How often we're reminded that the NCAA can be zealous to a fault. Last week it was giving the Nebraska football team a hard time over the improper but rather innocuous distribution of complimentary tickets (page 65) and was said to be looking into the possibility that Alabama football players broke NCAA regulations by flying a team charter to the funeral of the Tide's Willie Ryles. How could the NCAA even think of looking for a violation in Alabama's actions? "Transportation to a funeral is not one of the permissible expenses an institution can provide a student-athlete," explained an NCAA source.
Then there's the case of St. John's basketball player Marco Baldi. Baldi has long been a member of the Simac club team in his native Italy and has apparently always abided by Italian amateur rules. It is not uncommon for Italian club teams to award scholarships to their athletes, but NCAA rules stipulate that only schools may grant and administer athletic scholarships. Simac paid Baldi's tuition in Italy and his tuition and board while he spent a year at a high school on Long Island. Simac also paid various transportation costs for Baldi on several occasions before he enrolled at St. John's. Major crimes? To the NCAA, yes. Last week it announced that it was banning Baldi for all of next season and the first four games of the 1987-88 season, and would not allow him to play again until he has repaid Simac the more than $11,000 it has spent on him.
"We're quite dismayed and upset," said St. John's athletic director Jack Kaiser. "We feel there were mitigating circumstances. The boy didn't know, at any time, that he was violating any rules. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but rules in that system and our system are different, and that caused the violations." St. John's and Baldi will decide this week what course of action to take in response to the penalty.
In adjudicating the Baldi case the NCAA might have followed the example of the Eastern College Athletic Conference, which also governs St. John's basketball and looked into the situation. The ECAC did extensive background studies of the Italian club system before rendering a judgment on Baldi's future. The conference ultimately concluded that Baldi, a sophomore, should remain eligible, provided he first repay Simac $1,200 for travel expenses. That ruling seemed much more reasonable, but the NCAA ban supersedes it.
CZECH AND DOUBLE CZECH
The story that begins on page 32 of this issue credits a quartet of Czechoslovakian-born tennis players with "four-Czeching" the finals of the U.S. Open. We hereby promise you that that's the end. In the pages of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED there will be no more gratuitous plays on the word Czech, no matter what Lendl, Mecir, Navratilova, Mandlikova, Sukova, Srejber, Smid or any of the other Czech players do. We will never again have victorious Czechs cashed, losing Czechs bounced, an upset Czech off; nor will we have Czech ins, Czechouts or Czechups, not to mention Czechpoints, Czechmates or Czechered careers. Czechampions will never dance Czech to Czech in celebration, nor will defeated Czechs behave czhurlishly. In fact, we will keep all that in Czech.
We ask only that all other responsible publications join with us in this embargo. We will, of course, cross-Czech to see what sort of a response we get.
AN OWNER WHO'S SEMITOUGH
When Tom Welter says he doesn't want whining, uncooperative ballplayers on his team, he's not kidding. The 36-year-old owner-second baseman of the semipro Dubuque ( Iowa) Pilots got so tired of his team's bratty behavior and poor play that earlier this summer, with five games left in the season, he fired every player except himself and manager-outfielder Jim Field. "You see that truck over there?" Welter said to the others, pointing to an old dumper parked outside John Petrakis Baseball Park. "I'm backing that truck up and you're done." The Pilots forfeited their five remaining games.