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Original Issue


The Check's in the Mail

Dick DeVenzio, a former academic All-America basketball player at Duke and current full-time thorn in the side of the NCAA, has spent the last decade searching for creative ways to fight what he considers the "obsolete and oppressive" rules of the NCAA, particularly those that restrict the financial rights of athletes. In November he mailed $100 checks to 80 senior football players, postdating them for Jan. 3, 1994. Twenty-two players cashed them.

Last week DeVenzio sent laminated IOU cards to 26 of the nation's top basketball players, inscribed only with the number 100 (as in dollars) and the initials (SAIG) of his organization, Student-Athlete Incentive Gifts. "The IOUs are deliberately vague, but they are clearly a promise to pay," says DeVenzio. "Then, just as I did with the checks, I'll follow up with letters containing more information. We want to make the redemption of these IOUs not an act of greed but a statement of dissatisfaction with some of these absurd and outdated rules."

David Berst, the NCAA's enforcement head, said that the football players are not subject to violation since their eligibility has expired, and neither can the schools be punished "as long as it is established they knew nothing about the checks." But the basketball situation is different because the tournament is an NCAA event.

"If we find out violations have occurred, we would vacate the players and teams involved in the games from records and awards," Berst said on Monday. And what does he think of DeVenzio's actions? "They're similar to some of the activities of agents," said Berst. Following an angry phone call to DeVenzio on Monday, Francis M. Canavan, a lawyer who is the NCAA's group executive director for public affairs, told SI that DeVenzio is motivated only by "publicity and personal gratification."

DeVenzio, who makes his living by motivational speaking and running summer basketball camps, may not be shy. But his actions are in no way like those of an agent, and Berst knows it. That's why DeVenzio is so troublesome for the NCAA. One of his biggest boosters is Iowa defensive tackle Mike Wells, one of the 22 who cashed the $100 check.

"So many things go on in big-time college sports that you never think about protesting," says Wells, who received his degree in communication studies in December and is now auditioning for NFL scouts. "The longer you're in a system, the more you see the inequities in it. A young player tends to be grateful for whatever he gets, but by the time you're a senior, you see the incredible amount of revenue taken in by a sports factory like Iowa. I'm grateful for my scholarship, but it gradually becomes like having a job and never getting a raise, even though the company is going through the roof."

After Wells cashed his check, he went to the office of Iowa's compliance officer, Fred Mims, because Mims needed to file a report about it. Predictably, Mims was upset and told Wells that DeVenzio had exploited him. A few minutes later, in another athletic office. Wells saw a poster advertising a University of Iowa football camp. The poster showed an action photo of Wells and bore the inscription, MIKE WELLS WENT TO IOWA FOOTBALL CAMP—YOU SHOULD, TOO. "I thought, Just who is exploiting whom?" says Wells.

A Gentle Cornerman

Ray Arcel, who died last week in New York City at age 94, trained some of the most prominent figures in the history of boxing during his 70-year career. His 20 world champions included Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, James J. Braddock, Tony Zale, Ezzard Charles, Roberto Duran and Larry Holmes. But what made him proudest, Arcel always said, was that none of his fighters ever got seriously hurt. That's why Red Smith nice described him as "the first gentleman of fistfighting."

Arcel learned his trade in long-gone gyms and fight clubs of New York City. "Boxing is brain over brawn," he said and proved it again and again. A.J. Liebling, in The Sweet Science, described Arcel as "severe and decisive, like a teacher in a Hebrew school."

In 1953 Arcel was assaulted on a Boston street corner by a man wielding a lead pipe, and he spent 19 days in the hospital. Many believed the attack was carried out in retaliation for Arcel's work as a promoter of ABC-TV's The Saturday Wight Fights, an upstart competitor of the mob-connected International Boxing Club's promotions, but Arcel wouldn't speculate on his attacker's identity. Not long after, he stopped training boxers, though he stayed close to the sport, and in 1972 was asked to take a look at a young Panamanian fighter. "Don't change his style," said Arcel after his first glimpse of the 21-year-old Duran. "Let him fight."

When Arcel took over in Duran's corner later that year, that's exactly what he let Duran do. In the end it was Duran, whom Arcel always ranked just behind Leonard as his greatest champion, who most disappointed his old teacher. "It broke my heart," said Arcel of Duran's infamous no màs bout against that other Leonard, Sugar Ray. "This is the last guy in the world I thought would quit."

As W.C. Heinz once wrote, "Ray Arcel cares more about the fighter than the fight." Pity there aren't—and never were—more trainers like Ray Arcel.

Master Psychologist

"They're peaking. They're really coming together mentally."

Was that Pat Riley analyzing his New York Knicks? An overly optimistic major league manager sizing up his team in spring training?

No, it was musher Martin Buser, who had a sizable lead in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race last week, talking about his team of 14 dogs.

Yankees Still Swings

If the original 1955 production of Damn Yankees was Yogi Berra, then the latest reincarnation of this Broadway classic is Mike Stanley.

Which is to say that the new Damn Yankees, which recently opened at Manhattan's Marquis Theatre, is pretty swell—Stanley hit .305 with 26 homers as the Yankee catcher last year. Stanley, though, is no Yogi, and the 1994 version of the Richard Adler-Jerry Ross musical lacks the charisma and staying power of the original. Based on Douglass Wallopp's 1954 best-seller, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, Damn Yankees is baseball's version of the Faust legend: An aging Washington Senator fan named Joe Boyd leases his soul to one Mr. Applegate in order to become young slugger Joe Hardy, who goes on to lead Washington to the brink of the pennant.

The score, which features Heart, Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo., and Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets), kicks the butt of most modern Broadway music. The original book, written by Wallop and director George Abbott, also holds up well, thanks in part to script revisions faxed in from Miami Beach by the 106-year-old (!) Abbott. And the choreography, originally done by Bob Fosse, is still dazzling.

However, the two leads, Bebe Neuwirth as Lola and Victor Garber as Applegate, suffer in comparison with the originals, Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston. Neuwirth, best known for her role as Lilith on Cheers, tries gamely, but Verdon's stiletto heels are just too hard to fill. And Garber, who has been given the benefit of modern pyrotechnic effects and the burden of updated pop-cultural references, is no smarmier than your average player agent.

A tip of the cap to Jarrod Emick, who as Joe Hardy is a considerable improvement on Tab Hunter, who did the 1958 movie version, and on Joe Namath, who performed the role in an '81 stage production. Emick can sing and swing. It's a shame that this time around, his Two Lost Souls duet with Lola was given to Apple-gate. This was done presumably to give Garber and Neuwirth a star turn together, but director Jack O'Brien sold his soul in the bargain.

Ah, so what if Stanley doesn't make the Hall of Fame. Damn Yankees is still darn good.

Koch's New Crew

Bill Koch, the self-professed "contrarian" who set the sailing world on its ear in 1992 when he won the America's Cup in large part because of his superior bank account, is at it again. Next year, for the first time in the 143-year history of the America's Cup, an all-female team will race for the oldest trophy in sport, and Koch—and his money—is the driving force. Acting as CEO and not sailor for his team, Koch will provide several million dollars in seed money, a coaching staff and two of the fastest America's Cup Class yachts in the world, A¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• and Kanza.

"I like to do things differently, as you all have seen in the past," Koch said last week, "and this certainly is different. The other thing is that I want to see respect for women's competitive abilities enhanced."

Then, too, Koch may also want to see the San Diego Yacht Club, the host of the last America's Cup competition, in '92, and the next one, eat some crow. It's no secret that most of the old-moneyed sailing world was rooting against Koch, the upstart from that sailing mecca of Wichita, Kans., in the last Cup races, and no secret that the San Diego club would rather have one of its own, i.e., Dennis Conner, defend the Cup in home waters.

The team that Koch has assembled so far includes five Olympic medalists (sailors JJ Isler, Lynne Jewell-Shore and Allison Jolly and rowers Stephanie Maxwell-Pierson and Anna Seaton), as well as two-time Olympic rower Alison Townley, four-time yachtswoman of the year Betsy Alison, offshore racer Linda Lindquist and Dawn Riley, who is currently skippering an all-female crew in the Whitbread 'Round the World yacht race. But few of them have big-boat experience, and some observers believe an all-female team will lack the strength and know-how to win. Koch dismisses the naysayers. He has always believed that technology, not crew talent, is the key ingredient.

Anyway, Koch is in a no-lose situation. He's doing it his way one more time, he scores points for opening up the waters to women, and he will be considered a genius if his team wins the Cup.



When Arcel talked, world champions from Benny Leonard to Duran (below) listened.





Called back up to Broadway, the gracefully aging "Damn Yankees" takes a darn good turn at bat.

Idylls Of The King

Our two look up opinionated in the dictionary, you get a picture of Larry King, friends. One of Larry's recent offerings in his weekly USA Today column-"The one NBA team I'd fear the most and not want to meet in the playoffs is the Miami Heat"-piqued our interest in some of his past sports prognostications. And you know what? Our favorite suspender-wearing, president-interviewing, celebrity-schmoozing pundit isn't bad. At the very least, next to wrong in the dictionary, you don't get a picture of Larry King, friends.

This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us

Jack Nicholson, who recently settled a civil lawsuit in which it was alleged that he bashed the roof and windshield of a car with a golf club during a heated dispute at a traffic light, will host the 23rd Police-Celebrity Golf Tournament in Los Angeles in May.

They Said It

Rich Donnelly
Pittsburgh Pirate third base coach, on retired pitcher Bob Walk's new job in the broadcast booth: "Maybe now he'll get a complete game."