The final obstacle facing the merger of the NHL and WHA was cleared last week when the NHL Players Association voted its approval of the deal. Surprisingly, the players got relatively little in return, and there is a growing suspicion that the association's executive director, Alan Eagleson, may have let the owners off the hook. Eagleson has long been under fire for his conflicting interests; he promotes hockey games and serves as an agent to individual players as well as directing the association. As rival agent Art Kaminsky put it, "It is my impression that he represented the interests of Alan Eagleson, the owners and the players—in that order. And the players were a poor third."
In return for supporting the merger, which will end the bidding wars that hugely enriched hockey players during the past seven years, the NHLPA was expected to demand a new collective bargaining agreement similar to baseball's, in which a club that signs a free agent is not required to compensate his former club with a player of equal ability. It is the present equal-compensation provision that has effectively put an end to hockey's free-agent market.
After surprisingly brief debate, the players instead agreed to abide by the existing collective bargaining agreement for at least three more years and to accept token payments totaling $7.25 million over the next five years toward their pension, medical and dental plans and also the playoff pots.
Boston's Mike Milbury, the only player rep to vote against the proposal, says, "We went in with a strong bargaining position but now we have lost our only alternative market. We let slip a chance we'll never have again."
Why the accusations that Eagleson sold out? Because the NHL owners have given him control of the marketing of future events between the NHL and such international teams as the U.S.S.R. all-stars—an incredibly lucrative proposition. To be sure, the players' pension plan will benefit from this arrangement, too, as Eagleson will, but the deal has nonetheless left Eagleson open to all sorts of accusations about whose best interests he is seeking. Clearly, it's time for him to doff one of his many hats. "I've tried to resign from the NHLPA four times," he says. "They always refuse the resignation."
It's high time the players accepted it.
Score one for the bikini. At its annual meeting, the AAU Swimming Rules Committee sanctioned the wearing of the two-piece racing suit for women in short-course (25-yard-pool) competition. The suit had been introduced at the AIAW championships by the record-breaking Stanford 200-yard medley relay team (SCORECARD, April 9). Puritans take heart, though. Lest you think the powers that be have abandoned all propriety in pursuit of faster times, be advised that, according to Rules Chairman William Lippman, "The competitive costume must still be nontransparent and conform to the current concept of the appropriate."
HOT DIGGITY DOG!
Score one for the consumer. Last Thursday San Francisco's Recreation and Park Commission voted to roll back by a nickel the price of hot dogs sold in Candlestick Park. Once again the red hots are 75¬¨¬®¬¨¢ apiece, just as they were until July 1978, when the commission authorized a price increase at the behest of Candlestick concessionaires (SCORECARD, April 16). Ron Gordon, the high school biology teacher who had led the battle against the increase, received encouragement during his year-long fight from, among others, Barry Bosworth, director of the President's Council on Wage and Price Stability, and Alfred E. Kahn, adviser to President Carter on inflation, who termed Gordon's efforts "heroic and unflagging." They were also costly. Gordon spent some $1,600 of his own money to alert the press to the "Wienergate" crisis.
"I probably won't break even." Gordon admits, noting that to do so he would have to eat 32,000 of the cheaper franks.
Addressing a recent conference of the Boys' Clubs of America, Raier Marens, a sports psychology professor at the University of Illinois and director of the Office of Youth Sports in Urbana, Ill., offered his views on the value of awards in sports programs. Given the choice, Marens asserted, children overwhelmingly prefer to play on a team that's a loser, rather than to sit on the bench of a winner. And he fears that rewards such as excessive praise, medals, trophies and trips to faraway places can undermine this desire to participate, win or lose.
"I've seen 8-year-olds at wrestling matches wearing so many medals they can barely stand up," he said. Instead of trophies and medals, Marens suggested bananas. "If you leave a banana on the mantle three or four days, you know what happens to it. So you're best off to eat the banana when you get it. That's my message."
When little-known Victor Pecci of Paraguay upset Jimmy Connors to earn a spot in the finals of the French Open tennis tournament earlier this month, he set off what may have been the wildest week in the history of racket sports.
Later that same day, at the paddle tennis nationals in New York City, players who had gained their renown in three other racket sports were among the contestants. Paddle tennis is a miniature form of tennis—but with a lower net, a deader ball, a shorter, wooden racket and a single underhand serve—and the transition to it from other racket sports is easy. One team of quarterfinalists included Herb FitzGibbon, a former Davis Cupper now starring on the platform tennis circuit, and Gene Scott, who has been both a Forest Hills semifinalist and U.S. champion in the granddaddy of all racket sports, court tennis. The highlight of the tournament occurred in the semifinals, when national platform champion Doug Russell and tennis pro Steve Geller fought off at least 15 match points before ousting Brian Lee and Greg Lawrence; their 5½-hour match ended with a 38-36 set, perhaps the longest ever in a major racket sports tournament. The event was won for the fourth time in the last five years by Jeff Fleitman and Sol Hauptman of Brooklyn, who, fittingly enough, were the national 23-and-under platform champions in 1976.
A tournament in Tempe, Ariz. had a similarly multitalented cast. Women's national squash champion Heather McKay reached the quarterfinals of the national racquetball championships and Victor Niederhoffer, a former men's national squash champ, advanced through two rounds. And in Toronto, Canadian TV used six cameras to shoot the Menon Cup squash tournament.
Certainly, tennis has spawned much of the growth in these related sports. "If you can play tennis, you can play the others," says FitzGibbon, "because tennis is the toughest." Does that make tennis players the best all-round athletes in racketdom? Well, consider the made-for-TV World Invitational Racquets Championship, also broadcast during Racket Week. Athletes from five sports (tennis, table tennis, squash, racquetball and badminton) played a round robin, each competing in every event except his specialty. The winner—for the second time in three years—was squash champ Sharif Khan.
Dust off those old red, white and blue ABA balls, because the 3-point bucket will almost certainly be back in pro basketball next season. Last week NBA coaches and general managers overwhelmingly approved the use of the 3-pointer; all that is needed to put the rule on the books is a favorable vote by the league's board of governors, which is expected to render just that during meetings now being held at Amelia Island, Fla.
Last fall, the rule—three points for a successful shot taken from beyond an arc that is drawn 22' to 23'9" from the basket—was tried on an experimental basis during preseason games, but most coaches paid little attention to the trial. "This time it's serious," says Golden State Coach Al Attles.
He is one of the NBA coaches who never worked in the ABA, where the 3-point rule was always in force, and who initially opposed introducing it into the NBA. "Our first reaction was that we had a good game that didn't need to be tinkered with," Attles says. "We felt that once you start giving way on certain aspects of the game, then you'll start to give way on others. Why not give three points to a team that executes the backdoor play and gets a layup? To me, that's worth more than just pulling up and shooting." But Attles ultimately supported the low-percentage 3-pointer because of the "added excitement potential."
The rule change seems inopportune for a league that has been criticized of late for its lack of team play. "This could send our individualists haywire," Attles says. "We'll just have to re-educate them and ourselves as to what we want to accomplish with this. That will be our main problem."
The Nets' Kevin Loughery, one of six former ABA coaches who persuaded their colleagues to adopt the rule, emphasizes the drama the shot brings to the game. "Now, late in a game an eight-point deficit can be wiped out in three shots instead of four," says Loughery. "This is no gimmick. We believe the change will work."
But will it work for the better?
It has been less than a month since the Canadiens won their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, but to fans in Montreal it must seem that a long hot summer has already passed.
First, the Canadiens' director of player personnel, Al MacNeil, left to become the coach of the Atlanta Flames. Then Scotty Bowman, who had coached the Canadiens to five Stanley Cups in eight seasons, resigned after a dispute with Managing Director Irving Grundman to become general manager of the Buffalo Sabres.
Still, it was not time for Montrealers to panic, especially in light of the results of last week's laughable expansion draft. (Among other things, Detroit and Los Angeles had deceased players on their unprotected lists, and Philadelphia had a fan on its.) The Canadiens lost one part-time player, Cam Connor. In return, Montreal ran roughshod through the rosters of the four incoming WHA teams, the clubs that were supposed to be helped most by the draft. Montreal picked up Danny Geoffrion, son of Boom-Boom, and three future draft choices.
But then the bombshell hit. Jacques Lemaire, the vastly underrated center for Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt, announced he had signed a three-year contract—reportedly worth a tax-free $75,000 a season plus a house, a car and a maid—to play, coach and be general manager for a team in Switzerland. A superb skater and playmaker, Lemaire was the leading scorer in the '79 playoffs and is a man the Canadiens cannot possibly replace. The knockout blow could well come in a few weeks when Ken Dryden, Montreal's unloved, six-time all-star goalie, is expected to announce that he is leaving the club to pursue his law career.
Grundman, who replaced the legendary Sam Pollock as front-office boss of the Canadiens last year, was philosophic about the defections. "Nothing's forever," he said. "It's like a wheel. It keeps turning. They said the team would collapse when Rocket Richard retired, and Jean Beliveau, and Pollock. But it didn't."
Tradition's a wonderful thing. But can it get the puck to Lafleur?
This ad appeared last week in the Milwaukee Sentinel's sports section:
STUDENT FOOTBALL PLAYERS WANTED
Hibbing Community College, a 2-year junior college in Northern Minnesota, is looking for students to rebuild our football program.... Our school offers an excellent education in both liberal arts and technical schooling while offering the cheapest possible tuition rates, $12 per credit. An excellent chance to continue football after high school.
Who says recruiting has to be a chore?
THEY SAID IT
•Doug Buffone, Chicago Bears linebacker, on Fran Tarkenton's retirement: "I haven't hit him yet, and now I never will."