE
The NCAA's startling decision to allow member schools to use freshmen in intercollegiate competition brought instant reaction, some of it rather naive comment on the advantages or disadvantages of the new policy for the athlete himself. Tom Gola, the old basketball All-America from La Salle, said, "I think around Philadelphia it's a beautiful rule. Most of the kids coming out of high school here are already playing with college kids." Harry Silcox, another Philadelphia basketball hero of the Gola era, when freshmen were allowed on varsity teams, disagreed. "I wasn't ready for it," he said. "I was only 17. I found it difficult taking all that time out from class."
George Raveling, an assistant to Basketball Coach Lefty Driesell at Maryland, came closer to the crux of the matter. "I think it's a bad rule," he said, "but if a conference votes against playing freshmen, it puts itself at a tremendous recruiting disadvantage." It is not the welfare of the student-athlete that the new rule is all about but the economic structure of the intercollegiate sports scene. Abe Martin, veteran athletic director of Texas Christian University, dismissed fears about freshmen being too young for competition when he said, "Kids are more learned and better coached than they used to be. I think they can play a part and it won't hurt a thing." Then Martin added, "Besides, an NCAA vote to limit athletic grants-in-aid is on the way. When it comes, it will be wise to have freshmen eligible."
In sum, the freshmen rule is one more symptom of the economic crunch. Absorbing freshmen into varsity programs means that high-budget athletic schools can have the same number of varsity players while reducing the total number of scholarships given. Because an athlete now has four years of eligibility, instead of three, the college gets a 33.3% greater return on the field from its investment in each athlete. It is good business when you can pay less and get more, and one must never forget that big-time college sport, particularly football, is very big business.
SO MUCH FOR LOVE
A press release from the Roller Derby called the Bay Bombers "one of the nation's most beloved sports franchises." Then it added that the club has been switched from San Francisco-Oakland to San Antonio.
With all four teams in the Central Division of the National Basketball Association well under .500 and with only two teams in the entire Eastern Conference over that break-even mark, it is obvious that the NBA is badly imbalanced. Yet the league persists in maintaining a playoff system in which the first two finishers in each of the four divisions qualify for postseason play. This means that a weak team like Atlanta or Cleveland will make the playoffs while a much better club like Golden State or Phoenix will probably be shut out.
The playoffs are supposed to be a showdown competition among the best. Obviously, this is not so. The NBA could come closer to that ideal if the four division champions were joined by the four also-rans with the best records, regardless of division or conference. The last time this was proposed to the owners they voted it down. If Commissioner Walter Kennedy truly possesses the absolute authority he claims now to have, he ought to exercise it and arbitrarily establish a new, fairer playoff system for 1972-73.
Duane Thomas of the Dallas Cowboys, who made a career of not speaking to the press this fall, inevitably ended up with more ink before the Super Bowl than garrulous Joe Namath ever did. Every sportswriter worth his expense account felt obliged to try his hand at interviewing Thomas. Mounting Rosinante and grasping a No. 2 pencil, each rode into the windmill, was spun off and happily sat down to write reams of prose about the man who would not speak. No clear moral emerges from all this except to point out, as Washington Sportswriter Shirley Povich did, in ringing the latest change on the Churchill original, that "Never have so many words been written about so few."
QUANTITY AND QUALITY
The somewhat staid tone of the Super Bowl has encouraged supporters of college football. One staunch advocate of the college game argues that it is consistently faster and more exciting than the professional version. He even criticizes the heart-stopping Miami-Kansas City game in the AFC playoffs, pointing out that in that six-period marathon there were only 149 offensive plays, whereas the four-period Fiesta Bowl between Arizona State and Florida State had 167. O.K., granted. But did the Fiesta Bowl have Garo Yepremian?
Baseball has never really known how to cope with minor-league problems. Like a flea-ridden dog, it spends a lot of time biting at its own tail. A lot of minor teams die, which hurts big-league baseball, but the big ones keep on biting.
One method of stifling interest in minor-league ball is by doing things like imposing an alien nickname on the local team. For instance, in Albuquerque, N. Mex. the minor-league club was traditionally called the Dukes, since the city was named for the early 18th century Spanish Duke of Alburquerque. When the Los Angeles Dodgers took over that AA franchise in 1963 they blithely tromped on history and renamed the Dukes the Dodgers. A most fitting name. "Dodgers" stems from the turn of the century, when crowded Brooklyn was laced with trolley lines and the inhabitants were derisively called trolley dodgers. The nickname went cross-country from Brooklyn to Los Angeles when the club moved in 1958 and then came a third of the way back to Albuquerque, where it made about as much sense as calling a Brooklyn team the Gila Monsters.
The transplanted New York-California name did not sit well in New Mexico, and when Los Angeles decided this winter to transfer its AAA minor-league team from Spokane, to Albuquerque, a movement was begun to restore the old, traditional name. A vote was taken and, by Judge Landis, the parent club bowed to the will of the people. In 1972 the team will be known as the Albuquerque Dukes.
But you win one, you lose one. A thousand miles east, in Tennessee, the Knoxville baseball team has been known as the Smokies for the thousands of years that baseball has been played in the shadow of the great mountains there. No more. Henceforth the club will be called the Knox Sox.
The signal triumph of Bernice Gera, the lady umpire, is not without irony. The New York Court of Appeals has upheld her case against minor-league baseball, which would not hire her as an umpire even though she was professionally qualified. She said it was because she was a woman. The minor-leaguers claimed, in a late argument, that it was because she was too short (Umpire Gera is 5'2", and an umpire supposedly should be at least 5'10"). If baseball is telling the truth and it is only Bernice's height that is an impediment, the lady umpire may find a vocal ally in peppery Jocko Conlan, who ruled with force and authority in the National League for a quarter of a century before his retirement a few years ago. Conlan is only 5'7½". Don't try to tell Jocko even now that he is too small to umpire. He'll fill your ears with stories about Bill Klem, who was the same size. Go get 'em, Ms. Gera.
IF AND REVERSE
Clive Graham, racing writer for the London Daily Express, leaves himself open to an onslaught from Women's Lib types because of his acerb reaction to the British Jockey Club's recent decision to allow women riders in thoroughbred races. Traditionalist Graham, recalling that Damon Runyon once observed, "All life is 6 to 5 against," muttered that with the Jockey Club allowing women jockeys now, "Those odds must surely be extended to 13 to 8."
To stay with gambling numbers for a moment, be advised that in Las Vegas the people who work in the places where bets are made belong to a labor group called the Union of Gaming and Affiliated Casino Employees of America. The Las Vegas Local is 711.
Oh, my, more Women's Lib. The Boston Celtics have come up with "Women's Lib Night." On Jan 26, ladies attending the Celtics-Cavaliers game in Boston Garden can bring any number of men friends in with them at half price. The ladies, of course, will pay full freight for their tickets.
A CLOCKWORK BIRCH
In Ireland, of all places, and at the Curragh, the hallowed Irish racecourse, horses have been running over steeplechase fences made of plastic instead of traditional birch. Plastic fences? In Ireland? The argument is that birch, supposedly ideal for steeplechase fences because of its lightness, presents problems. For one thing, it doesn't stand up too well under weather, and a fence rarely lasts more than three years. For another, because birch is no good for lumber, it is not widely grown and the supply in Great Britain and Ireland is dwindling. Thus, the inevitable plastic.
"We've tested our plastic fences near hot heaters and even in a deepfreeze," says Michael Hickman, one of the developers of the artificial barriers. "They hold up." The plastic version costs about ¬£500 ($1,250) a fence compared to ¬£350 ($875) for one constructed of birch but, says Hickman, "We'll guarantee them for five years."
There has been little outcry, even from veterans of the sport. Indeed, David Mould, who rides for Queen Elizabeth, says, "They seem marvelous. They may be the fences of the future."
The good old future again. As George Allen says, it is now. You have to accept it, but you can't help thinking of past years and the Grand National at Aintree, of the imposing photographs of horses crashing through Aintree's awesome fences. It is never pleasant to see a horse and rider fall, but when brush and branches come to earth with them there is a certain dignity to the disaster. Crumpling to the ground in a shower of plastic seems demeaning.
AGE CANNOT WITHER
Wilt Chamberlain's new style of play (SI, Dec. 13 et seq.), in which his main function on offense is as an assist man—get the rebound and start the fast break with a quick pass—could extend his career for years. A season or so ago it looked as though Chamberlain was on his last legs, or knees, but Tom Heinsohn, the Boston Celtic coach, says that isn't so anymore. "The way he's playing now," Heinsohn said after Chamberlain and the Lakers beat the Celtics during their epic winning streak, "Wilt can go another 10 years. He's really playing only one end of the floor, which was the way Bill Russell did it. He could go on until he's 45 years old."
THEY SAID IT
•Sam Aubrey, Oklahoma State basketball coach, asked how he slept after his team's 83-62 loss to Colorado: "Just like a baby. I would sleep an hour, then wake up and cry for an hour."
•Tim McCarver, Philadelphia Phillie catcher, formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals: "I remember one time going out on the mound to talk with Bob Gibson. He told me to get back behind the batter, that the only thing I knew about pitching was it was hard to hit."
•Abner Haynes, former Miami Dolphin halfback, recalling the team's early days: "They trained Flipper so that when we scored a touchdown he'd come flying through this flaming hoop. Back then that little dude didn't get many chances to jump."