SLOWER, BUT SAFER
Few developments in the history of Grand Prix racing have revolutionized the sport as dramatically as Mario Andretti's world championship in 1978. The Lotus 79 that Andretti drove to victory that year was equipped with side panels, or skirts, an innovation creating "ground effects" that enabled the car to hug the road and approach turns going almost flat-out. The technological advance raised grave questions of safety, prompting concern that Formula I driving was becoming more a test of bravery than of ability. Nevertheless, ground-effects cars soon were dominating Grand Prix competition.
Last week the governing body of Grand Prix racing, FISA, outlawed skirts, an action that could, if it sticks, doom ground-effects cars. FISA lent urgency to its decision, moreover, by ruling that the necessary design changes be completed by next year. The likely effect of the ban will be to make cars slower—at least in the turns—but safer, an objective that also prompted FISA to decree that cockpits be reinforced with heavy metal bars and that the minimum weight of cars be increased from 1,268 to 1,400 pounds.
Having spent fortunes to develop ground-effects cars, some owners are bitterly protesting the rule changes, but FISA has compelling reasons to press for safer cars generally. They include a crash during last month's Long Beach Grand Prix in which Clay Regazzoni's Ensign lost its brakes at 140 mph and hit a wall of tires in front of a concrete barrier, which was moved four feet by the impact. Regazzoni was paralyzed from the waist down after the accident and has yet to regain full feeling in his legs.
BRING BACK THE SENATORS
Here are a couple of news flashes from Washington, D.C., where, in case you haven't heard, they don't mind mixing sports with politics:
The Soviet Union won the championship of the District of Columbia Recreation Department's embassy volleyball league for the fifth straight year, beating Brazil two games to none in the finals. The word around the nine-team league is that no sooner does the Soviet embassy's juggernaut show signs of faltering than in from Moscow come reassigned diplomats who just happen to play volleyball. The Soviets wore bright red T shirts and never complained about the officiating. But as a member of a State Department team that beat East Germany for third place groused, "They don't have to. They never lose a game."
A softball team consisting of Carter-Mondale staffers swept a doubleheader from Kennedy campaigners, winning the first game 9-1 and the nightcap 10-6. In best political tradition, the Kennedy captain, Mike Hill, called the twin loss "a great moral victory." Two of Ethel Kennedy's children, 13-year-old Douglas and 11-year-old Rory, played, but the only member of the President's family on hand was daughter-in-law Annette Carter, who watched from the sidelines. When, at one point, an emergency vehicle, siren screaming, sped along a street near the ball field, a Kennedy booster. West Coghlan, said, "For one minute there, I thought Carter had finally come out of the Rose Garden."
In the interest of international uniformity—fitting European bolts to American plumbing fixtures and the like—the U.S. is supposed to be gradually adopting the metric system. The National Federation of State High School Associations is doing its part by converting from yards to meters for record-keeping purposes in track events. But instead of replacing the mile and two-mile runs with the internationally accepted distances of 1,500 and 3,000 meters, the NFSHSA has chosen to recognize races of 1,600 and 3,200 meters, and thus many high schools switched to those distances at the start of the current season.
Tom Frederick of the NFSHSA defends the selection of the 1,600 and 3,200 partly on the ground that they more closely approximate the mile and two-mile runs that they replace. He also notes that tracks built these days tend to be 400-meter courses, which means that 1,600 and 3,200 races would come out even, exactly four and eight laps. Arguing that, as the organization running the country's largest track and field program, the NFSHSA is under "no obligation" to adopt anybody's distances but its own, Frederick says, "The 1,500 is left over from the days when European tracks were 500 meters long. We think the 1,600 and 3,200 make better sense."
Think again. Regardless of its origin, the 1,500 is contested in Olympic, international and collegiate meets, and in other meets in virtually all countries. Races of 1,600 and 3,200 meters will oblige high school runners to learn pace and tactics not appropriate for any other competition. They will also deny runners a basis for comparison with performances of competitors of the same age in the rest of the world, or even with U.S. high-schoolers who have gone before them. The NFSHSA's action flies in the face of the reason for switching to the metric system in the first place.
Greg Louganis is diving's answer to Bo Derek. At the U.S. indoor championships last weekend in Milwaukee, Louganis, a University of Miami sophomore considered by some to be potentially the best diver ever, was awarded perfect scores of 10 by seven of the nine judges on one of his dives (a reverse 1½ somersault layout) in the three-meter springboard competition, which he won going away. Louganis also received six 10s on another dive (a forward 3½ somersault pike) and had four more 10s sprinkled among his scores during his 11-dive three-meter program. What's more, he was awarded eight 10s while easily winning the one-meter. In the tower competition Louganis blew three dives and placed third behind Bruce Kimball and Randy Able-man but not before adding eight more 10s, seven of them on a back dive pike. That gave Louganis, all told, an astonishing 33 10s in Milwaukee.
What all this means is that the 20-year-old Louganis, who had been collecting 10s with some regularity in previous meets, may have only one scoring feat left to strive for: getting all 10s on a dive from an entire panel of judges. This has been achieved only once, by Mike Finneran, for a back 1½ somersault 2½ twist off the tower at the 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials. The scoring on Finneran's unquestionably superb dive has been a source of discord, the sport's purists arguing that while there may be such things as a perfect martini and a perfect bore, a perfect dive is simply not attainable. Good as any performance might be, they say, it's always possible to do better. As a result, 10s have been exceedingly rare in diving.
Or at least they were until some U.S. judges began consciously raising "average" scores at big meets partly in hopes of enhancing the reputation of American diving. As a result, where a solid dive once received a 6½ or 7, it now may merit an 8 or 8½. Because, to some extent, dives must be judged not on an absolute scale but relative to other performances in the same meet, above-average scores had to be raised accordingly. Then along came a superstar like Louganis—and 10s. This prompts some observers to ask fretfully, "What if somebody even better than Louganis comes along? How do we score him?"
Columbia Coach Jim Stillson, chairman of the U.S. diving judges' committee, replies, "I'm not sure what the answer is. The alternative to giving Greg 10s is to knock down everybody else's score, and there are some people who would prefer doing that." But Stillson implies that the problem is merely academic. Notwithstanding Louganis' loss last week in the tower, Stillson says, "Right now Greg Louganis is head and shoulders above everybody else in the sport."
ADVANCED ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING
In a spin-off from a familiar line of ethnic jokes, The Miami Herald told this one involving athletes at the University of New Mexico (although any number of other schools might have served as well):
Q. How many Lobos does it take to change a light bulb?
A. One—but four get credit for it.
Some people get their kicks collecting stamps or raising geraniums, but Joe Terranova of Dearborn, Mich. gets his by evaluating the results of each year's college football recruiting wars. By watching high school game films and sifting through grant-in-aid tenders and the like, Terranova, a market researcher with the Ford Motor Company, rated USC's incoming crop of freshmen as tops in 1978 and 1979. In contrast, this year's rankings don't even put the Trojans in the top 10. Which shouldn't be taken to mean that Terranova's 1980 list of schools lacks familiar names. The rundown:
1. Alabama and Ohio State tied for first in Terranova's rankings. Defending national champion Alabama was, says Terranova, "aided by the obvious fact that Bear Bryant will become the winningest college football coach in history within the next four years." The Tide got two good quarterbacks in Andy Martin and Chuck Fields and one terrific receiver in Jesse Bendross, of whom Terranova says, "He may be the only player in 'Bama history to wear a target rather than a number on his jersey."
Ohio State's 1980 crop makes the 1967 haul of Brockington, Tatum, Kern, Still-wagon et al. "look like a group of CYO-league players." Four outstanding defensive backs and two tailbacks join Tight End Judd Groza, son of former Cleveland Brown star Lou, and Center Joe Apke, a product of powerhouse Moeller High in Cincinnati.
3. Texas A&M signed the most-heralded tight end in the country, Mark Lewis, and beefed up its offensive and defensive lines with the likes of Jerry Bullitt (6'2", 230 pounds), Thomas Graham (6'3", 215), Keith Guthrie (6'4", 245), Tommy Robison (6'5", 260), Scott Polk (6'4", 240) and Bruce Lawson (6'4", 250), who "are the kind of players that lift the back of the team bus when a tire needs to be changed, and they do it individually."
4. Texas wooed the Lone Star State's most promising fullback, Terry Orr, along with Running Back John Walker, a 9.5 sprinter, and Jeff Leiding, possibly the nation's top linebacker. "It's too bad the freshman-eligible rule exists. ABC would pay millions for the TV rights to an Aggie-Longhorn freshman clash."
5. Notre Dame "got help where it needed it most. Either Scott Grooms or Blair Kiel could end up the Irish signal-caller this fall. Kiel undoubtedly will do the punting and perhaps the placekicking, regardless of who runs the offense." Tim Marshall, the best defensive tackle in the country, is "Darth Vader in cleats."
Rounding out Terranova's top 10 are Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, North Carolina and Oklahoma.
ON THE RUN
According to police, about a mile into the Clearwater (Fla.) Sun's 10,000-meter Fun 'n' Sun road race, one of the 1,200 runners left the course and entered a nearby convenience store. There he grabbed $34 from the cash register and fled on foot, unsuccessfully pursued in a very different kind of race by cops summoned by a store employee. Said one officer, "He simply outran us."
THEY SAID IT
•Willie Stargell, told that teammate Dave Parker had called him his idol: "That's pretty good, considering that Dave's previous idol was himself."
•Bum Phillips, Houston Oiler coach, when asked if the acquisition of Oakland Quarterback Ken Stabler would put the Oilers in the Super Bowl: "Yep, if we win more games than anybody else."
•Joe Niekro, Houston Astro 21-game winner in 1979, asked how he expected to pitch this season: "Righthanded."
•George Foster, Cincinnati Red batting star, on word that the Phillies' lumbering Outfielder Greg Luzinski led the league last season by getting hit 10 times: "Was that in the field or at the plate?"
•Tommy Canterbury, Centenary basketball coach: "The trouble with officials is they just don't care who wins."
•Earl Weaver, on umpire Ron Luciano's new career as an NBC sportscaster: "I hope he takes this job more seriously than he did his last one."