With three events to go in the NCAA track and field championships in Seattle last weekend, UCLA, red-eyed angry because its ace long jumper James McAlister had been declared ineligible by an inane NCAA ruling, was in sixth place. USC led with 41 points, then came Oregon, Brigham Young, Kansas and the University of Texas at El Paso. The Bruins followed with 24 points.
Then their mile-relay team won in 3:04.4 and they had 34 points. "No sweat," said John Smith, who had run a 45.1 third leg, two-tenths faster than his winning time in the 440 less than an hour before. From the pole vault runway, UCLA's Fran�ois Tracanelli looked at the scoreboard, laughed and passed to Rice's Dave Roberts, the eventual winner, at 17'3". Tracanelli had second place and its eight points in the bag. In the triple jump, UCLA had a lock on third and fourth and 10 more points. "I think," said Jim Bush, the Bruin coach and an admitted pessimist, "we have a chance." And he looked to the heavens as though expecting a thunderbolt forthwith.
"The only thing that can beat you now," a bystander said, "is another phone call from the NCAA."
Bush winched. "Don't say that," he said. "Don't even think it."
For UCLA, it had been a painful week. Less than two hours before the team bus left Los Angeles for Seattle, J. D. Morgan, the UCLA athletic director, told Bush: " McAlister has been declared ineligible."
"You've got to be kidding," said Bush.
"I wish I were," said Morgan. "You'd better tell him."
Bush stood by the waiting bus. Except for McAlister, everyone was there. Then a few minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave, the freshman football-track star (SI, May 17) arrived. Bush told him there was some bad news.
"Oh, no," said McAlister.
Bad? It was heartbreaking. Just this past year the NCAA passed a rule that all prospective college athletes had to take a nationally supervised test on a nationally designated date. The tests were to determine if the athlete was qualified to carry a 1.6 average in college. In the past, more than one school had been known to run its own tests, do its own scoring and announce its own results. And more than one school had been suspected of passing an athlete because he could spell his name with fewer than three errors.