TWO CASES OF INTEGRITY
It's hard to imagine anything in sport more disturbing than the possibility that participants might not always be doing their best to win. Last week NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien fined a club owner $10,000 for raising just such a specter. Meanwhile, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was characteristically mum about indications that big league teams might be similarly withholding their best efforts.
O'Brien levied the fine against the San Diego Clippers' Donald T. Sterling, whose team has one of the two worst records this season, the Dallas Mavericks having the other, in the Western Conference. Sterling intimated in a speech that he would like to see the Clippers finish last and win the coin toss with the Eastern Conference's worst team, so that San Diego would be awarded the first pick in the next college draft, in which Virginia's 7'4" Ralph Sampson is likely to be the plum. "We must end up last to draw first and get a franchise-maker," Sterling said. "I guarantee you that we will have the first, second or third pick in the next draft." Sterling also said he was reluctant to acquire Seattle Guard Paul Westphal, who has reached an impasse in contract negotiations with the SuperSonics. The owner explained that "Westphal would win us games" and thus make it less likely that the Clippers would finish in the cellar.
In a letter to Sterling informing him of the fine, O'Brien said, "Our fans rightfully expect that the management and players of every NBA team are striving at all times to compete at the highest level possible.... Your unfortunate comments strike at the integrity of this league and cannot be excused." After learning of O'Brien's action, Sterling, who indicated that he would appeal the fine, tried to explain away his remarks by saying, "We want to win and we want to improve our team. What I meant was that the fans shouldn't lose hope, although we are losing. I meant to tell them that from all this something good might come."
Meanwhile, questions about just how committed to victory baseball owners might be have been prompted by the unaccustomed caution they have exercised in dealing with the current crop of 41 free agents, only 13 of whom have been signed so far. Seven of the signees have returned to their original teams, and the money offered has generally been far less generous than in the past. There would be nothing wrong with this if each of the 26 big-league owners had independently determined that he could no longer afford megabuck free-agent contracts. But Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Players Association, alleged last week that the clubs were not acting independently but were guilty of collusion; Miller charged they had acted in concert to keep the lid on free-agent salaries in violation of a provision in the basic player-management agreement that such negotiations be conducted "solely by each player and each club for his and its own benefit." Miller was reportedly considering filing an arbitration grievance in the matter.
Inherent in any finding that the owners were guilty of collusion would be the implication that at least some of them had refrained from bidding for the best talent available, thereby improving their teams, even though they could afford to do so. Nevertheless, although he talks about protecting the game's integrity, Kuhn has evinced no interest in determining whether such collusion exists. Neither has he reacted to threats by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf to thwart the free-agency process in another way if a team other than the Sox should sign Ed Farmer, the club's free agent pitcher. As compensation for such a signing, the White Sox would be entitled to select a player from a pool stocked for that purpose by all the teams participating in the free-agent draft. But Reinsdorf says he would be "inclined" to select a pool player only from the team signing Farmer, thus implementing a form of direct compensation, something the owners sought during last year's negotiations but failed to get even after enduring a disastrous players' strike over the issue. Reinsdorf s threat suggests that he would conceivably select a pool player of lesser quality than other available players. That would scarcely make the White Sox a better team. But then, baseball owners don't appear to be under the same compulsion as NBA owners to, in O'Brien's phrase, strive "at all times to compete at the highest level possible."
TORPID START, CALAMITOUS FINISH
We would be remiss in letting the 1981 football season become history without taking due note of two games, one professional and one high school, that were memorable for their start and finish, respectively:
THE WHAT-ARE-WE-DOING--HERE-ANY-WAY BOWL. In the season finale between the NFL's two worst teams before 17,073 spectators in Baltimore's 60,714-seat Memorial Stadium, the Colts outlasted the Patriots 23-21, leaving both teams with 2-14 records. The following are the game's first seven plays from scrimmage: Patriot Vagas Ferguson dropped for a one-yard loss; after five-yard New England false start penalty, Patriot Sam Cunningham stopped for no gain; upon being sacked, Quarterback Tom Owen fumbled but recovered for an eight-yard loss; Colt Ray Butler fumbled Rich Camarillo's punt and New England recovered, but play nullified because of Patriot penalty; Camarillo bobbled snap and got off eight-yard punt; Baltimore's Curtis Dickey dropped for two-yard loss.
THE GAME'S-NOT-OVER-TILL-IT'S-OVER CLASSIC. With five seconds to play and his team leading 24-21 in a state regional playoff game, Quarterback Butch Ross of Shawnee Mission (Kans.) South High merely had to take the snap on his opponents' 40-yard line and fall on the ball to wrap up a victory over Shawnee Mission West. Instead, Ross took the snap, retreated toward his own goal line and waited for the five seconds to elapse. Then, to celebrate their team's apparent victory, South High fans descended onto the field, and a couple of West players congratulated Ross. Less gracious, however, was West Safety John Reichart, who raced up to the unsuspecting Ross, snatched the ball from him and ran into South's end zone. Reichart felt that because Ross had never downed the ball, it was still in play. The officials agreed, ruling it a touchdown for West, which thus won 27-24. "The rule states that play continues until [the ball] is blown dead and the official moves in," Nelson Hartman, executive secretary of the Kansas State High School Activities Association, said in upholding the ruling. "For the play to be dead, Ross's knee had to touch the ground." South partisans objected that if the ball indeed was still in play, the ref should have penalized one side or the other for having too many players, not to mention fans, on the field. But it was only South people, thinking the game was over and won, who had been guilty of this transgression. Hartman concluded, "There were at least one player and four officials who realized the game wasn't over."
WHAT ABOUT THE LAUGH TRACK?
You've no doubt heard people express the fear that sports events will one day be held in oversized TV studios instead of before live, paying audiences. Well, that prospect may be closer at hand than you think. Consider the deal the USA Network, a cable outfit, has just completed to telecast a taped replay of the Continental Basketball Association's All-Star Game (8 p.m. E.S.T., Feb. 1). The USA Network's programming reaches 9.2 million homes containing 25 million viewers, and it's possible that as many as one million of those folks may tune in to the CBA game. In comparison, total live attendance during the 36-year history of the CBA and its predecessor, the Eastern League, has probably been no more than 2.5 million. A euphoric Jim Drucker, the CBA commissioner, says, "Do you realize that if our All-Star Game reached even 10 percent of the potential audience, we'd be seen by more people in one night than in all our games since we began playing in 1946?"
The game, itself, incidentally, will be played at 2 p.m. on Jan. 30 in the Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. The seating capacity is 20,149, but it won't matter, financially, how many spectators show up. As one would expect of such a studio production, admission is free.
BUT THEY CAN COUNT TO NO. 1
After Georgia won college football's national championship a year ago, we recounted, under the same headline that appears above, a joke that fans of rival Georgia Tech were telling (SCORECARD, Jan. 12, 1981). The story concerned a talking computer that asked people their occupations and IQs. To a brainy lawyer, the computer would, by way of reply, rattle off a summary of the latest Supreme Court decisions, while a stockbroker would be given up-to-the-minute market quotations. Then there was the fellow who, when asked his occupation and IQ, haltingly answered, "Unemployed and 46." Whereupon the computer said, "How 'bout them Dawgs?"
You didn't expect Clemson, which succeeded Georgia as the No. 1 team, to be spared similar treatment, did you? No way. So here's one that's currently making the rounds among followers of cross-state rival South Carolina:
Do you know what the "n" in Clemson stands for?
THE BOWL SWEEPSTAKES
Speaking of Clemson, remember how everybody at that school was up in arms over ABC-TV's Nov. 28 report about alleged transgressions by Tiger recruiters? Clemson fans protested that the network, which would telecast the Pitt-Georgia Sugar Bowl game on New Year's Day, had aired the report in hopes of somehow undermining the Clemson-Nebraska Orange Bowl game scheduled on NBC at the same hour (SCORECARD, Dec. 14). Well, if that was ABC's motive, it didn't work. NBC's telecast of Clemson's 22-15 win over the Cornhuskers wound up clobbering the ABC offering (Pitt beat Georgia 24-20) in the Nielsen ratings 18.0 to 11.8.
It might be argued, of course, that ABC would have fared even worse but for the damage its report inflicted on Clemson's reputation. However, that seems most unlikely. Despite its No. 1 ranking, Clemson was a little-known team with nobody on its roster to rival the two big names in the ABC game, Herschel Walker of Georgia and Dan Marino of Pitt. In view of that, Clemson's TV appeal probably was heightened by the notoriety it received from the ABC report—and, not incidentally, from the loud and angry reaction to it by Tiger rooters.
But forget the ABC-NBC showdown. The big Jan. 1 winner was CBS, which opposed the two bowls with its regular Friday-night lineup. In most of the country this consisted of Dukes of Hazard, Dallas and Falcon Crest (SCORECARD, Dec. 28-Jan. 4). CBS's ratings for those three shows averaged 26.1, more than eight points better than NBC and more than 14 up on ABC.
It was founded as a journal of baseball, horse racing and the theater. It soon became a straight baseball paper, the game's so-called bible. In recent times it has expanded to embrace a variety of sports. But one thing that has remained constant about The Sporting News, the venerable St. Louis-based weekly, is its association with the family of Alfred H. Spink, a North Dakota homesteader's son who started the publication in 1886 and was succeeded at the top of the masthead in 1897 by his brother Charles, who in turn yielded control to his son J.G. Taylor Spink, the editor from 1914 until his death in 1962, at which time his son, C.C. Johnson Spink, took over.
Now, for the first time in its history, The Sporting News is Spinkless. This week C.C. Johnson, 65, is retiring as the publication's chairman, leaving the paper in the hands of the Times Mirror Company, which bought it in 1977.
Spink has been preparing for this fateful moment ever since he sold The Sporting News, on which occasion he wore the suit in which he'd been married, his father's watch and his grandfather's tie tack. Spink, who is childless, concedes that he wouldn't have unloaded the paper "if I had had a son, and if I had felt confident he could carry on." Of his half century with The Sporting News as stock boy, ad salesman, proofreader, advertising director, vice-president, president, editor, publisher and, finally, chairman, he says, "I'm inclined to remember only the good things in sports, like the time Stan Musial hit five homers in one day. With today's violence, drugs and all the problems with college athletics, it's sometimes hard. But I'm sure if I lived another 20 years, I'd look back and say I wish it were 1982 again, when things weren't so troubled. We've had bad and good, and we'll have bad and good. It will ever be thus."
The Athletics Congress has come out with the latest edition of Cross Country Handbook, a compendium of records, rules, clockings and scoring analyses pertaining to that sport. The publication ends with a joke, which is herewith reprinted, quirky capitalization and all: "If Ayatollah once, Ayatollah a hundred times, Iran is not a Cross Country." Coming as it does at the conclusion of an otherwise sobersided 48-page romp over statistical hill and dale, that line strongly suggests there's such a thing as the editor's equivalent of runner's high.
THEY SAID IT
•Chuck Nevitt, North Carolina State basketball player, explaining to Coach Jim Valvano why he appeared nervous at practice: "My sister's expecting a baby, and I don't know if I'm going to be an uncle or an aunt."
•Clyde Vaughan, Pitt basketball player, after consulting about an injured thumb with a psychologist, Gerry Chesin, who uses hypnosis to get the Panthers to play up to their potential: "He told me I don't have any pain so I don't have any pain. But for someone who doesn't have any pain, I'm in pain."
•Weldon Drew, New Mexico State basketball coach, explaining the Aggies' 1-3 start: "We have a great bunch of outside shooters. Unfortunately, all of our games are played indoors."
•Phil Carter, basketball coach at Baptist College in Charleston, S.C., after being told he couldn't use a TV set to watch game tapes until secretaries in the athletic department office had finished watching the soap opera General Hospital: "Who says college athletics don't have their priorities right?"