The Last Football Show
Slingin' Sammy Baugh, the former TCU and NFL star and arguably the best all-around quarterback ever to play football, trudged around his 7,667-acre west Texas ranch last Saturday with a heavy heart. "I feel really down in the dumps," he muttered.
The 79-year-old Baugh wasn't alone in his misery. In a stunningly swift turn of events, the storied and once-proud Southwest Conference, born in 1914, was decimated when four of its eight members—Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech—bolted to accept invitations to join the Big Eight, or whatever the conference will be called in 1996, when the Texas contingent officially joins. Left out in the cold, alongside TCU, were SMU, Rice and Houston.
The hightailing Southwest Conference members exited, predictably, for the TV money, figuring they would be better off with new friends like Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado instead of their old buddies. In purely football terms, they're probably right—it has been 11 years since a Southwest Conference team finished in the Top 5 in the AP poll. In purely financial terms, they're certainly right—ABC reportedly will pay the expanded league between $85 million and $90 million over five years with the potential for $10 million more if the new conference develops a playoff format similar to the SEC's. As for the four leftovers, they will probably get themselves into a conference, perhaps joining the WAC or creating a new league with football independents like Tulsa, Tulane and Louisville. But nothing they do is likely to have the national TV appeal of the Big Eight or even the old Southwest Conference. And without TV, the future for any league is grim.
Amid all the nostalgic chest beating about the grand old years of Horned Frogs and Southwest Conference football, a more important point was missed: Will the move be a good one for education? Conferences don't educate athletes, of course—schools do—but it's a fact that the SWC graduated 57% of its scholarship players last season and the Big Eight only 47%. Dispossessed TCU and Rice graduated nearly 100% of their players. Clearly, the Big Eight did not make its expansion selections based on academics.
Still, most of Texas was thinking football and tradition when it got the news of the breakup. "What the Southwest Conference was about was small towns and big cities, Texans against Texans, wives and girlfriends dressing up, bragging rights, the Methodist preacher talking Sunday morning about beating the Christians, all the things that keep you going," said Bubba Thornton, the track coach at TCU, who is remembered for running back a punt 78 yards (he still insists it was 79) for a touchdown to help whip Texas in 1967. "We were about tradition all these years instead of instant gratification and egos. This decision will come back and haunt us."
During halftime of last Wednesday's Atlanta Hawk-Seattle SuperSonic game in Atlanta, a Nancy Kerrigan look-alike, dressed in a white leotard dotted with sparkling sequins, attacked with a foam baton the Hawk mascot, which was wearing a blonde wig. As the crowd applauded, "Kerrigan" roller-bladed away with her arms held high in the air.
This particular display distinguished itself from other NBA "skits" or promotions, which usually involve fans humiliating themselves for cash. They are merely idiotic. This was idiotic and tasteless.
Faced with paying a $50 million judgment awarded in a bruising court battle with retired hockey players over money taken from the players' pension fund, the NHL's owners may have found a way out: Blame their lawyers.
Records from the court of appeals in Ontario, where the case was reviewed, as well as other sources confirm that the league will soon demand that its lawyers and their malpractice-insurance companies pay for the league's loss. The NHL will claim that a partner at Baker & McKenzie, the league's law firm for this case, told NHL officials it was O.K. to take the money, a "surplus" that had grown in the pension fund from annuity purchases that unexpectedly ballooned in value during the inflation of the early '80s. And the NHL will have some convincing documents to support that claim when it pursues a case against its lawyers—two "opinion letters" and a position paper written by Baker & McKenzie told the league it had "carte blanche" to remove the money, even though it was held in trust for retired players.
Both a trial judge and three higher-court judges have already disagreed with the law firm's position, ruling that any money deposited in a players' pension fund is forever the property of the players. Relying on pension-fund documents that show the owners' deposits into the fund to be irrevocable, the courts ordered the NHL to return the $23 million it took from the fund. With accumulating interest and plaintiffs' attorneys' fees, the owners now owe nearly $50 million.
Although NHL officials are still considering an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, a decision they must make by mid-April, the groundwork is already in place for a suit against Baker & McKenzie and Marcus Grayck, formerly an attorney with that firm, who wrote the opinion letters and the position paper. Grayck has already answered more than 700 questions in a deposition, and both the league's current lawyers and the retired players' attorney, Mark Zigler of Toronto, are poring over Grayck's case files.
The folks at Baker & McKenzie world headquarters in Chicago are real unhappy. When asked about Grayck and the documents he generated that are on file in court in Toronto, the Baker & McKenzie lawyer now working on the case, Maura Ann McBreen, said repeatedly, "We're not involved," and then abruptly hung up.
What lies ahead will be a different kind of hockey brawl—players watching, owners and lawyers fighting.
Every winter is a long winter in Maine. But given what has gone on in the University of Maine athletic department over the past few months, long doesn't begin to describe this one. Proclaiming themselves to be in violation of NCAA rules, the university's hockey, football, women's cross-country, field hockey and women's indoor track teams announced last week that, pending a decision by the NCAA, it will probably have to forfeit all of the victories they had gained to that point in the 1993-94 academic year.
Repeated bureaucratic errors were responsible for the violations. First, Maine's NCAA rules-compliance officer, Lin-wood C. Carville, misinformed five graduate student-athletes in the five sports that they had to carry six credits during the season to be eligible, when in fact they needed eight.
Then it was athletic director Michael Ploszek's turn to screw up. After Carville told him on Feb. 17 of the credit error, Ploszek inexplicably waited one more week to inform hockey coach Shawn Walsh, thus costing the Black Bear skaters one point they had received from a tie. That was only the latest in a succession of penalties suffered by Maine's hockey team, the 1993 NCAA champion, because of the inability of coaches and administrators to understand NCAA rules.
In December, Maine forfeited three early-season wins because Walsh allowed Jeff Tory, who was ineligible under Prop 48, to play. Two months before that, the NCAA had forced the Bears to forfeit both regular-season and postseason 1992 Hockey East titles, as well as 13 victories from the '91-92 season, because Cal Ingraham, the nation's leading goal scorer last season, played for the Black Bears while enrolled at the University of Maine's University College branch (SI, Nov. 8, 1994). School officials believed that University College qualified as part of their university system, but the NCAA viewed it as a junior college, thus making Ingraham ineligible for that year.
University president Dr. Frederick Hutchinson has taken steps in response to all the snafus. He suspended both Ploszek (for one week) and Walsh (five games) without pay and will probably reassign Carville, who is in line to retire after this year. But, winter or not, it's time for the Black Bear athletic department to come out of hibernation.
Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken ended last season with 289 home runs as a shortstop, a number that apparently put him four shy of Ernie Banks's record for that position. However, unbeknownst to the Orioles, the Elias Sports Bureau six years ago had determined that 16 home runs that Banks had hit as a first baseman had been mistakenly credited to his shortstop total. Better late than never, the O's honored Ripken at Camden Yards on Feb. 9 and Hew in Mr. Cub for the celebration.
Might another player be overlooked this season? Following are the home run leaders at each position along with the career total of the active player with the best chance of catching him.
•First base: Lou Gehrig, 493; Eddie Murray, 441. Murray's number is not accurate since Elias has not yet determined how many dingers he has hit as a DH or a pinch hitter. It is not inconceivable that he could pass Gehrig, but staying healthy at age 38 is not a sure thing.
•Second base: Joe Morgan, 266; Ryne Sandberg, 235. Ryno is four years removed from his best power year (40), but when the wind blows out in Wrigley....
•Third base: Mike Schmidt, 509; Gary Gaetti, 245. Gaetti's total, like Murray's, was not amassed at one position. He has no shot at Schmidt's stat in any case.
•Shortstop: Ripken, 289. Thirty-six-year-old Alan Trammell, with 174 homers, would need at least five good seasons to catch Ripken, and he probably won't get them.
•Catcher: Carlton Fisk, 351; Lance Parrish, 305. Surprise—the leader isn't Johnny Bench, who had 327. Parrish, who is going to spring training on a minor league contract with the Tigers, isn't likely to catch Fisk.
•Outfield: Babe Ruth, 698; Dave Winfield, 453. Hank Aaron had 661 as an outfielder, his other 94 as a DH, pinch-hitter or first baseman. Winfield is a marvel at age 42, but he might not even reach 500.
•Pitcher: Wes Ferrell, 37. Fernando Valenzuela has eight, but his big league days may be over, as is the era of the power-hitting pitcher.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
PETER READ MILLER
A League of Her Own
Madonna's Latest boy toy is reported to be Miami Heat guard Brian Shaw, hardly her first sports squeeze. Dating the Material Girl would seem to be a fatiguing proposition, even for an athlete, but these jocks have fared well during their rumored flings with her. A question: What has Shaw done to justify her love? He's the only non-MVP in the group.
Brian Shaw, Miami Heat (current): not among NBA stat leaders, but Heat having decent year.
Charles Barkley, Phoenix Suns (1993 Finals): won MVP, but his team was 0-3 at home versus the Bulls.
Mark Messier, New York Rangers (1991-92 season): won Hart Trophy, but Rangers lost in second round.
Jose Canseco, Oakland Athletics (May 1991): 44 homers, 122 RBIs, but A's finished fourth in AL West.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Taxpayers in British Columbia will pay 37-year-old Allan Roe Coulter—who is serving a nine-year sentence for armed robbery—$18,750 in damages because he fractured his hip while playing racquetball on a slippery prison court at Matsqui Institution.
They Said It
The senior vice president of CBS Sports, on hosts Greg Gumbel's Olympic performance: "He filled the Greg Gumbel role very well."