THE CRIMSON INK
News that Alabama's athletic department has run up a debt of $39 million is stunning. Does this mean 'Bama, with one of the most successful intercollegiate athletic programs, is in financial trouble? Will it have to borrow footballs from Auburn?
The answer: probably not. The Crimson Tide's sports programs are expected to take in about $14 million this year, and expenditures are budgeted at $11 million. This will enable the athletic department to meet its $3 million in annual debt service without strangling itself financially, school officials say. They also report the debt service will be reduced to $1.7 million by 1995 and paid off totally in 17 years. Still, Don Canham, who is retiring this week as AD at Michigan, where sports produce $20 million a year, tops in the country, says of 'Bama, "I think it's a lot. We have never been in debt more than $7 million, and I would hesitate to go out any more."
The Tide is in hock mostly for capital improvements, including a $17 million modernization of Bryant-Denny Stadium, a new football office building and an indoor multiple-sport facility at $5 million each and a $1.2 million airplane. 'Bama athletic director Steve Sloan says that when he took the job in 1987, "the total debt was scary to look at. But when you look at the resources we have...it's not scary anymore."
Contributing to Sloan's boldness is the fact that Alabama's athletic facilities fell way behind under Bear Bryant. And since impressive facilities are essential to recruiting, a case can be made that Alabama is making a sound investment in its athletic future. Which raises the question, Is Alabama too deep in debt or is everyone else not deep enough?
One of the most famous phrases in sports is "Gentlemen, start your engines." Those words would have been particularly appropriate the other day in Washington, D.C., when 51 two-man teams, one from each state and the District of Columbia, competed in the annual Plymouth-AAA Trouble Shooting Contest. Working against the clock, each team had to figure out what was wrong with a car that wouldn't start or do much of anything else, and then fix it. Said John Moore, the national contest manager, "This may not be the Olympics, but it's the greatest spectacle in auto mechanics."
The winners, Derrick Olheiser and Travis Wood, both 18, from Mount-lake Terrace, Wash., took a mere 21:50—a time that should make every auto mechanic who charges by the hour apoplectic—to make eight critical repairs, including fixing an open circuit on the throttle-position sensor. There also was a written test that figured into the scoring.
The contestants, all high school seniors, were flown to the event, even the team from neighboring Maryland. Explained one of the Maryland competitors, Scott Morgan, "I guess they figured if we drove down, we might have car trouble."
FOR YOUR WARDROBE
Just when we thought that the world was safe from chain letters, along comes one asking us to send a basketball T-shirt to the top name on the list. The reason we should do this, we are told, is "because we can all use 216 shirts."
After Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made two foul shots to win Game 6 of the NBA Finals for the Los Angeles Lakers, former NBA guard Mike Newlin expounded on how middling many otherwise accomplished players are at shooting free throws (Abdul-Jabbar, for example, has a good, but not great, .721 career percentage) and on a special—and instructive—moment a decade ago in the L.A. Forum.
At that time, Newlin was with the Houston Rockets, who had just completed a midday shoot-around in preparation for that night's game against the Lakers. The arena lights had been dimmed and everyone had left, except four guys who were shooting free throws: Houston's Rick Barry (a .900 career foul shooter); another Rocket player, Calvin Murphy (.892); the Lakers' then general manager, Bill Sharman (.884); and Newlin (.870), who every day would keep firing until he hit 100 free throws in a row. Says Newlin, "I remember thinking how ironic it was that the four best free throw shooters ever were all there practicing free throws in the dark."
Since then, Larry Bird (.879) has edged past Newlin on the career free throw shooting list. Oh yes, Bird routinely shoots free throws in dim light and is the last one out of the gym.
DOWN TO EARTH
The ski jumping days of Great Britain's Eddie (the Eagle) Edwards (SI, March 14) may be numbered. At the recent International Ski Federation congress in Istanbul, the federation council considered establishing a distance standard for international competition that Edwards, unless he makes a miraculous improvement over his famously inept performances on the 70-and 90-meter jumps at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, is unlikely to meet. Said council member Ludwig Schroeder of East Germany, "The International Olympic Committee [which asked the federation to establish the standard] supports the national Olympic committees financially. We cannot allow serious sport and clowning to mix. This should help take the wind out of the sails of show sportsmen like Eddie Edwards."
According to the Eagle's manager, Simon Platz, Edwards is very disappointed. "Eddie is worried he won't be given the chance to prove how much he is improving in competitions," said Platz, whose name, by the way, approximates the sound the Eagle makes upon landing.
ATLANTIC CITY JACKPOT
What Monday's Big Fight meant to Atlantic City was, well, everything. According to Al Glasgow, editor and publisher of Atlantic City Action, a casino trade newsletter, a typical four-day weekend in June produces about $215 million in gambling revenues for Atlantic City. By contrast, the estimate for the four days leading up to the Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks fight was $344 million. Also, the city's 16,000 hotel rooms were booked during the period, many of them as "comps" for high-rolling clients. John Fox, a spokesman for the Atlantic City convention and visitors bureau, was left with only one concern: "I just hope all the plumbing works." The bonanza was particularly welcome because Atlantic City has had a hard time establishing itself as a destination resort—which translates into hotel bookings—because it is such an easy commute for millions of East Coast residents. Full hotels should help spread the destination message.
To take maximum advantage of the big spenders, the casinos raised most table minimum bets to $25-$100 (the usual minimum is $5) at virtually all of their 1,303 craps, blackjack and other gaming tables, leaving those for whom that figure was too rich no recourse but to mob the city's 18,540 slot machines. Looking at possible longer-term benefits, Fox expressed confidence that, because of the fight, "people in Nigeria are going to know four words of English—Tyson, Spinks and Trump Plaza." Obviously, Fox forgot that English is the official language of Nigeria, and just as obviously, he wouldn't mind if the words Atlantic City imprint themselves more deeply in everyone's consciousness.
Strangely, about the only person in the vicinity of the Boardwalk who seemed to have trouble divining the fight's significance was Madame Rose, a fortune-teller. Asked what Tyson-Spinks meant to her income, she said, "Maybe there's some increase. I don't bother with things like that. I don't know. If it comes, it comes. Who knows?"
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Senior writer Jack McCallum got it dead right in our NBA preview (Nov. 9, 1987) when he predicted a Detroit Pistons-Los Angeles Lakers final, with L.A. winning because, wrote McCallum, "The Pistons aren't the Lakers." And senior editor Steve Wulf got it almost dead right when, in our baseball issue (April 4), he answered 20 questions fans might have been asking as the season began. Question 6 was, "Will Billy Martin last the season in his fifth stint as Yankee manager?" Wulfs answer was, "No. He will be fired on June 9 and replaced by general manager Lou Piniella. George Steinbrenner has become that predictable." Wulf—or Steinbrenner—missed by only two weeks when Martin was canned and Piniella named to replace him on June 23.
Jennifer MacCurrach of Jacksonville suffered a terrible stroke of fortune during a recent Futures golf tour event in Baton Rouge. She was penalized two strokes for losing a ball she had been holding in her hand. All seemed well when MacCurrach marked her ball and picked it up to clean it. But it then flew from her hand as she was shaking it dry—and into a water hazard.
RONALD C. MODRA
Eddie the Eagle very possibly may soar no more.
THEY SAID IT
•Dave Righetti, New York Yankee pitcher, when told he had a new leader: "Oh? Did George quit?"
•Forty-niner owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., after quarterback Joe Montana and halfback Roger Craig showed up late for a London press conference to promote the team's appearance in the American Bowl '88: "That's not unusual. They didn't show up at our playoff game with Minnesota."