AND NOW COME THE FLOODS
The last time we looked at the weather in south Florida, the problem was chronic drought, a consequence of land development and drainage of wetlands that have disrupted the normal summer rain cycle (SI, March 15, 1982). Now the same area is being devastated by floods from a record winter rainfall. And, paradoxically, the flooding has been exacerbated by the same abusive land and water practices that had contributed to the drought.
The key to the paradox is the Kissimmee River, which until the 1960s meandered southward for 100 miles before flowing into Lake Okeechobee north of the Everglades. But then the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers channelized the Kissimmee, reducing its length to 50 miles and destroying much of its floodplain. As a result, there was less water in the area, less evaporation and transpiration—and less rain during the summer wet season. Furthermore, without the floodplain to absorb water or the river's winding course to slow runoff", the danger of flooding was increased on those occasions when heavy rain did fall. And as of last week the man-made channel was funneling so much water into Lake Okeechobee that the lake was rising faster than the Corps could lower it. Water in the diked lake rose at one point during the week to an alarming 18'2" above sea level. The Corps is hoping to get the level down to the regulation standard of 15'6" by June 1, the start of the hurricane season; the fear is that the combination of high water and high winds could play havoc with the lake's levees, endangering property and human life in surrounding areas.
The Corps has been releasing all the water it can to the Caloosahatchee River to the west and the St. Lucie Canal to the east. In the interest of sparing the area's $1 billion-a-year sugarcane crop, it has also diverted floodwaters from the nearby cane fields to the Everglades farther to the south. Fresh water roaring through the St. Lucie Canal has pushed out into the Atlantic and can be detected more than seven miles offshore. Florida's coastal barrier reef will probably suffer substantial damage in some places because of the resulting sudden decrease in salinity. The floodwaters are also carrying decomposed peat sediment into the St. Lucie estuary. "Because of the fresh water and the accumulation of peat, plants and organisms like clams will be wiped out," says Arthur Marshall, an ecologist who has been accurate in the past in pinpointing Florida's numerous environmental ills and what should be done to correct them. "Fish will be driven out. They'll return, but there will be nothing for them to eat."
Conditions are even worse in Everglades National Park, whose population of wading birds has declined disastrously over the past quarter century because of a loss of habitat caused in part by erratic water flow that inundated parts of the park even while other areas were parched. Now the Corps is releasing 2.2 billion gallons of water a day into the park, further jeopardizing birds like the wood stork, a threatened species that feeds on fish and other food concentrated in shallow pools and had been suffering the effects of excessive water even before the floods. There are 15-year-old wood storks that have successfully nested only twice in their lives because of the difficulty of getting food. The flooding could also imperil the upcoming nesting season of the ground-nesting Cape Sable sparrow, an endangered species.
Other birds likely to suffer reproductive failure because of the floods include the white ibis, glossy ibis, great blue heron, little blue heron, Louisiana heron, green heron, snowy egret, American egret and roseate spoonbill. Johnny Jones, executive director of the Florida Wildlife Federation, says bluntly, "The Everglades and its wildlife are being sacrificed to benefit the giant sugarcane corporations in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee." Nathaniel P. Reed, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and National Parks in the Nixon and Ford administrations, calls the situation "a major natural and man-made tragedy."
Reed is right in indicting nature as well as man. The record rain has been caused in part by the so-called Southern Oscillation, a change in atmospheric circulation on a global scale (it's also largely responsible for the storms that have battered Southern California) prompted by a shift in recent months of warm water from the western to eastern Pacific Ocean. But the channelization of the Kissimmee River has made matters even worse. This lends urgency to a law passed by the Florida legislature in 1976 to restore the river basin. Although the Corps of Engineers was supposed to come up with a restoration plan, it has instead been sitting on its bureaucratic backside as beleaguered south Florida has battled first the drought and now the deluge.
KEEPING AHEAD OF INFLATION
As reported in the cover story of our Oct. 7, 1968 issue, the combined salaries of the starting lineup of that year's defending champion St. Louis Cardinals, eight regulars plus Pitcher Bob Gibson, came to $565,000. Today the Cardinals are again the defending world champions, and the salaries of the eight regulars and Pitcher Bruce Sutter amount to $5.91 million. Shortstop Ozzie Smith earns more all by himself, an estimated $1.1 million, than the entire nine-man 1968 Cardinal lineup, and so do teammates Sutter ($1 million), Keith Hernandez ($760,000), Darnell Porter ($750,000) and Ken Oberkfell ($600,000). The worst-paid of the '83 Cards, Dane Iorg, outearns the best-paid '68 Card, Gibson, $300,000 to $85,000. The increase in the team's nine-man payroll over the 15-year span amounts to 1,046% compared with a 188.2% rise over the same period in the consumer price index.
AH, THE JOYS OF RECRUITING
This week's far-beyond-the-call-of-duty-while-recruiting award goes to University of Washington Assistant Football Coach Trent Walters for his dedication in trying to land Linebacker Larry Fitzgerald of Manual Arts High in L.A. Here's the story as recounted by Walters at a recent sportswriters' luncheon:
"No matter how dominant the dad is, the mom is usually going to be the major factor in a kid's decision. In this situation, I told the mom I'd like to come out and visit her at work. She says, 'Fine, I work at the Los Angeles County Coroner's office.' She met me at the door and took me on a tour of the whole place. I even watched an autopsy being performed—for about five minutes. I won the mom, but I lost the kid to USC"
JOKE TIME IN THE NBA
Think those guys in the NBA can't play defense? Get this: The NBA Players Association has set an April 2 strike deadline (after having rejected one for a day earlier out of the fear that a threat to walk out on April Fools' Day might sound like a joke), and it claims to have done so as a. defensive measure. The union allows that its members are happy with the status quo—as well they might be considering that the average NBA salary is $246,000—but says the players want to bring the league's currently stalled labor negotiations to a head on a timetable of their choosing, i.e., just before the playoffs. The players say they're afraid that the owners, who aren't happy with the existing situation, will otherwise lock them out or unilaterally impose fundamental changes in the league's operations at the start of next season.
So much for the whys and wherefores of the union's strike threat. Now for a word about the biggest change the NBA brass has in mind. According to the owners, the NBA's huge payrolls have created a sea of red ink in which several money-losing teams will drown unless the players association throws the league a life preserver in the form of a "cap" on payrolls based on a fixed percentage, still to be negotiated, of the league's revenues. This proposal, which management wants to implement as soon as possible, would likely result in a dramatic reduction in some teams' payrolls. Apprehensive about the jobs that would be lost if franchises folded, Larry Fleisher, general counsel for the NBA Players Association, has indicated a willingness to accept a cap on salaries but only after the 1986-87 season, at which time the current free-agent arrangement expires.
If the NBA doesn't win an immediate ceiling on salaries and if franchises and jobs are lost, both sides in the dispute will have to swallow hard. But neither of those eventualities would necessarily be a bad thing. With reference to the owners' demands for a salary cap, it's hard to sympathize with pro sports entrepreneurs who love to talk about the joys of competition in business and sports yet keep pleading for competition-stifling bailouts from their unions and/or Congress. As for the possible loss of franchises, some of the weaker ones—those most often mentioned are Cleveland, Utah, San Diego and Indiana—may fold even if the owners get a cap. At any rate, the death of troubled teams could well produce a stronger and financially healthier NBA.
One thing that wouldn't do anybody much good is a strike. The old contract between the players and the league expired nine months ago, but both sides agreed to abide by it while negotiations continued. How long that may be is now in doubt; last week the parties met for the first time in nearly three weeks but broke off talks after 24 minutes. This was unwelcome news to Denver Nugget Coach Doug Moe, who says, "Football and baseball were strong enough to recover from their strike, but I don't know if we could survive one." That fear is sufficiently realistic to make the NBA players' threat to hit the bricks sound like a cruel joke, April Fools' Day or not.
THOUGHT FOR OUR TIMES
A comic-strip boxer nowadays would probably have to be known as Marvelous Jose Muhammad (Macho Man) Palooka.
ON SIGNING UNDERCLASSMEN (CONT.)
In their avowed determination to keep other college football players from following Herschel Walker's lead in turning pro before completing his collegiate eligibility (SCORECARD, March 7), professional and college sports administrators and coaches gained a new ally last week. Their comrade-in-arms is Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who introduced a bill to grant an antitrust exemption allowing pro leagues to adopt rules against the signing of underclassmen; the NFL and USFL already have such rules, which they follow when convenient, and the NBA had one until it was struck down by an antitrust suit brought by Spencer Haywood in 1971. Specter insists that the purpose of his legislation is to encourage student-athletes to finish college, but it would really only force them to complete their eligibility, which is another thing altogether; even with the NFL's existing rule, fewer than one-third of the league's players have college degrees.
Specter calls his bill the Collegiate Student-Athlete Protection Act of 1983, but far from protecting athletes, it would deprive them of their freedom of choice in entering the pro sports job market. The only people the measure would protect are the college coaches and athletic directors who, by means of long practice hours, the imposition of academically worthless jock courses and the arbitrary withdrawal of scholarships, put the biggest stumbling blocks in the way of student-athletes' getting degrees.
Specter defends the NFL's hands-off-underclassmen rule that his bill would protect by saying, "The absence of any successful legal challenge to the existing rule is significant evidence of its value." But that statement is as inaccurate as it is illogical. Even if the NFL rule were perfectly legal, that wouldn't necessarily mean it was desirable. And, in fact, there are serious questions about its legality. College players have threatened to go to court to overturn it on antitrust grounds, as Haywood did with the NBA's similar rule, but most of them have been scared off by the prospect of having to sit out one or more seasons while legal proceedings dragged on. One who wasn't scared off was Notre Dame Running Back Al Hunter, who was suspended from school for disciplinary reasons in 1977 and threatened to sue if he wasn't allowed to play in the NFL in what would have been his senior year. The NFL backed down, and Hunter played that year for the Seattle Sea-hawks. So much for the NFL's cries of foul when the USFL made a similar exception in Walker's case.
And so much for Specter's argument about the supposed unassailibility of the NFL rule. The NFL itself has conceded that the rule may be vulnerable to a challenge under antitrust law, and Specter obviously is haunted by the same possibility. Otherwise, why did he feel the need to introduce his bill? One possible explanation for so ill-conceived a piece of legislation, of course, is that he hopes to be dragged into the limelight hanging on to No. 34's jersey.
A FONDNESS FOR THE FINAL FOUR
There's one big-time basketball school that has made the Final Four of postseason college hoops tournaments in each of the past four years, and it isn't North Carolina, UCLA, Virginia or any of the other institutions that immediately leap to mind. The school is Purdue, which at. times during that four-year span might have been considered no better than fourth in Indiana, behind Indiana, Notre Dame and, at least when Larry Bird was there, Indiana State.
In postseason play, though, the Boilermakers are tough. They were 27-8 and runner-up in the NIT tournament in 1978-79, 23-10 and third in the NCAA tourney in '79-80, 21-11 and third in the NIT in '80-81 and 18-14 and runner-up in the NIT last season. As of last weekend, the Boilermakers had an 18-8 record, were in a four-way tie for third in the Big Ten and figured to be invited to either the NCAA or NIT tournament, where, given their past postseason successes, it would be best not to write them off too soon.
THEY SAID IT
•Darryl Dawkins, New Jersey Nets center, discussing the owner of his previous team, the Philadelphia 76ers: "He'd come in after games and put his arm around me and tell me what I should do on the court, like he was trying to coach me. Hey, Harold Katz couldn't be a coach for Wells Fargo."
•Joe Altobelli, the Orioles' new manager, on his so-far-amicable relations with pitcher Jim Palmer, the nemesis of former skipper Earl Weaver: "If I go another five minutes, do I set a record?"
•Greg Luzinski, the Chicago White Sox' massively built designated hitter, on the team's use of aerobic dancing to get into shape: "If I thought this would get us into a World Series, I'd wear a tutu."
•Bob Horner, Braves third baseman, on why he no longer sports a beard: "I've been traveling so much, I haven't had time to grow it."