The Senate Commerce Committee held hearings last week on a bill, S. 2036, introduced by Senators Ted Stevens (Rep., Alaska), John Culver (Dem., Iowa) and Richard Stone (Dem., Fla.), which would make the United States Olympic Committee the central coordinating body for amateur sports, authorize the American Arbitration Association to settle disputes and guarantee athletes the right to take part in international competition. The bill follows recommendations made in January by the President's Commission on Olympic Sports.
Senators who have chaired hearings on sports bills have often been voted out of office when up for reelection, a pattern that moved Senator Stevens, who chaired the hearings, to say, "Either this one flies this year, or there will be no more bills." Stevens urged compromise, noting, "Too often sports organizations have come to us and said, 'If we don't get 100% of what we want, we'll oppose you 100%.' " In the case of the NCAA and high schools, both with effective lobbies, such opposition can endanger the mildest of proposals.
The basic question is whether the U.S., with so much of its sport under the control of schools, can ever have a cooperative group of sports organizations. The issue was drawn most clearly in the debate over athletes' rights. Speed-skater Sheila Young, rower Anita DeFrantz, marathoner Kenny Moore, water-polo player Carl Thomas and biathlete Ed Williams testified that athletes had been prevented from representing the U.S. in international competition or had been penalized afterward for doing so. They urged that freedom of entry in international competition be guaranteed by law.
The NCAA's executive director, Walter Byers, said the colleges wanted to maintain the power to keep athletes out of international competition if it conflicted with school programs. Startled, Stevens asked Byers, "Isn't there any event—perhaps the Olympic Games—in which an athlete should have an absolute right to compete?"
Replied Byers, "Our rule says that if a man competes outside, he can't go back and compete on the college track team. Now what is the objection to that rule?"
One objection is that the NCAA has put its cart before the U.S.A.'s horse. The President's Commission found that U.S. sports groups were "unbound by any common purpose." It seems they are still unbound, and so long as the NCAA is unwilling to compromise on healing legislation, they will remain so.
Bob Speca, a University of Pennsylvania swimmer, is spaced out by dominoes. Speca, who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for toppling 22,221 dominoes last year, recently spent four days setting up 55,555 dominoes on the basketball floor of the Palestra. Guarded by a security man, the dominoes spelled out various messages, such as D-E-K-E for Speca's fraternity and H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y M-A-R-I-E for a girl. Speca toppled all the dominoes on the morning of the Brown game, and that afternoon the Penn football team knocked the Bruins down in a 14-7 upset.
Speca began setting up dominoes five years ago when a high school math teacher drew an analogy between an infinity of numbers and an infinity of dominoes. Fascinated by this domino theory, Speca found, "I could do different patterns and formations, and before I knew it I was setting them on the basement floor. It kept getting bigger and bigger." At Penn, Speca has set up slogans, such as I-M-P-A-L-E Y-A-L-E, on the deck of the pool for his teammates on the swimming team. "It gets the guys psyched up," he says. "The guys watch the dominoes fall down and they cheer."