THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN SPORTS
Last Friday night, after arriving from Los Angeles aboard a Learjet 35, a man giving his name as Victor Schulz checked into the Hyatt Regency hotel in Tampa. The next morning, the man was elected baseball's sixth commissioner by unanimous vote of the game's 26 owners. In actuality, "Victor Schulz" was Peter Victor Ueberroth, the president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, and he'd assumed the alias to elude reporters.
That wasn't the only slick move pulled off by Ueberroth in becoming baseball's next czar. In order to wrap up Olympics-related business after the L.A. Games end on Aug. 12, Ueberroth specified that he wouldn't take over as baseball commissioner until Oct. 1. The owners acceded to that and other conditions set by Ueberroth, most of which were suggested to him by his predecessor, Bowie Kuhn. In fact, Kuhn emerged as Ueberroth's mentor, a role rich in irony for a man whose influence in the game has grown by leaps and bounds since he supposedly was given the boot as commissioner on Nov. 1, 1982.
At Kuhn's urging, Ueberroth got the owners to agree to streamline the game's chain of command and greatly increase the commissioner's power. The commissioner's term will be reduced from seven years to five, but his reelection will require only a majority vote of the owners, with a minimum of five in each league, instead of the present three-quarters of the votes in each league. The commissioner will be recognized as the chief executive officer of baseball, with the league presidents reporting to him on all matters relating to the overall administration of the game. His authority to impose fines on clubs will be increased from a $5,000 to a $250,000 maximum. And finally, Ueberroth said he would take the job only if Kuhn were allowed to stay on as commissioner until the Oct. 1 changing of the guard. The fact that Kuhn will have served as commissioner for 23 months after his firing seems only fitting; under the reelection procedures the owners were forced to swallow, he never would have been sacked in the first place.
To win acceptance of his demands, Ueberroth employed maximum leverage by waiting until the eve of his election before making them. After looking silly in ousting Kuhn when only five of them favored doing so and then taking so long to find a successor, the owners couldn't risk letting Ueberroth get away. Whether Ueberroth can be as masterful as commissioner, however, is by no means certain. Although he is a brilliant and innovative manager, his confrontational style could backfire in dealing with the Edward Bennett Williamses and Gussie Busches who will be his bosses in baseball. And since the baseball commissionership is in large part a public-relations job, he may need to become more straightforward and less defensive with reporters than he has been as the LAOOC president.
Ueberroth's new position makes him, unquestionably, the most powerful man in sports, a fellow who's putting on the Olympics at the same time that he's getting ready to run the national pastime. As busy as he'll be with the L.A Games, Ueberroth insists that during his seven months in the on-deck circle he'll have ample time to get "educated" about baseball, a game he knows only as a Dodger season-ticket holder and from his days as a strong-armed but slow-footed sandlot third baseman—and sometimes, catcher and pitcher. "For pure sanity purposes, from time to time I have to get away from my present position," Ueberroth said in Tampa. Imagine looking to baseball as a place to find more "sanity." The next commissioner is nothing if not a positive thinker.
Not only do the Portland Trail Blazers routinely sell out the 12,666-capacity Coliseum, but for the past seven seasons the team has accommodated fans who couldn't get tickets by also beaming closed-circuit telecasts of some of its home games into downtown theaters. To judge by the enthusiasm of the theater spectators, watching on the screen is as good as being at the game. One sign of their involvement: When opposing players go to the free-throw line, fans at the closed-circuit telecast often stand, scream and wave their arms in an effort to distract them.
A SUPREMELY NARROW DECISION
The U.S. Supreme Court gave administrators of women's sports a big case of the jitters last week by adopting a narrow interpretation of Title IX, the 12-year-old federal law that has greatly spurred the growth of women's sports by prohibiting sex discrimination in colleges and school systems receiving federal aid. The case involved Grove City College, a coeducational private institution in Pennsylvania that refused to sign a federal form promising compliance with Title IX even though some of its students receive federal scholarship assistance. The court unanimously ruled that Grove City was a recipient of federal aid and thus had to complete the paperwork. However, it also ruled, by a 6-3 vote, in favor of the Reagan Administration position that Title IX banned sex discrimination only in specific programs receiving federal funding, and not necessarily throughout the whole school, the interpretation that had been followed by the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations. The implication is that discrimination is legal in activities that don't receive federal funding.
But exactly which activities are now covered by Title IX and which aren't? Because the Grove City case was limited in scope—it dealt with scholarship assistance at a small school that received no other form of federal aid—it's impossible to say for sure. Sports programs, in particular, now appear to be fraught with uncertainty. One can argue, for example, that the awarding of athletic scholarships is still subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of Title IX; such scholarships are usually administered by university financial aid departments that rely partly on federal funds. Athletic departments sometimes also use federally funded remedial or tutorial programs, occupy buildings constructed with federal grants and feed athletes at training tables in cafeterias that are federally funded. In many cases, it can be demonstrated that federal funds received by other programs indirectly benefit athletics by freeing money for them. Any of these considerations, or several of them taken together, could be construed as meaning that a particular athletic department is still barred under Title IX from practicing sex discrimination.
But such conjecture is now just that—conjecture. In the wake of the Grove City decision, there is reason to fear that some of the recent gains by women's sports programs may be reversed. Even under broader interpretation of Title IX, inequities in opportunities for women continued to exist. While many college and high school administrators today are full of good intentions when it comes to women's athletics, they often are also subject to severe budget pressures, and the Grove City decision could embolden some of them to cut corners at the expense of women's programs.
One who expects as much is Sally Goldfarb, a lawyer with the National Women's Law Center, a Washington-based women's rights organization. "Many colleges resisted Title IX at first, and even now, discrimination is rampant. Men have their uniforms washed for them; women often do their own. Men get better practice times and facilities. Men take airplanes while women's teams drive their own cars. Men eat steak; women hamburger." Goldfarb's concern is echoed by University of Missouri chancellor Barbara Uehling, who said that the court ruling will increase the "temptation to cut back" in women's college sports.
But the Grove City ruling may have a silver lining. Because it was based not on the Constitution but on the Supreme Court's reading of Congressional intent in passing Title IX, the current Congress could, in effect, overturn it. And there appears to be considerable sentiment among Republicans and Democrats alike to do just that by enacting new legislation that would apply Title IX on an institution-wide basis if any kind of federal aid is received. Another bright spot: In explaining its disinclination to be covered by Title IX, Grove City College insisted it was acting not out of any discriminatory impulse but because of a desire to be independent of federal meddling. Whether or not this means women are getting a fair shake there, Grove City's women's sports program certainly seems healthy. Its women's tennis team has won 42 of its last 43 matches; its women's volleyball team has won six Keystone Conference titles in the last seven years; and its women's basketball team has been in the NCAA Division III playoffs twice in the last three years and last season had the nation's leading scorer.
During a recent off-the-air chat, CBS-TV basketball announcer Gary Bender asked Akeem Olajuwon, the University of Houston's 7-foot center, if there was any sport he couldn't master.
"I can't swim," Akeem replied.
"Neither can I," said Bender.
"Yeah, but I can wade out a lot farther than you can," Olajuwon said.
SOUNDS LIKE HE DIDN'T GET TICKETS
A slightly hysterical letter from a local resident that ran the other day in the Los Angeles Times comes as a reminder that not everybody in L.A. is eagerly looking forward to the Summer Olympics. The letter said in part:
"...All sports are a bore, and the Olympics a monumental, tedious bore—just another traffic obstruction, and silly, with guys 7 feet tall winning games by slam-dunking a basketball.... Why the agony of the Games? They are a bore and bother and traffic hazard and an anachronism—in the modern day, the best miler gets a chance to run against the best in his field year in and out, not just on a specific day when the smog is at full tilt.... Impeach Mayor Bradley, cancel the Olympics—let's take off for the mountains or beach or desert and resume our way of good living so threatened by the foolish running of foot races."
At one point during the Feb. 26 telecast of the New Jersey Generals' win over the Birmingham Stallions, ABC-TV broke away to show a tape of the Oklahoma Outlaws braving rainy weather to score the lone touchdown in their 7-3 defeat of the Pittsburgh Maulers. After viewing the tape, announcer Keith Jackson said, "It looks like a cold, wet day in Pittsburgh, Swann." Color commentator Lynn Swann replied, "Yes, it does. Typical, but it still is a lovely city—growing. I call it home." Trouble was, the game was played in Skelly Stadium in Tulsa, not in Three Rivers Stadium, where Swann labored during his nine seasons for the Steelers.
Get that man a larger monitor.
Kuhn will pass the torch to Ueberroth.
THEY SAID IT
•Tippy Martinez, Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher, asked how he expected to be affected by the trade to Oakland of fellow reliever Tim Stoddard, who weighs 250 pounds: "There will be more food for everybody."
•Patti Corzine, wife of Chicago center Dave Corzine, following a Bulls victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, who were playing without Moses Malone: "I knew something was wrong when Dave came home with no bite marks."
•Steve Sax, Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman, discussing the club's spring training regimen: "We're given a choice. We can either run around the field three times or run around Tommy Lasorda once."
•Stan Kasten, Atlanta Hawks general manager, explaining why he has had trouble making deals with other clubs: "They all want to give me bad players, and I've got enough of those."