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TV AND YOU
A drastic rate increase on leased telephone lines requested by American Telephone and Telegraph could result in severe curtailment of sports events broadcast by local television stations. Network telecasts would not be threatened; indeed, AT&T has asked the Federal Communications Commission that network line fees, which are big-volume stuff, be substantially reduced.
Games affected would be primarily those played away from home by local teams, college and professional. Such telecasts are usually quite popular within the geographically limited area they reach. But line costs run about 30% of the budget for bringing back out-of-town games. Doubling the fee, which is approximately what the new rates call for, would make the practice economically unfeasible in most cases. Then, instead of tuning in on Local State's football game with distant Yoohoo U. or the local major league baseball, basketball or hockey teams in their games away from home, you would have to be content with whatever sporting contests NBC, CBS and ABC decide are best for you.
It seems another instance of gigantism in sport, and not a happy one.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
LAW AND SPORT
Two recent interpositions by courts of law between athletes and sports administrators could have long-range significance on the future of sports. In England a soccer player named Ernie Machin was put out of a game by a referee for "deliberately kicking" an opponent. Machin appealed to the Football Association's disciplinary committee and brought along a television clip that indicated the referee had been wrong. The committee refused to listen to the appeal or look at the clip. It backed the referee's decision and fined and suspended Machin. He went to court, and after two years was vindicated, the judge ruling that because he did not receive a fair hearing, the fine and suspension were void.
Although it seemed likely that Machin was right and the referee wrong, the Football Association defended its position on the grounds that it was acting on the longstanding principle that "the referee shall be the sole arbiter of all matters of fact." This procedure may be unfair to individuals at times, the FA said, but it is generally recognized that in the long run it is in the best interest of the discipline required in the game itself. But now every decision by a referee can be subject to litigation, and the authority of the administrative body is seriously undermined.
In the U.S., a somewhat similar legal hassle occurred in the National Football League. In an effort to control free-for-alls and near-riots, the NFL established an automatic $200 fine against any player who leaves the bench to take part in a fight on the field. A total of 106 players were fined $21,200 for breaking the rule. The Players Association went to the National Labor Relations Board, where it argued that the fines were owner-imposed and that agreement on such a rule should have come under collective bargaining at contract time. The NFL argued that the rule had been instituted by the commissioner and the fines imposed by him, and that the owners had merely approved it.
The NLRB agreed with the players, and said the fines should be rescinded, with interest. Again, administrative control of a sport by its ruling body had been controverted by outside authority.