THE NCAA'S OPTIONS
The war of words continues over Proposal 48, the NCAA's recently enacted measure to tighten up various academic eligibility requirements for Division I athletes. In our first look at the subject (SCORECARD, Jan. 24), we stated that the NCAA was right to attempt to cure academic abuses afflicting intercollegiate athletics, but we also expressed the hope that the organization would find a way to modify Proposal 48 so as to accommodate historically black colleges, which maintain that the measure would discriminate against black students. The most inflammatory expression of that view has come from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights activist, who said in a speech in Baton Rouge, La. that the intent of Proposal 48 was to reduce the number of blacks in big-time college sports "because the bottom line is: White boys are inferior athletes to blacks."
The part of Proposal 48 that offended Jackson was the stipulation that, beginning in August 1986, incoming students must score at least 700 on their SATs (or 15 on their ACTs) to be eligible to compete as freshmen in Division I athletics. After his Baton Rouge speech, Jackson approached SI for the purpose of putting his remarks "in context." He said he meant that blacks are athletically superior to whites, "not innately but for cultural reasons"; and he conceded that while black students generally do less well on standardized tests than white students, Proposal 48 might not greatly reduce the total number of black athletes at major colleges; after all, many of the blacks who didn't qualify under the rule would presumably be replaced by blacks who did meet the requirements.
Jackson did say, however, that the standardized testing minimum would be unfair to "certain"—i.e., poor and rural—blacks, and in this he's no doubt right. There's strong evidence that cultural bias creeps into standardized tests and that this is why blacks tend to perform less well on them than whites. For this and other reasons, SATs alone are an unreliable way of predicting academic success. Minnesota Viking Wide Receiver Sammy White has told SI that his SAT score was less than 700, yet he graduated from Grambling and is now a substitute high school teacher in Monroe, La. Conversely, Detroit Piston Center Bill Laimbeer, who says he scored a solid 1,100-plus on the SATs, flunked out of Notre Dame after his freshman year because "I got lazy and didn't go to class." After a year at Owens Tech in Toledo, Laimbeer returned to Notre Dame and earned a bachelor's degree in economics.
Another possible drawback to the use of standardized test scores is mentioned by Bradley University Athletic Director Ron Ferguson. Noting that the 700 SAT minimum would apply only to freshman eligibility, Ferguson predicts that a greater number of academically deficient athletes will simply attend junior colleges for a year and then move on to Division I schools. That route, of course, is littered with all too many academic-transcript scandals. And there's little doubt that major colleges would use jucos even more than they do already as a place to "stash" promising athletes.
Imposition of the same academic standards on Grambling as on Harvard makes no sense; the objective should be to use test scores in combination with other criteria to ensure that admission requirements are the same for athletes and non-athletes within each school. If the NCAA wants to go beyond that, it could also take action to encourage higher standards once athletes are in college. For example, it could abolish athletic eligibility for all freshmen, thereby freeing them to concentrate on their classroom work during their first year on campus. It could also set grade-point standards that athletes would have to meet to remain eligible. Finally, it could legislate limitations on the time given to team meals, meetings, film sessions and practice, all of which cut deeply into athletes' studies. In its push to enact a standardized test-result requirement, the NCAA has spurned these other options, which would be both fairer and more effective.
SOUNDING OFF ABOUT THE SOUNDERS
In his three seasons as coach of the Seattle Sounders, Alan Hinton had a 58-38 record, won two division championships and took them to last season's Soccer Bowl, where they lost to the Cosmos 1-0. But the club reportedly lost $4 million during that same period and after it was sold last month, the first thing the new owners, businessmen Bruce Anderson and Jerry Horn, did was to give Hinton, an Englishman who favored a deliberate, ball-control style of play, the boot. Anderson, who was an NFL defensive end from 1966 to 1970, explained that he wanted the Sounders to adopt a more wide-open offense and use more American players. He also said that he objected to calling soccer fields "pitches" and players "lads." "Pitch is something I get on my hands when I remove the Christmas tree," he said. "Lad is something I call a dog."
Many NASL people were shocked by the firing of a coach who had taken his team to the most recent league championship game. Seattle sportswriters and fans were especially critical of the manner in which the firing was handled; Anderson never announced it directly but offhandedly broke the news in response to a question at the press conference at which his purchase of the Sounders was announced.
Some observers also felt that Anderson's linguistic preferences, while perhaps understandable from a marketing point of view, went a little too far. One such critic was former Vancouver White-caps and current Canadian national coach Tony Waiters, who was said to be in the running for the Sounders' coaching job, but has evidently taken himself out of consideration. As he put it in a recorded message he left on his telephone answering machine at home in West Vancouver, B.C.: "If you're a media lad checking on the Seattle Sounders rumor, the answer is a simple 'No.' This lad is not going there because I don't like the pitch, nor, I suspect, the new owner."
BACK TO BASICS
As documented in this magazine's recent report on the fitness boom/bust (SI, Feb. 7), U.S. schoolchildren are in generally poor physical condition. One explanation is that physical-education programs in the nation's schools tend to emphasize sports more than they do conditioning, an orientation that benefits gifted athletes to the detriment of the majority of children. What's clearly needed are phys ed programs that promote the fitness of all children.
A roundabout reminder of what such programs might accomplish came last week when the Denver-based Educational Commission of the States issued the latest in its federally financed biennial assessments of reading, mathematics and science among U.S. schoolchildren. As in physical education, there has been a wide gap in achievement in those three disciplines between the best and the poorest students, yet the commission's study shows that the gap has narrowed considerably, thanks to "back-to-basics" programs that have improved the performance of "low-achieving" youngsters. To be sure, another reason for the narrowing of the gap is that the emphasis on basics has meanwhile lowered the performance of the high achievers. But a similar back-to-basics movement in physical education wouldn't necessarily have such an unwanted result; at the same time that the average students would be benefiting, the better athletes would still be able to develop their full potential in varsity sports.
But putting phys ed on the right track requires full appreciation of its importance—something that continues to be lacking. The fact that the Educational Commission of the States' study doesn't extend to phys ed serves as a case in point. Indeed, there has been no federally funded standardized study of youth fitness since 1975. Lack of funds is generally given as the reason. The commission's latest assessment was underwritten by a $3.88 million Education Department grant, and commission spokesman Wayne Martin says that the department and other potential sources of funding have balked at financing studies of youth fitness. "It's a great idea, and we'd love to do it," Martin says. "But no one wants to pay for it."
NO ROOM IN CAMP
The U.S. Football League, which launches its inaugural season in two weeks—will football never get here?—has scored repeated publicity coups with the high draft selections its teams have signed, including Southern Mississippi's Reggie Collier (Birmingham Stallions), SMU's Craig James (Washington Federals), North Carolina's Kelvin Bryant (Philadelphia Stars), UCLA's Tom Ramsey (Los Angeles Express), and Ohio State's Tim Spencer and Grambling's Trumaine Johnson (both Chicago Blitz). The league has also earned high marks for a provision in its standard player contract that obligates teams to pay college tuition for players until they finish work toward their degrees. That benefit has had the desired effect of blunting criticism of the USFL for luring college players out of school during the middle of the academic year.
But the USFL has also suffered a black eye. After the league's founding last May, its teams busily stocked their rosters with free agents, most of whom signed non-guaranteed contracts in the expectation that they would at least get a chance to show their stuff in training camp. Considering the number of players signed on this basis—the Chicago Blitz have had 340 prospects under contract at one time or another—most of them obviously were playing a long shot. Still, few of the signees realized just how long the shot really was. In fact, many of them wound up being released by their teams before training camps began on Jan. 31.
The Philadelphia Inquirer Sports Editor Frank Dolson suggested last week that the wholesale release of players before training camp was attributable in part to "growing pains of a new, less-than-major league whose members weren't sure last summer how many players they would be able to sign." Dolson quoted Stars General Manager Carl Peterson as saying, "I don't think anybody anticipated we'd sign this many draft picks." Peterson also said, "I never promised them they would go to camp." As Dolson further reported, however, some of the free agents were bitter over the fact that they'd rearranged their work and study schedules and toiled to get into top physical shape only to get the ax from the Stars before training camp began.
One of the jilted players, former Gettysburg College Fullback Scott Dudak, was approached by the Stars, signed with them and was later asked to attend a mini-camp of another USFL team, the New Jersey Generals. "I never went, because I thought I was obligated to the Stars," Dudak said. Dudak's coach at Gettysburg, Barry Streeter, said, "The kid just graduated from college in the spring. He figures he's got a shot. He does nothing but work out. It doesn't seem fair to me. I know he's a Division III player, but if you don't want him, don't sign him. I feel bad for Scott as a person. I said to him, 'Shoot, you could've gotten a job, gotten a start on your career.' "
Another player cut by the Stars just before camp, former Penn Fullback Rick Beauvais, said he had been left with "an extremely sour taste about pro football." Last November Beauvais traveled from his Connecticut home to Philadelphia to take the necessary physical with the Stars. "I had to sign a waiver saying that if I got hurt, they weren't responsible," he said. "And I got no reimbursement for transportation. All I got was a T shirt."
The Stars' Peterson points out that Dudak and Beauvais did attend mini-camps conducted by the team last fall, but he concedes that there were players signed by the Stars and other USFL teams who didn't even get that much of a look-see. Presumably, they are even less happy than Beauvais, who pointedly says he has no desire to wear his Stars T shirt.
THAT'S THE POINT
The Indianapolis Indians of the American Association are sending their season-ticket holders ballpoint pens that some recipients might mistakenly think are defective. Each pen has both red and black push clips, but whichever one you push, it writes in black. But that's the whole idea. The Indians have turned a profit for 10 straight years, quite an achievement for a minor league team, and Publicity Director Cal Burleson figured it would be a good idea to send the people most responsible for that record souvenir pens that write only in black ink.
CLARIFYING THE DISTINCTIONS
Mickey Mantle took a job last week as a glad-hander for an Atlantic City casino—and was promptly barred by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn from continuing as a spring-training batting instructor for the Yankees. In so acting, Kuhn was following the precedent he established in 1979 in purging Willie Mays, who had to give up his duties as a part-time coach with the Mets because he had taken a promotional job with an Atlantic City casino. Then, as now, Kuhn confined his ruling to the question of casino employment. No action has been taken, for example, against the many ballplayers who participate in golf tournaments sponsored by casinos.
This isn't the only fine distinction Kuhn has drawn in discharging his duty to protect the game's integrity. At least two club owners, the Yankees' George Steinbrenner and the Pirates' John Galbreath, are currently involved in the ownership and management of racetracks, which are as much in the business of legalized gambling as casinos are, and Kuhn has done quite a bit of line-drawing in dealing with that situation, too. We would like to bring you up to date on matters as they now stand, but be forewarned that it does get complicated.
In 1980 Kuhn intimated that Steinbrenner, the principal owner of Tampa Bay Downs, and Galbreath, board chairman and part owner of Churchill Downs, could retain their racetrack affiliations because neither of them had "full" ownership. At another point during roughly that same period, however, Kuhn ruled that they could do so because they didn't actually "operate" the tracks. In recent months Kuhn has been invoking an altogether different rule, one that, according to an aide, he instituted in late 1980 but didn't bother to announce publicly, even though it presumably superseded the two previously mentioned stipulations, which had been made public. At any rate, Kuhn now says that owners can no longer own interests in racetracks but that Steinbrenner and Galbreath are in the clear, not because of anything to do with the degree of their ownership or operational involvement, understand, but because they were already active in racing before he instituted his policy. For reasons best known to himself, Kuhn chose not to give baseball people involved with casinos the benefit of such a "grandfather" clause.
Nobody has ever accused Kuhn of making the commissioner's job look easy.
THEY SAID IT
•Von Hayes, who was traded recently by the Indians to the Phillies, on the team banquets his new club holds for its fans: "I'm not used to being funny and cracking jokes like everyone else is doing. In Cleveland we took our banquets seriously and saved the jokes for our games."
•Peter Ueberroth, president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, when asked by an East German official if the Olympic villages at the '84 Games would be equipped with saunas: "All of L.A. is a sauna."