Let's see now. We've torn up and voted down the Olympic Games. We've turned the World Series over to a House of David softball team and watched the Dallas Cowboys finally win a big one. We've hit the moon, let women become people, paid the milk prices and put all the nasty words and bare bosoms we could find into the movies. So what else is there? Or, as sneering Buffalo Bob used to exhort members of the peanut gallery on the
show, "HEY, KIDS, WHAT TIME IS IT??????"
It is Get UCLA Time.
College basketball has attempted just about everything in its annual effort to unseat UCLA. In the last six years, considering the national finals alone, it has tried shooting the ball up from 30 feet out ( Purdue's Rick Mount, 1969) and shooting it down from three feet in ( Jacksonville's Artis Gilmore, 1970). It has presented a blue team with a four-corner stall as an element of surprise ( North Carolina, 1968) and a red team with a guy supposedly named Glinder Torain as an element of humor ( Dayton, 1967). It has competed with a real live professional fellow, Howard Porter ( Villanova, 1971—known in the record books as Vacated, 1971) and a team that some NCAA paranoids thought was made up of professionals ( Florida State's Affidavit Five, 1972). Nothing has worked.
So it happens that the guardians of the sport, like many others in time of distress, have gone to the Bible (Isaiah 11:6) for an answer and come upon the revelation that since nobody else has been able to lead them, maybe a child can. After all, a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes once pulled off a very neat upset. Plainly, there it was. Bless the beasts and freshmen.
There are many who believe the NCAA made freshmen eligible in all varsity sports only in order to cut down on all those dollars that football chews up. Well, they are mostly right. But basketball coaches (who have little use for the other game people whom they sometimes call the "oblong bailers") prefer to think freshmen were allowed to play primarily for basketball, and more specifically to help them get UCLA.
Paradoxically, many coaches have been bemoaning the new rule ever since it was announced last January. They claim the policy works a hardship on youngsters both in the classroom and on the court. They fear it will bring havoc to recruiting schedules, practice sessions, road trips, statistical records, balance of morale and the lunch hour. They say it means more pressure, frustration, disillusionment, heartbreak and dumb fouls. And they have predicted that there aren't enough good freshmen around to make a difference anyway.
All of this sounds strangely familiar, of course, just like what the football coaches said before their season began. However, as everyone who listens to Chris Schenkel knows by now, all college athletes are oblivious to pressure, inspired by adversity, able to rise to the occasion, clean, loyal, reverent and, especially, "great." Besides, they never go to class anyway. Also, as we have seen all autumn, freshmen have been at work ripping college football asunder as if it was just one big Thanksgiving turkey—proving once again that coaches pretty much know absolutely nothing.
Football being a 22-man-plus-a-whole-bunch-of-kickers sport, there are certain limitations to how large an impact one or two freshmen can make on a game, a team, a season or an entire athletic program. But basketball's surface attraction is so starkly personal and its structure so individual—dominant rebounders, hot shooters, glorious one-on-one shows—that often just a couple of players can alter the course.
If nothing else, this factor is easily recognizable by the salary levels in the pro leagues (an NBA player makes on the average substantially more than his NFL counterpart) and by the flocks of financial flesh agents who are this very second slithering into college dormitories.
In other words, if you thought freshmen accomplished something in football, you ain't seen nothin' yet. For every Archie Griffin at Ohio State there is a Wally (Wonderful) Walker at Virginia. For Notre Dame's Steve Niehaus there is Albany State's Major Jones. And for Quinn Buckner, Indiana defensive back, there is—hold it—Quinn Buckner, Indiana playmaking guard.