CRIES OF DOOM
Some NFL personages have issued dire warnings that the Oakland Raiders' move to Los Angeles might destroy the league. Noting that the Raiders have flouted an NFL rule requiring that franchise shifts be approved by three-fourths—or 21—of the 28 owners, they say that if the Raiders get away with such perfidy, other clubs will be encouraged to freely break league rules, too. The result, Pittsburgh Steeler President Dan Rooney warned last week, is that "we may not have a league." Similarly, Green Bay Packer owner Dominic Olejniczak said of the Raider move, "It could spell anarchy."
But such wild alarums may be just that—wild alarums. The Raiders' move to L.A. has resulted in several lawsuits, the most threatening to the NFL being one brought by the Los Angeles Coliseum alleging that the rule requiring a three-fourths vote on franchise shifts violates federal antitrust law. That suit is pending before U.S. District Court Judge Harry Pregerson in Los Angeles, who last month enjoined the NFL from forcing the Raiders to submit its move to L.A. to a vote by the other clubs. Although Pregerson's action has since been stayed by the U.S. Court of Appeals, one of his written opinions in the case provides a revealing glimpse of his thinking on the legality of NFL procedures and rules generally.
Pregerson says NFL franchises are individual businesses whose "cooperation" raises antitrust questions. But he says that by the very nature of sports, cooperation in some areas—playing rules and scheduling, for example—is paradoxically necessary for competition to exist. He implies that certain other NFL practices, such as player drafts and jointly negotiated TV contracts, if tested in the courts, might well be adjudged permissible under antitrust law. Nor does Pregerson entirely rule out the possibility that even the three-fourths rule might eventually be upheld as legal. None of which sounds remotely like a declaration of open season on the NFL constitution.
Even if it doesn't presage the NFL's imminent demise, however, the Raiders' shift to L.A. is an affront to the fans who long and faithfully supported the team in Oakland. And it could, therefore, cause the NFL long-term problems by arousing the undue attention of Congress. Nevertheless, Raider boss Al Davis last week said that his team had received orders for season tickets from 20,000 Angelenos and had changed its name to the Los Angeles Raiders.
During the 1950s Hungarian-born professional wrestler Sandor Szabo released a single for Hammerlock Records on which he sang, more or less tunefully, a song called Take Me in Your Arms. Now some National Hockey League players have pooled their talents to produce, with proceeds earmarked for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, a record that The Los Angeles Times classifies as "puck rock." Five members of the New York Rangers sing Hockey Sock Rock on one side and Los Angeles King linemates Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor (a/k/a Marcel Dionne and the Pucktones) do the flip side. The name of that one is Please Pardon My Misconduct.
The passage nearly two years ago of Proposition 13, which sharply cut California property taxes, has inevitably placed financial strains on high school athletic programs. At the same time, school sports budgets have also been strained by the rapid proliferation of girls' teams. To avoid drastically curtailing athletic programs, California high schools have turned increasingly to booster clubs to raise funds. Many also have begun charging students for participating in varsity sports.
The fees assessed under "Pay for Play" plans vary widely. Athletes at Rolling Hills High on Los Angeles' affluent Palos Verdes Peninsula shell out $67 for each sport, while those in the San Francisco suburb of San Mateo pay $20 per sport up to a limit of $60 per family, regardless of how many siblings or different sports are involved. Officially, payment in most cases is voluntary. "If the student can't or won't pay, the fee is paid somehow," says Chick Hinds, commissioner of San Mateo's seven-school Mid-Peninsula League. "The student can work for it, or the booster club or somebody will find the money for him." But some California schools reportedly are quite forceful in "requesting" payment.
The idea of having to pay for what once was considered a vital part of the educational process is disturbing, especially since fees obviously put an unequal burden on lower-income students. The only possible salutary effect is that athletes who pay to participate in high school sports are understandably loath to sit on the bench. Accordingly, some coaches might conceivably be a bit more disposed to let everybody play than they would otherwise be.
The financial squeeze has also prompted as many as half of California's 1,200 public high schools to use "walk-ons"—that is, non-faculty members—as coaches, a practice once confined to private schools. Largely because of Proposition 13, school districts are hiring fewer of the young, enthusiastic teachers who in the past tended to take on most of the after-school coaching assignments. As a result, schools have had to hire moonlighting coaches—a fireman, perhaps, or an airline baggage handler. The turnover is often high, and even those who do a good job labor under the disadvantage of not seeing their athletes in a total school environment.
"A walk-on coach can be totally dedicated to his coaching assignment but not totally connected and aware of the school operation," says Dr. Hanford Rantz, principal of Gahr High near Cerritos, commenting on the "Rent-A-Coach" phenomenon. But Hinds says, "Walk-on coaches are here to stay. The alternative is no athletic program at all."
As reported here last week, Columbia University law student Jed Brickner has painstakingly researched the top men's track arid field performances in regard to the days on which they occurred, and has found that only one athlete holds the "record" in his specialty for each day of the week. This seven-day wonder is Edwin Moses, whose world record of 47.45 in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles came on a Saturday—at UCLA, on June 11, 1977—and who also has achieved the fastest times ever on a Sunday (47.64), Monday (48.30), Tuesday (47.67), Wednesday (47.94), Thursday (48.20) and Friday (47.53). Moses' utter domination of his event is underscored by the fact that nobody else can currently claim best-ever performances in any one event on more than four days of the week.
THREE'S NOT A CROWD
After the 1977-78 season, one marred by violence on the court, the NBA scrapped its traditional two-referee system in favor of a three-official setup. Violence promptly declined last season, but Commissioner Larry O'Brien chose to credit this to higher fines rather than the extra ref. Over the objections of general managers, coaches, players and the referees themselves, NBA owners reverted to the two-official system this season, at a yearly saving of $600,000, less than $30,000 per team.
Most NBA watchers consider the economy move regrettable. The NBA's adoption this season of the three-point field goal has made refs busier than ever, while players have become more adept at exploiting "dead spots," those areas on the floor where the officials' view of the action is blocked. "The lack of a third man cuts off our percentage for getting that perfect angle," complains Referee Paul Mihalak.
The upshot is that NBA referees are missing many violations, including the sort of rough tactics that can easily escalate into violence. "There is a lot more grabbing and holding, for the simple reason there is one less official," says Phoenix Sun Coach John McLeod, "and the players know this very well." A fistfight during a recent Boston-Atlanta game began after Hawk Center Tree Rollins shot an elbow at the Celtics' Dave Cowens, just the kind of incident that might be prevented by the presence of a third ref. After the Utah Jazz' Jerome Whitehead elbowed Kansas City's Scott Wedman earlier this season, breaking a bone in Wedman's face, Kings Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said angrily, "What concerns me is that it all starts with incidental hand contact. It was a mistake to go back to two referees."
Richie Phillips, the legal counsel for the NBA referees' union, warns that failure to reinstate the three-referee system "could become a strike issue." Even O'Brien now concedes that "the third official might have contributed in some way to a more orderly flow of the game and less violence."
PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM
A basket by Houston Rocket Guard Mike Dunleavy in a 93-83 win over the Hawks in Atlanta last week may or may not have proved the need for a third ref in NBA games, but it certainly demonstrated the value of television as a potential aid in sports officiating. After Dunleavy scored, Referee Darell Garretson walked to the scorer's table and allowed that neither he nor Tom Nunez, the other ref, had been in position to see whether Dunleavy's feet had put him in three-point range. At the invitation of Jerry Trupiano, the play-by-play man for Houston's KH-TV, Garretson watched a televised replay that clearly showed Dunleavy's basket to be a three-pointer. Garretson ruled accordingly—with scarcely a peep from Atlanta's bench and only scattered boos from the fans.
Garretson's willingness to enlist TV's help in making a tough call should be instructive to Pete Rozelle, who has resisted the use of instant replay in the NFL, which has been plagued by blown calls at crucial moments during playoff games. Rozelle cites cost as an objection but as Buffalo Bill Quarterback Joe Ferguson notes, using instant replay would require nothing more than an official stationed in front of a TV monitor. Ferguson suggests that this official be empowered to rule only on scoring plays and "if he says he doesn't have a good enough view, then the call stands." It might be added that such an innovation need not be unduly disruptive. The official could announce an instant-replay call simply by flashing a red light, and the game probably would be held up no more than 30 seconds or so.
THE ROYAL WHIP
It isn't often that horseplayers get a chance to bet on royalty, which explains some of the excitement last week when England's Prince Charles, an accomplished polo player, show jumper and devotee of the hunt, debuted as a jockey in a two-mile charity flat race at Plumpton Race Course. The bettors made Charles' mount, Long Wharf, the 13-8 favorite, only to see the horse place second in a field of 13 behind Classified, ridden by a sportscaster, Derek Thompson. Four days later Charles rode a gelding named Sea Swell in a steeplechase event at Sandown. Sea Swell went off at 10-1 and finished last in a field of four, but Charles handled the 22-fence course faultlessly, prompting trainer Nick Gaselee to say, "I am thinking of offering him a contract."
THEY SAID IT
•Lynn Wheeler, after resigning as the coach of Iowa State's women's basketball team, which finished the season with 14 straight defeats: "I've taken this team as far as I can."
•Richie Hebner, Detroit Tiger third baseman and a gravedigger during the off-season, after finishing a two-mile run ordered by Manager Sparky Anderson: "I've buried people in better shape than I'm in."
•Gordie Howe, 51, following the debut of new Hartford Whaler teammate, Bobby Hull, 41: "The kid looked good in his first game."
•John McHale, Montreal Expo general manager, on player agents: "They love it when you're out when they call you. Then, when you call them back they can negotiate as long as they want to, at your expense."