OPENING UP TO CHANGE
The National Hockey League's woes continue unabated. The financially ailing Atlanta Flames, the NHL's first and only entry in the Deep South, have bolted for Calgary, leaving the league even more concentrated than before in Canada and the northern U.S. The NHL also continues to toil without a national television contract. CBS did televise the New York Islanders' 5-4 overtime defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth and decisive game of the Stanley Cup finals, but the results were embarrassing: while an early-season baseball game between the Dodgers and the Cubs was grabbing a 26% share of the audience on NBC, the NHL showdown claimed only 17%, more than one-fifth of which was in New York City. In other NHL cities, the Stanley Cup game drew audience shares as small as 6%, and interest elsewhere was practically nonexistent.
Clearly, many sports fans have trouble taking NHL hockey seriously. The game suffers from uncontrolled fighting, which league officials ritually defend as "part of the game," and other outrages abound. Following the Islanders' final victory, during which the New Yorkers scored two disputed goals, Philadelphia owner Ed Snider bitterly said, "The problem with this league is [referee-in-chief] Scotty Morrison. He should be shot." Shockingly, NHL President John Ziegler has yet to publicly rebuke Snider for his unconscionable outburst. (Morrison has threatened legal action against Snider, saying, "I don't intend to treat this lightly in this day of kooks.")
More encouraging, at its meeting later this month in Los Angeles, the NHL Board of Governors is expected to consider adoption of sudden-death overtime in the regular season, a move that would eliminate some of the ties (142 this past season) that send many fans home dissatisfied. It may also consider proposals to abandon the center red line and to move each goal and each blue line five yards closer to center ice. Abolishing the red line would reduce offside calls that disrupt play and prolong games. Moving out the nets and blue lines would increase the skating area behind each goal line, affording spectators a better view of action around the net. It also would open up play, making it harder to freeze the puck, and keep defensemen too busy chasing opposing forwards to park in front of the net. The result might be less crowding in the corners and at the goal mouth and, therefore, fewer fights, injuries and fluke goals.
The price of such an innovation would be high—a reduction of the center ice area, where skaters build up speed as they advance toward the attacking zone. But Minnesota North Star General Manager Lou Nanne, for one, favors experimenting with the proposal during the NHL's 1980 exhibition games. Nanne notes that by putting a greater priority on finesse than on thuggery, the changes could give the NHL more of the flavor of international hockey, which uses bigger rinks and offers, as many people discovered during the Lake Placid Olympics, a cleaner, faster-paced, more wide-open and often more enjoyable game than the one the NHL insists on playing.
When it appeared last month that there were ballplayers among the Cuban refugees flocking to the U.S., Bowie Kuhn promptly forbade their signing, fearing, among other things, that a costly bidding war for them might develop among major league clubs (SCORECARD, May 19). Last week Kuhn lifted the ban, and the reason he felt relaxed enough to do so became quickly apparent. The Detroit Tigers awarded contracts to Shortstop Eduardo Cajuso and Centerfielder Roberto Salazar, both 22, but the other 25 clubs didn't sign any Cubans, having concluded that most of them were out of shape and older than they admitted to being. You'd think they'd never heard of an out-of-shape, older-than-he-admits Cuban named Luis Tiant, who's still effective enough to be a starting pitcher, with a 4-3 record, for the American League-leading New York Yankees.
DIRTY T SHIRTS
The presidential primaries are over, but George Bush has a lingering problem that arose on May 14, six days before the Republican primary in Oregon. Campaigning in Eugene, a hotbed of running, Bush had gone on a 3½-mile jog and invited local residents to accompany him, giving 700 of them T shirts boasting I JOGGED WITH GEORGE BUSH. Alas, Bush not only was trounced in the Oregon election by Ronald Reagan but he also has been told by Oregon Secretary of State Norma Paulus that the T-shirt giveaway violated the state's Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits candidates from exercising "undue influence" on voters by giving them "anything of value."
Bush aides said they gave out the shirts after receiving legal advice that in campaigns for national office, federal election laws preempt state laws. Bush himself has made light of the situation, suggesting that the shirts should have been lent to the joggers until they became sweat-soaked during the run, at which point they could have been formally given to them. "How can you call a used T shirt anything of value?" he reasoned.
But the relentless Paulus said she was seriously considering prosecuting Bush campaign officials; violations of the law are punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Paulus said that before the jog she had taken the position that the Oregon law was not superseded by federal law and had exacted a promise from local Bush officials that no T shirts would be given out. Curiously, Paulus described herself as a "Bush Republican," a characterization that moved one Bush aide, Peter Hunt, to say, "That's absurd. The woman's got to be crazy."
DEALING WITH DARRYL
You've heard of athletes rewriting the record book? Well, the Philadelphia 76ers' Darryl Dawkins may be on his way toward rewriting the rule book. Mindful of the two Plexiglas backboards that Dawkins shattered last season, NBA owners decided at their meeting last week in Coronado, Calif. to experiment during upcoming summer-league competition and next season's training camps and exhibition games with collapsible, spring-action rims, which release under great—which is to say, Dawkinsian—force and then quickly snap back into position. The hope is that the new rims will help prevent shattered backboards, reducing the risk of both injury and the sort of delays that give TV producers fits.
The owners also voted to abolish the wearing of jewelry during games, another trademark of Dawkins, who has been known to take the court sporting a dazzling array of chains and an earring. NBA officials say the rule applies to all jewelry, although they add that religious medals may be fastened inside a pants pocket or the like. They say the ban arose out of fear that a player might slip on a broken chain or cut an eye on an errant medallion. The action figures to greatly inconvenience Dawkins, who has likened his jewelry to Samson's hair, calling it the source of his strength. If that's the case, the owners could have simply banished jewelry and forgotten about the collapsible rims.
QUESTIONING AN ASSUMPTION
The Los Angeles Times said last week that 30 athletes from nine schools—UCLA, Southern Cal, Utah, Nevada-Las Vegas, Pepperdine, San Jose State, Hawaii, Cal Poly-Pomona and Santa Barbara City College—received credit in 1977 for summer extension-course classes that few, if any, of them attended. According to the newspaper, the courses—in U.S. history, anatomy and English grammar—were offered by California Lutheran College and supposedly taught by a disabled dentist, Richard T. Street, at his home in Los Alamitos, 60 miles from the school's suburban Los Angeles campus. Those said to have been enrolled in the courses included some of the biggest names yet to surface in the ever-widening college transcript scandal.
Among the athletes were several UCLA stars, notably Jerry Robinson, an All-America linebacker now with the Philadelphia Eagles; Theotis Brown, a running back now with the St. Louis Cardinals; and James Wilkes, a starter on last season's NCAA runner-up basketball team. According to the Times, all three acknowledged that they never attended the extension classes and professed to be puzzled by the appearance of their names on class rosters. The Times reported that it contacted eight other athletes who also said they hadn't attended the classes, while six more claimed they attended but didn't seem to realize that the classes were supposedly conducted in a Los Alamitos home. Three others insisted that they attended but refused to give details, one of them saying, "I got the credits so I must have went." The paper reported that another of the athletes, ex-UCLA placekicker Frank Corral, now with the Los Angeles Rams, referred questions to his lawyer, who declined comment. The Times said it couldn't reach the 10 remaining athletes.
For one reason or another, some of the schools whose athletes were enrolled in the Cal Lutheran courses didn't always honor the resulting credits; UCLA was one that didn't, Hawaii another. But results are one thing, intent another. The Times quoted Mike Quinn, a former assistant football coach at San Jose State, as admitting that he steered two football players into the Cal Lutheran classes on the assumption they would receive credit without attending them. The Times also said that two Pasadena City College coaches, Jesse Gomez and Jack Loos, admitted taking the courses with the same expectation. "O.K., I took the units and I didn't go to class—I paid for them," Gomez was quoted as saying.
The latest allegations mean that nearly 100 athletes at more than two dozen colleges have now been implicated in the various academic transcript scandals. These imposing numbers raise a serious question about the fundamental assumption underlying big-time, big-money college sports: that there are enough quality athletes to be found who can fill arenas and stadiums and also are capable of making the grade in the classroom. Without cheating, that is.
THE DOGGED WATCHDOG OF HOT DOGS
Once again, Ron Gordon has come to the aid of San Francisco Giant fans. Last year, Gordon, a high school biology teacher, persuaded the city's Recreation and Park Commission to rescind a nickel increase in the price of hot dogs at Candlestick Park on the grounds that the hike was unjustified by basic hot-dog economics (SCORECARD, April 16, 1979). This season the commission announced price increases for vended hot dogs and Polish sausages of 15¬¨¬®¬¨¢ and 30¬¨¬®¬¨¢, respectively. But Gordon noted that the increases were actually 20¬¨¬®¬¨¢ and 35¬¨¬®¬¨¢—apparently because the commission forgot about the rescinded nickel. He further learned that the concessionaire, Stevens California Enterprises, Inc., was now selling five-to-a-pound Polishes instead of four-to-a-pound ones. Prodded by Gordon, the commission asked Stevens to return to the larger sausages and also to lop the extra nickel off its prices, putting a vended hot dog at 90¬¨¬®¬¨¢, a Polish at $1.75.
Gordon says he's spent $3,000 out of his own pocket on phone calls and postage to get the lowdown on hot-dog prices and to bombard the media and the commission with data. Among his findings is the fact that what is known in San Diego, Atlanta and several other cities as a Super Dog is called a Jumbo in St. Louis, a Colossal in Kansas City, a Slugger in Boston, a Super Brewer in Milwaukee and a Giant Dog in Toronto. And that prices for a regular hot dog range from 70¬¨¬®¬¨¢ in Wrigley Field to $1 in Shea Stadium. And that the sizes of the dogs also vary widely, from 1‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® ounces in Montreal and Toronto to 2⅖ ounces in Detroit. And, finally, that only Baltimore and Houston failed to raise their hot-dog prices over the past year. Despite the obvious need for more like him, Gordon vows he'll henceforth leave consumer protection to Ralph Nader, saying, without relish, "It's time for me to hang up my buns."
THEY SAID IT
•Billy Martin, Oakland manager, on his success at teaching fundamentals to his new team: "I taught in New York, but not too many listened. The players here have bigger ears."
•Bum Phillips, Houston Oiler coach: "Earl Campbell ain't like those high-priced, spoiled athletes. Why, he had me over to his office the other day just like one of the guys."