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At a meeting last spring between coaches and executives of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, Steve Belko of Oregon made an impassioned plea. "You've got to help us," he said. "This is the worst thing that has ever happened." Belko had already had his troubles with the black athletes' boycott and was on record as having called his school president "gutless." Hank Iba of Oklahoma State, himself 40 years in the game, was even more forceful. "We are facing the greatest crisis in sports history," he said. "In the next eight months we could see sports virtually destroyed. Nobody seems to realize how critical this situation is."
One who realizes full well is F. Melvin Cratsley. Mel Cratsley coached basketball 21 years and then at age 50 he was told he couldn't coach anymore. He was told this by his players, who also got the word to his superior, who, in turn, fired him. Although Cratsley is not a household name in coaching, and may not be remembered past these paragraphs, he was, for 17 years, a popular coach at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh. In his last season there the university, which does not award athletic scholarships, had the best record in its history (16-6), beating schools that dealt out scholarships like handbills, and rival coaches marveled at Mel Cratsley's tough defenses.
Then Cratsley moved on to become athletic director and basketball coach at a new school in Pittsburgh—Point Park College—and it was there he discovered the Now Generation. Five days before the start of his third season at Point Park, Cratsley was told he was "too inflexible," that he "did not listen to his players," that he was being replaced by his assistant and to henceforth concern himself only with the administrative duties of athletic director. With Cratsley out of its way, the basketball team went on to lose 15 of its 23 games.
Here is Mel Cratsley speaking about The Problem:
"I was fired because I was too disciplined. I believe in discipline, in sacrifice, in motivation. Students today aren't interested in those things. The authority of the coach is questioned. The pendulum has swung too far the other way, allowing kids to dictate policy. If the trend continues, it will kill intercollegiate athletics.
"I saw it coming last year. The players wanted to run it one way, I wanted to do it another. I tried their way 10 years or more ago. I came up with what I thought was the best offense and defense. I use the pattern offense, and I wanted them to cross on the pivot. They wanted to stand around and shoot. I had a 17-year-old freshman challenge my order to change from a zone to a man-to-man defense. We were seven points behind with five minutes to play. He said, 'We can't do it.' He was right. They did it halfheartedly and, of course, we got beat.
"I think college administrators started it by not making decisions, by backing down. Now they're scared to make decisions. It probably originated as a black problem, but today it's not race. It's kids of all types. They have power. How can any 17-year-old kid select teachers and courses? But they want to, and they're doing it.
"I wanted my players to wear blazers, get haircuts, wear a tie, take a bath once in a while, be on time. They didn't want to do these things. I object to players telling me they want beards, long hair and all the rest, because the next thing they want to do is run the team. More important than the beard is what it represents—rebellion. If you can't tell them what to do, they don't need a coach.
"Basketball is a team game. It depends on attitude. The reason underdogs upset favorites is attitude. I am old-fashioned. I think you get attitude through the intangibles—the sacrifices you make as a team. I don't think you get it if you're out there only for the purpose of glorifying one or two individuals. At halftime they don't talk about being behind, about losing the game; they want to see the scorebook, see how many points they have. 'Well, you have more points than I do, but I got more assists.'
"Maybe you should listen to your players. Let them decide what to do by committee. But you have 15 players. Every one of them has his own ideas. The guys on the bench have ideas as to who ought to be playing. And some of these kids with ideas aren't sure if the ball is blown up or stuffed. If you've coached 20 years and you love it and it's your life's work, do you have to explain yourself 15 different times to get something done?