THE WAY OF ALL SPORTS
Horse racing, television and off-track betting are going around in circles in New York State, and right now it is not at all clear how things will end up. In an effort to stimulate cash flow at its betting offices, the state-legalized off-track betting office tried to televise harness races nightly from upstate Monticello Raceway into metropolitan New York. Screams from the state's seven other harness tracks forced this issue into the courts, where it remains. Right now all OTB has to show for its efforts is a once-a-week telecast of fiat races from Maryland.
Even so, it is inevitable that some sort of marriage between TV and racing will be worked out, if only because the revenue potential is so great. When it happens, when televised races and concomitant off-track betting become a way of life, there will be a massive change in the sport. Will it be good or bad? Television helped golf and created second professional leagues in basketball and football, yet it all but destroyed boxing and minor league baseball. The jury is still out on its effect on major league baseball. No one knows for sure what will happen in racing. Track operators say TV will drain away regular patrons and deposit them in betting parlors. Others say nonsense, that properly regulated TV—with the revenue from betting and advertising equitably distributed—will strengthen racing's financial status and help create a new young body of fans.
Only one thing is certain. Televised racing is coming, and so is change. Racing had better be ready.
Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali are going through the traditional prefight phase of trading insults in an effort to generate interest in their return match, whenever it is eventually scheduled. Most of their remarks are predictable, yet some comments Frazier made in Philadelphia just before leaving for New Orleans and his fight this Saturday with Terry Daniels had a rare pithiness. "I don't think he wants to fight me again," Frazier said. "I think the guy enjoys what he's doing right now, picking up easy money with guys like that German, Blin. He doesn't want a tough fight, like with myself." As for Ali's professed compassion in carrying Buster Mathis 12 rounds and Blin for seven, Frazier said, "I have to think he can't fight any better anymore. After the last one with me, the guy can't really get himself together."
Professional hockey has apparently sanctioned or at least overlooked the practice of hyping up individual scoring. Goals are still goals, which seems logical enough, but assists, which count as much as goals in a player's individual total, have lost a lot of their old validity.
The concept of crediting a man with an assist is admirable: the playmaker, the adept stickhandler who sets up another man's goal, should get credit, too. And because often two men set up the score that a third man makes, hockey allows credit for two assists on each goal. But what used to be a maximum—two assists—has in many places become a minimum, with scorers automatically crediting two assists without worrying too much about the correctness of their decisions. For example, over a dozen assists have been given to goalies this season, an unjustifiable number. Goalies clear pucks; it is a rare moment when they truly set up a score.
Boston, home of the high-scoring Phil Esposito, was often mocked for the generous number of assists Espo used to pick up, and criticism of Woody Dumart, the old Bruin who served as scorer, became so severe that Dumart was finally replaced. Still, except for Montreal and Toronto, where scorers tend to be purists and where assists really have to be earned, the practice continues. Last week in New York a glaring example of the casual assist occurred when Jean Ratelle, the Ranger center, was credited with one he apparently had not made. By an ironic coincidence, the cheese assist put Ratelle into a tie with Esposito for the league scoring lead. (Later in the week, he had one goal and four assists against the Kings to lead Esposito 71-70.) A subsequent study of the game tape showed that the puck had been accidentally deflected by Ratelle, which meant the scorer was technically correct. But the argument remains: it was not truly an assist. It is time for the NHL to crack down and insist that players earn their points.