RIGHT DESTINATION,WRONG TRACK
One thing is clearabout the approaching contract showdown between NFL owners and players (page30): Ed Garvey, the executive director of the players' union, is justified inseeking more money for his members. Even allowing for the fact that rosters arebigger and the season somewhat shorter in football than in other sports, it'san inequity that the average player's salary in the prosperous NFL was only$78,000 in 1980 vs. $108,000 in the NHL, $143,000 in baseball and $186,000 inthe NBA.
What isn't clearis why Garvey insists on addressing that inequity by pushing for a fixed shareof NFL gross revenues for the players instead of for the sort of relativelyunrestricted free-agency system under which salaries have soared in othersports.
Garvey'sexplanation is that free agency in the NFL simply won't work. As evidence, henotes that, since 1977, when the last collective-bargaining agreement infootball was reached, only six of the more than 500 players who have becomefree agents have changed teams and that a star of the magnitude of the ChicagoBears' Walter Payton didn't get a single bid from another team when he became afree agent last February. Garvey argues that because NFL owners share TVrevenues equally and are thus in a can't-lose situation financially, they lackthe necessary incentive to bid for free agents.
But Garvey himselfis at least partly responsible for the lack of movement he decries. If Paytondidn't attract offers from other teams, it had something to do with the twofirst-round draft choices that any club signing him would have had to pay theBears under the NFL's stiff compensation rules. Those rules are in forcebecause, after a 1976 federal court decision gave NFL players absolute freeagency, Garvey's union negated that victory by agreeing in the 1977negotiations to compensation procedures that turned out to restrict free agencymore than the union anticipated; in return for the concessions on free agency,the NFL granted what amounts to a closed shop and higher NFL contributions tothe players' pension plan.
As for Garvey'sargument that owners have no economic incentive to win, the facts suggestotherwise. NFL owners tend to be successful businessmen with strong egos whodon't particularly relish having sportswriters, golf-course kibitzers andboardroom cronies giving them grief about being associated with losing teams.And, in fact, they do have a financial stake in won-lost records. How well ateam performs on the field can affect the price that can be charged for ticketsto its games, not to mention the demand for luxury boxes and the amount ofconcession receipts lost because of no-shows turned off by a team's ineptness.It's partly because of such factors that the profits of NFL clubs vary widely,notwithstanding the equal sharing of TV wealth; according to the union's ownestimates, the Rams, for example, had a 1980 profit of at least $7.7 millionvs. barely $2.5 million for the Broncos.
One reason Garveyshies from fighting for free agency may be his desire to minimize the influenceof certain player agents with whom he has feuded. It may be no coincidence thata group of agents tried unsuccessfully two years ago to establish a rival NFLplayers' association or that Garvey's union was a major force behind a billstrictly regulating sports agents that passed the California legislature lastyear. Obviously, agents would wield less power under Garvey's proposedpercentage-of-gross-revenue scheme, with its provision for a fixed salaryscale, than they would under unbridled free agency.
For all we know,Garvey's negotiating strategy will work and he'll win a revenue-sharing dealthat results in deserved higher salaries for his players. But we also wouldn'tbe surprised if he has trouble gaining public sympathy for so unconventional ascheme and is hard put to maintain rank-and-file unity on the issue. Bycontrast, free agency is a tried-and-true method of raising player salaries,one that hasn't been honestly tested in the NFL.
THE MASSAGE WAS ONTHE HOUSE
When an earthquake registering 5.9 on the Richter scale hit New England onemorning last month, Colgate Goaltender Guy Lemonde was asleep in a motel inBrewer, Maine, where the Red Raiders had traveled to play the University ofMaine. As the room shook, Lemonde woke up, turned to his roommate, backupGoalie Jeff Cooper, and said, "Thanks a lot, Coop." Then he fell backasleep. Later, after awakening for good and being told about the quake, Lemondesheepishly explained why he'd expressed gratitude to Cooper: "I thoughtCoop had put a quarter in the Magic Fingers."
NOT A CLUB FORJUST ANYONE
Although well-offduffers already have any number of rarefied country clubs to choose from,there's one in the works that shapes up as the last word in exclusivity. Itbears, at least for now, the no-nonsense name of the RM-18 Country Club. The RMrefers to Rancho Mirage, Calif., the swank community outside Palm Springs inwhich the club is to be built, and the 18 alludes both to the number of holesin an ordinary golf course and the number of members being solicited for thisvery unordinary one. For the privilege—there's no other word for it—of joining,a golfer will have to cough up a $1.7 million membership fee plus roughly$6,000 a month for maintenance. In return, he'll get to hook, slice and playpinochle in the select company of 17 other tycoons like himself.
The club is beingbuilt by JDF Financial Corp., a Palm Springs land-development firm headed byJack Franks, owner of the Elkhorn ski resort in Idaho. The job of lining upmembers has been turned over to former Idaho Congressman Ralph Harding andretired baseball slugger Harmon Killebrew, who are partners in a financialservice firm. Apart from saying that the club will have an "internationalflavor," the pair won't identify prospective members but claims that theproject has attracted considerable interest. "Obviously we're talking tovery substantial people," Killebrew says. But he adds that money isn't theonly consideration. "We want to see that all 18 are compatible. In aproject this small, one bad apple could spoil the barrel."
Each of the goodapples who join RM-18 will receive up to an acre and a half of land on which tobuild a house. Each lot will overlook the inevitable Robert Trent Jones Jr.course, a 6,200-yard layout that, according to Jones, "will emphasize thesubtleties of the game, the thinking aspect, chipping and putting rather thanbrute strength." Other planned amenities include the club's owncommunications satellite dish and a buzzer hookup with the nearby EisenhowerMedical Center, to be used in case of health emergency.
Harding andKillebrew are taking a suitably lofty approach to recruiting members. Asked whyhe is so confident that 18 golfers can be found who are willing to sink $1.7million each into a country-club membership, Harding replies, "Why willpeople buy a Rolls-Royce when they can get where they want to go in aChevette?" Answering his own question, he says, "They just wantsomething special."
Unusual names naturally attract attention, witness the reference in this spacelast week to college basketball players whose first names are the same as thesurnames of big-league shortstops, e.g., the University of Detroit's AparicioCurry and San Francisco's Crosetti Speight. In the belief that the time hascome to recognize a more conventional handle, we direct your attention toCentenary's recent 82-72 basketball win over Houston Baptist. In that gameNapoleon Byrdsong III and Cherokee Rhone, both of Centenary, and AnicetLavodrama and Boone Almanza, both of Houston Baptist, were, at one point, onthe court at the same time. As fate would have it, all four were upstaged by afellow who played an all-around good game, leading his team with 20 points. Solet's hear it for Houston Baptist's Roy Jones.
Washington BulletGuard John Lucas' acknowledgment last week in The Washington Post that he hadhad "a problem with cocaine" was a positive development in a sorry sagaduring which Lucas had been repeatedly late to or AWOL from games andpractices, both with the Golden State Warriors and the Bullets, and had misledmany people by denying that his previously acknowledged emotional problems hadanything to do with drugs. But following last week's public admission, LeftyDriesell, Lucas' coach when Lucas was at the University of Maryland, was ableto say, "I think John has taken one big step in admitting that he's got aproblem. That's the biggest thing—to be able to admit it."
Also impressed bywhat he called "the unique circumstance of [Lucas'] voluntary publicdisclosures," was NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien. Noting that drug abuse isa problem "not unusual in today's society," O'Brien announced thatLucas could continue playing on the condition that he undergo an intensiverehabilitation program and avoid "any recurrence of his involvement withdrugs." In so ruling, O'Brien wasn't raising the hope of rehabilitation ofJohn Lucas alone. For nearly a year, the NBA has made available to players atoll-free number by means of which they can arrange to receive counseling ondrug-related and other problems in strictest confidence. It is hoped thatLucas' public disclosure and O'Brien's subsequent show of compassion willencourage other NBA players who may have drug problems to seek help, too.
A MONTH TO GO
One recent snowyday a letter arrived at SI from Ernie Harwell, who has been a major leagueplay-by-play man on radio and TV for 34 years, the last 22 of them with theDetroit Tigers. Harwell wanted to remind us that spring training was barely amonth off. When it arrives, he assured us, the following will happen: "Sixplayers who were traded during the off-season will be quoted as saying theirold teams didn't give them a fair chance. A rookie umpire will work the basesin an exhibition game, and his name will be misspelled in every story. Athird-string catcher will write two columns for his hometown paper, then decidehe doesn't want to continue. A pitcher who last year trained in Arizona and isnow in Florida will say he prefers his new surroundings because it's easier towork up a good sweat. Another pitcher, newly arrived in Arizona, will say heprefers the desert because it's hotter. A local chamber of commerce will throwa barbecue for a big league team and only three regulars will show up. Fourplayers will tell their bosses to play them or trade them. A Latin-Americanstar will be late for camp because of 'visa trouble.' Three pitchers willobserve that the ball is livelier this spring. A big-name player will break anankle, sliding into second base. There will be 22 newspaper stories about thenew Reggie Jackson. A player driving to training camp will have his car brokeninto and his clothes stolen. A team bus will get lost on the way to a ballpark. Exactly 2,678 men will ask for autographs and all but 33 of them will saythey're asking on behalf of their grandsons or nephews. A big-name outfielderwill be arrested for drunken driving. A phonograph will break down during theplaying of the national anthem. Henry Aaron will be interviewed at 11spring-training sites. Eighty percent of the writers will fearlessly pick theYankees and Dodgers to meet in the 1982 World Series."
We can hardlywait.
THEY SAID IT
•Tony De Marco,Fernando Valenzuela's agent, explaining his client's demand for a reported $1million-a-year contract: "I want Valenzuela to be associated withgreatness. That's my mission. And the first thing associated with greatness isa lot of money, even if he doesn't need it."
•Steve Kreider,Cincinnati wide receiver, on the fact that 46,302 fans turned out for theBengals' 27-7 AFC championship victory over the Chargers when the wind-chillfactor was-59°: "It reflects the failure of our educationalsystem."