It was only 15 inches, but it was the difference between finishing fifth in the triple jump and finishing second. Fifth place gave Clarence Taylor and his UCLA teammates two points instead of the eight that second would have yielded, and the difference of six points meant that Tennessee beat out UCLA for the NCAA track and field championship in hot and muggy Austin, Texas last week, 60 to 56. Among the losers, along with the runner-up Uclans, Brigham Young and tough little North Carolina Central, you might add the U.S. Olympic team, which could find itself ravaged by the NCAA's decision to allow athletes who are professionals in other fields to compete in this amateur showdown.
The International Amateur Athletic Federation, the worldwide track and field authority, has a rule against amateurs and pros mixing in competition, and that august body is expected to take a dim view of the NCAA's new, lenient approach. At Austin the NCAA opened the door to Northeast Missouri State quarter-miler Larry Jones and to UCLA discus thrower Roger Freberg, both of whom recently signed professional football contracts.
The IAAF rule states that anyone competing in the same meet with a professional will no longer be considered an amateur, and please don't bother showing up at any future Olympics. At the moment, the AAU, which would have to file a charge with the IAAF before the international body could act, says only that it is investigating, and there was a hope in Austin that the probe would go on and on until it died quietly of old age.
"All this publicity is giving me the shaft," said Jones, who signed with the New York Giants. He is the finest quarter-miler in the U.S. and won at Austin in 45.5. "Everybody keeps asking, 'Who is Larry Jones and where is Northeast Missouri? And what's all this trouble he's causing?' They're making me feel like I committed some sacrilegious sin. If there was a sin, it was ignorance. Nobody told me about this international rule. If they had, I wouldn't have signed."
To a man, the athletes at Austin ignored the professional-amateur rule and went about the business of deciding a national collegiate champion. "The Olympics have always been a big part of my life," said UCLA quarter-miler Benny Brown, "but now I couldn't care less if I ever run in them. They're too political." His was an almost universal sentiment. Because it was possible that the IAAF might crack down only on those who competed against either of the two pros, UCLA Coach Jim Bush gave his quarter-milers the choice of withdrawing. They all declined.
"I asked Dr. LeRoy Walker, my coach, and he said it would be O.K. to compete," said North Carolina Central's Julius Sang, a Kenyan quarter-miler who was one of more than 70 foreign athletes participating in the NCAA championship. "I took his word. But if they find out I ran in a meet with a professional footballer, it will be up to him to go to Kenya and explain that I was running for my university and was ignorant about it. If we athletes tried to explain, I don't think our officials would buy it."
Contaminated or not, the runners and jumpers and throwers soon got down to the serious business of squabbling over the title that UCLA had won the last three years. "You can throw the form charts away," said Tennessee Coach Stan Huntsman. "There are too many little schools with a few good individuals who can hurt you, and you never know when it will happen. It's luck. Some guy from a little school might hurt you in an event you figured to do well in, or he might do it to one of the other favorites."
Tennessee, which finished fifth a year ago, showed the strongest balance. The Volunteers expected a big win from Doug Brown in the steeplechase, some key points from Reggie Jones, the powerful freshman sprinter, and then hoped to nickel-and-dime their rivals to death with seconds and thirds and fifths in a number of other events. But a week earlier, Brown, the best steeplechaser the U.S. has ever had, injured his left big toe. At first it was feared broken, but it was found to be only hyperextended.
On Thursday, the first of the three days of competition, Brown breezed through his qualifying heat. Since Brown looked so good and the steeplechase final wasn't until Saturday, Huntsman decided he would gamble and use his senior ace in Friday's six mile, too. Everything seemed to be working out when Reggie Jones upset favored Steve Williams of San Jose State in the 100 final. "That hurt," said UCLA's Bush. "We had hoped Williams would win both the 100 and 220; we don't have any sprinters of our own who could stop Jones."
But Tennessee's gamble on Brown failed. Halfway through the six mile, which was won by John Ngeno of Washington State and Kenya, Brown faltered, slowed and limped from the track. "For three miles I felt real good," he said. "Then in one lap it happened. I felt awfully tired. The heat radiating from the track was terrible. At first I thought I'd forget about winning and just try for some points. Then I began to feel worse and finally I decided I had better quit and save myself for the steeple. That's a sure win, and we need the 10 points. I don't feel I have anything to prove as an individual. Here the team comes first."