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WRITING ON A WALL
Phase II of President Nixon's economic program has a direct and serious bearing on professional sport. Its basic premise says that increases in salaries should be held to a 5.5% maximum, but the peculiar earning pattern in sport makes such a guideline unrealistic and impractical. Even if 5.5 is applied to a payroll as a whole, with individual raises distributed under that blanket, it would be difficult to accommodate the often extreme but nonetheless justified jumps in salary. Salary increases are often designed to pay the employee for work he is expected to do; in professional sport a salary increase is for work done in the past, specifically the previous season. In few occupations can an employee's productivity be as precisely measured, and as directly rewarded, as in sport.
An extreme example of the impracticality of the 5.5 rule in sport is the case of Vida Blue. Blue was paid something like $13,500 in 1971, a fair salary for a second-year man but a terrible one for the best player in the league, which Blue turned out to be. President Nixon acknowledged this when, joking with Blue, he called him the most underpaid player in sport. Is it realistic to expect Blue to settle for a $750 raise? Of course not. But is it any more practical to expect other members of the victorious Oakland A's to take no raises—or even to accept cuts—in order to allow the 200% or 300% increase in salary that Blue deserves?
It was not the President's intention to shackle the competitive aspect of free enterprise. Professional sport, by its very nature, is based on lively competition among individuals. It will be unfortunate if the Phase II administrators adhere bureaucratically to a rule that would prohibit the rewarding of accomplishment in sport.
THE HEISMAN GIMMICK
Polls to decide who or what is best in sport are generally nonsense, but a few of them have created so much interest over the years that they take on a patina of validity. One of these is the Heisman Trophy, which for more than 35 years has been awarded annually to the man who is voted the outstanding college football player of the year. No matter how arbitrary the selection occasionally is, the question of who gets the Heisman is important to football and the trophy is an honored one.
It is sad, then, to consider the tasteless way the announcing of the Heisman winner was handled this year. The Downtown Athletic Club of New York, which awards the trophy, worked out an arrangement to make the announcement from an ABC-TV studio during halftime of the Georgia- Georgia Tech telecast on Thanksgiving night. It is hard to believe, but they even went along with the banal Academy Award device of running in an accounting firm and a sealed envelope, to be dramatically opened with a cornball announcement like "And the winner is...!"
One elderly Downtown A.C. member, a former president of the group, called it a sellout to television. Younger members denied this, pointing out that the modest fee received from ABC is earmarked for charity. All Downtown wanted was wider exposure for their hallowed trophy. The ABC people did not seek out the Heisman, but when it was laid in their laps they reacted predictably, as TV people will. Make it part of a package, baby. Let's see what needs hyping up. Nebraska-Oklahoma on Thanksgiving afternoon? Never. That'll have outasight ratings, anyway. Auburn-Alabama Saturday afternoon? Nope, that's another winner. Listen, put it on that Thanksgiving night football telecast. The turkey in that time slot bombed last year. Maybe the Heisman will help.
And so a distinguished football trophy becomes a TV gimmick. Way to go, Downtown A.C. Hang in there, ABC.