The National Basketball Association, reacting to a statement in a story in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED that some Seattle SuperSonic players deliberately lost a game last season to the Philadelphia 76ers in order to get Coach Tom Nissalke fired (SI, Dec. 10), had its director of security, John W. Joyce, investigate the matter. On Dec 21, NBA Commissioner Walter Kennedy issued a pompous statement that referred to the author of the article as "one Bob Briner" and claimed that the NBA's "thorough and detailed investigation has produced no evidence to support Mr. Briner's allegations, and I have concluded that there is none available."
Despite Kennedy's slighting reference to him, Briner is no basketball dilettante but the former general manager of the ABA's Dallas Chaparrals, which the NBA commissioner ought to know. Briner's charge that the Seattle game was dumped was not made sensationally but as part of a sustained and serious criticism of professional athletes as a group.
And, contrary to the NBA report, there is considerable evidence. The Seattle players' disaffection for Nissalke was common knowledge around the pro leagues. Players were heard to say that they were going to get rid of Nissalke in the Philadelphia game because they knew that one more loss at that time would mean his dismissal. One player said the night before the game, "There's no way in the world Tom is going to stay, because some of our guys want to lose him more than they want to win games." An NBA referee, who later denied saying it, reportedly confided to ABA players that Seattle players had told him much the same thing.
Significantly, before the game none of the Sonic players would look at Nissalke or talk to him. Seattle sportswriters, wondering about the result, asked pointed questions, got no answers and described it simply as a poorly played game. But Jack Kiser of the Philadelphia Daily News implied that the game was lost intentionally, repeated the statement later and gave reasons why he felt that way.
Briner's charge of dump may never be proved to the hilt, but for the NBA commissioner to say there is no evidence to support it is irresponsible.
Our friend Kelly, the superfan from Canada (SCORECARD, Nov. 26) who jumps back and forth around North America and even to Europe to see the sporting events he favors, and who doesn't bother buying a ticket until the last minute, saw the jam-packed Grey Cup game in Toronto, as predicted. He calmly refused to buy two tickets he was offered for $75 as too expensive, and instead got two on the 40-yard line for $40—20 minutes before kickoff.
A radical change in the concept of amateurism in the U.S. may be at hand. At its annual convention this coming week in San Francisco, the NCAA will consider an amendment to its constitution that would allow a collegiate athlete who is a professional in one sport to compete as an amateur in others. Esoterically, this means that a pro football player, say, who has gone back to school to get his degree could compete as a shotputter in track. More practically—and the NCAA is nothing if not practical—it means that promising high school athletes who sign professional baseball contracts can still play NCAA football or basketball, or whatever. The present rule forbids this, saying once a professional, always and everywhere a professional. Since only about 5% of the kids who sign baseball contracts ever reach the big leagues, even for a cup of coffee, it means that most are washed up as competitive athletes at a very young age. Under the new plan, their abortive baseball careers behind them, they can try again for football or basketball scholarships and a college career. Because an athletic scholarship is in itself a professional reward, it would appear that the NCAA is only recognizing reality. Nonetheless, the amendment would be a welcome one, and we hope it passes, especially since it is likely to lead to a further liberalization of sometimes stringent restrictions. For instance, collegiate golf and tennis players may be allowed to compete in pro-am events without losing their eligibility (for playing against professionals), and athletes in one sport may be permitted to coach in another sport or officiate at non-professional games, for pay.
While other news occupied baseball's attention during the recent major league meetings, a quieter but possibly more significant story bubbled offstage. For the last few years, versatile pitching machines (particularly one called JUGS) have been infiltrating the game, and the campaign is picking up speed. Pitching machines have been around for ages, but most of them have been merely refined catapults, with a metal arm that cradles the ball and flings it, or mortarlike cannons. JUGS, a prime example of the new type, is basically comprised of rubber wheels spinning side by side. The ball is inserted between the wheels and comes flying out the other side. By adjusting the speed of the wheels and their angle, straight balls or a variety of curves may be produced at varying velocities. The machine can also be used to "hit" pop fouls to catchers, ground balls to infielders, fly balls to outfielders and so on.