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Original Issue


The Right Reason

There is one very good reason to have a Division I-A college football playoff: Fans would be treated to a series of potentially thrilling games that would determine one and only one national champion—just as in every other college sport and in all the other divisions of college football.

There is one very bad reason to have a Division I-A college football playoff: greed. The case for greed was presented in great detail in an 800-page tome entitled Report to the NCAA Special Committee to Study a Division I-A Football Championship, released last week. The study, which was put together by a group of college administrators after consultation with TV executives, coaches, students, bowl officials and athletic directors, concluded, among other things, that an eight-team playoff would generate $62.7 million in new income for the sport.

The report suggests that college football is at death's door and that it needs a playoff to save it. The authors write, "College football overall seems to have plateaued in terms of public interest and, in terms of game attendance and television audience ratings, has failed to continue the growth rates experienced from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s."

But is the situation really as dire as al that? Of course, ratings are down: mainly because, thanks to cable television, there are a lot more channels now than there were in the early 1980s, and far more games available to viewers—676 were telecast in '88, compared with 2,133 in '93. The Nielsens for network college games in '93, for example, were the highest since '86.

The report points out that individual ratings for the major bowls are considerably lower than they were 10 years ago. But there are also more post-season games these days—all of them televised. Time was that New Year's meant only the Cotton, Orange, Rose and Sugar bowls, but for the last decade fans have been able to surf around the dial to catch the Citrus Carquest Fiesta-Hall of Fame Bowl, as well.

The report repeatedly compares the bowls with the NCAA Division I basketball tournament—the fattest cash cow in college history. The NCAA has gotten spoiled. The 33% increase in gross revenue that the postseason bowls have experienced in the past six years seems unsatisfying only when it's placed beside the 120% increase that the basketball tournament has rung up over the same period.

What's more, the 1992-93 basketball tournament raked in $147 million, but after expenses and the NCAA's cut were deducted, only $89 million was distributed among the 301 Division I basketball schools—an average of $296,000 per school. The 1993-94 football bowl games brought in $88 million, of which $40.7 million was distributed to the 106 Division I-A football schools—an average of $384,000 per school. Uh-oh. Maybe college basketball should consider bowl games to drum up some interest?

Unequal Justice

Attention, NHL: Do the words double standard mean anything to you?

Last week the league announced the penalty for the vicious cross-check that Detroit Red Wing center Sergei Fedorov applied to the head of San Jose Shark defenseman Jayson More in Game 7 of their teams' first-round Western Conference playoff series on April 30: Fedorov was fined $500—the maximum allowed—and will miss the first four games of the 1994-95 season.

On May 7 the NHL doled out its punishment to Vancouver Canuck right wing Pavel Bure for the blind-side elbow he threw at Shane Churla of the Dallas Stars during Game 2 of the second round of the West playoffs three days earlier: Bure was fined $500.

Both of those incidents conjure up the memory of Pittsburgh Penguin superstar Mario Lemieux leaping out of the penalty box and throwing a full-fledged tantrum on the ice to complain about bad refereeing on April 5. Lemieux was fined the $500 max.

What's the connection? In all three incidents, NHL vice president Brian Burke, who metes out fines and suspensions, paid more attention to the actors than to their actions.

Without question, a lesser player than Fedorov, who was second in the league in scoring this season and is in contention for MVP honors, would have received a much tougher suspension than four games. The hit was vicious enough, but Fedorov compounded it by punching More in the face as he lay on the ice. Ten games would have been a more fitting penalty.

Had the roles been reversed in the Bure incident, Churla, a notorious goon, would certainly have been suspended for at least two games. But on this occasion Bure, who was the NHL leader in goals scored this season, was the aggressor and should have paid much more dearly for it.

Burke says that a player's history does figure in his punishment scale. According to Burke's Law, then, the first assault or two warrant only a slap on the wrist; after that, it's time to get tough.

Of course, the double standard was already clearly in place when Lemieux's inexcusable display of petulance went virtually unpunished. Anyone else would have been suspended. Anyone else who wasn't a top player, that is.

Nice Start, But...

Last Thursday, Los Angeles Dodger reserve infielder Garey Ingram, freshly called up from Double A San Antonio, hit a home run in his first major league at bat, against Colorado, thus becoming the 67th player in baseball history to go deep in his debut at the plate. But before anyone signs Ingram to a multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal, it should be noted that the roster of those who accomplished the same feat includes such immortals as (Frosty) Bill Duggleby, Ernest (Chief) Koy, Eddie (Pepper) Morgan, Emmett (Heinie) Mueller and George (White Wings) Tebeau, a crew whose career stats combined wouldn't raise an eyebrow in Cooperstown. The 55 players with a first-at-bat dinger who are now retired, in fact, averaged a mere 30 career homers and a ratio of one for every 50 at bats. Eleven of those 55 never hit another tater, including Detroit's mislabeled James (Hack) Miller. Clarence (Ace) Parker hit only a pair in 207 tries. And then there's John E. Kennedy, who fittingly launched one in his opening at bat, for Washington in 1962, then endured his own missile crisis, hitting just 31 more in 2,109 at bats. Eight of the leadoff sluggers were pitchers, including Hoyt Wilhelm, who did make the Hall of Fame but most assuredly not for carrying a big stick, given that he hit just that lone homer in his 1,070 games. Indeed, the fraternity's only other Hall of Famer is Cleveland's Earl Averill, who is also the group's career homer leader, with 238.

Many of the Debut Dinger Club's most notable members are still active, including the Texas Rangers' Will Clark and the Kansas City Royals' Gary Gaetti, but despite his boffo opening night, Ingram doesn't expect to help these guys improve the group's punchless reputation. "I can't believe I hit a home run," Ingram said after his first game. "That probably will be the last home run you see from me." Well, could be. Ingram, who had only 20 home runs in five years on the farm, is expected to return to the minors this week.

Close to Home

In the transient, ambition-and dollar-driven world of college coaching, where coaches routinely leave one program for the riches of another at a moment's notice, it's refreshing to note that some career decisions still come from the soul.

When Nell Fortner, the top assistant coach for Louisiana Tech's national runner-up women's basketball team, was offered the coveted Wisconsin job on May 13, she enthusiastically accepted. The offer included a four-year contract worth $75,000 a year, virtually unprecedented for a rookie women's coach. But soon she started to have second thoughts. After not sleeping or eating for several days, Fortner shocked the coaching community by resigning the Wisconsin post last Friday to return to her old position at Tech.

"I thought it was my time to go, but it wasn't," she says. "My instincts say I need to stay at Louisiana Tech, and my personal ambition just could not outweigh my heart."

By listening to something other than the roar of the crowd and the ring of the cash register, Fortner may have saved herself—and two programs—a lot of grief.

Cutting Strokes

The following appeared under the heading "The Rules of Golf" on a local computer bulletin board in Elkton, Md. An author was not credited, though we know of any number of golfers who could have written it.

1. "A ball sliced or hooked into the rough shall be lifted and placed in the fairway at a point equal to the distance it carried or rolled in the rough. Such veering right or left frequently results from friction between the face of the club and the cover of the ball, and the player should not be penalized for erratic behavior of the ball resulting from such uncontrollable mechanical phenomena."

2. "A ball hitting a tree shall be deemed not to have hit the tree. Hitting a tree is simply bad luck and has no place in the scientific game. The player should estimate the distance the ball would have traveled if it had not hit the tree and play the ball from there, preferably from a nice tuft of grass."

3. "There shall be no such thing as a lost ball. The missing ball is on or near the course somewhere and eventually will be found and pocketed by someone else. It thus becomes a stolen ball, and the player should not compound the felony by charging himself with a penalty stroke."

4. "If a putt passes over the hole without dropping, it is deemed to have dropped. The law of gravity holds that any object attempting to maintain a position in the atmosphere without something to support it must drop. The law of gravity supersedes the law of golf."

5. "Same thing for a ball that stops on the brink of the hole and hangs there defying gravity. You cannot defy the law."

6. "Same thing goes for a ball that rims the cup. A ball should not go sideways. This violates the laws of physics."

7. "A putt that stops close enough to inspire such comments as 'You could blow it in' may be blown in. This rule does not apply if the ball is more than three inches from the hole, because no one wants to make a travesty of the game."

Career Move

Another sports-meets-rock news flash (SCORECARD, May 9): A San Francisco punk band, the White Trash Debutantes, has offered a spot in its lineup—which already includes a 78-year-old grandmother and three male transvestites—to Tonya Harding. The group says that it has already written a song for the skater entitled Don't Mess with Tonya Harding.

Eat your heart out, Nancy.

Kids' Discount

For 12 years a Garden Grove, Calif., company called Evans Sporting Goods, which isn't one of Major League Baseball's 400-odd official licensees, has been manufacturing uniforms bearing the names and logos of big league teams and selling them to Little League and Pony League squads. Citing trademark laws, Major League Baseball asked Evans to stop. But the company refused, and now the two sides are suing each other.

To many people, including those who run Evans, Major League Baseball is acting like a money-grubbing Goliath. "The uniforms sold by the licensed manufacturers cost about 10 percent more than the ones we make, and that's coming out of the pockets of parents who have to scrap for every dime," says David Miller, co-owner of Evans. "They hold pancake breakfasts and sell candy door-to-door so their kids can play ball. I don't think baseball should be making money off of people like that."

On the other hand, Major League Baseball, like any other U.S. business, has the right to protect its trademarks, and with licensed merchandise accounting for annual sales of more than $2 billion, it's not surprising that baseball guards those trademarks carefully. Nor is it out of line for the companies who have paid good money to become licensees to take issue with outfits like Evans.

According to Don Gibson, the vice president and general counsel of Major League Baseball Properties, baseball is working out a plan that would enable youth teams to buy from licensed dealers iron-on decals of big league team names and logos, which they could transfer onto T-shirts. Better yet, why doesn't Major League Baseball give accredited youth organizations royalty waivers so that they could purchase uniforms from licensed manufacturers for less? The goodwill generated would be more than worth the income lost.

The case is in discovery, and it may be several years before it is resolved. How the case turns out, though, is probably less important than the sad realization that even youth baseball is no longer free of major league money headaches.






NHL brass should have come down harder on Federov (white helmet).



Under these no-fault rules, golfers would no longer be treed, as Payne Stewart was in the 1993 U.S. Open.

This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us

The consumption of alcoholic beverages has been banned from World Cup matches in the Rose Bowl...except in executive or private suites and the press box.

They Said It

Butch Henry
The Montreal Expo lefthander on the phenomenal success (12 for 15, with five home runs) that Philadelphia Phillie third baseman Dave Hollins has had against him: "I could make him millions."