Arguments on legislation before Congress that would lift pro football's TV blackout of home games have degenerated into bombast, as politicians' arguments so often do. Senator John Pastore of Rhode Island, a supporter of the legislation, became so carried away that he called the situation "a national crisis."
Generally, proponents of the bill seem to be arguing that it comes down to a choice between "blackout" and "right to see" home games. Blackout is bad, right to see is good. Yet the proposed legislation clearly accepts the idea that pro football is entitled to bar local TV; it says a team can do this if it has not sold all tickets to the game 48 hours before kickoff. The principle of blackout is thus condoned, and the public's right to see on TV every game it wants to see is denied.
Congress also recognizes the need of pro football to protect its financial structure. Indeed, one of the arguments for the legislation holds that more liberal use of TV would bring the clubs even greater revenue. Pro football disagrees. It worries now about overexposing the game on the tube. It remembers what happened to professional boxing because of television saturation. It recalls what local telecasting did to home attendance of the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950s. It knows how much revenue from parking and concessions is lost when in bad weather thousands of ticket-holding fans become no-shows, and it anticipates how much greater the no-show factor would be if there were a possibility of seeing the game on television. And it is keenly aware how important the noise and excitement of capacity crowds are to the "entertainment package" that TV buys.
In sum, pro football says any local telecasting of home games will inevitably lead to serious financial loss. Arguments to the contrary, says NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, amount to "the rather remarkable contention that the clubs are stubbornly resisting the opportunity to make more money."
What they are resisting is a direct threat to the continuing stability of a sport that by and large has run itself with commendable efficiency, enjoys widespread popularity and is presently in excellent health. That it should be endangered by emotional political argument in an election year is deplorable.
IT'S COLD OUTSIDE
According to an NCAA guide to colleges, the tennis coach of Alaska Methodist University is Jack Frost.
The baseball trivia item of the year and possibly the most overwrought baseball phrase of the decade (Four-Ply Clout Division) are both found in the same sentence of a recent Detroit Tigers publicity note: " Aurelio Rodriguez, only player in the majors whose first name contains each vowel, has been wielding a molten mace of late...."
THAT EMPTY FEELING
Along with the blow to its pride it suffered during the Canada- Russia hockey showdown, the National Hockey League got hit in the pocketbook, too. With so many big names off with Team Canada, attendance at preseason exhibition games fell off sharply. When the Boston Bruins met the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal's Forum, where a record 19,000 saw an exhibition game last year, fewer than 4,000 people were on hand. The Stanley Cup finalists drew only 3,500 when they played in Halifax, and when they met in Boston, where sellout crowds are commonplace, there were thousands of empty seats.