A QUESTION OF RESOLVE
World Team Tennis appeared to be on the verge of collapse last week. The New York Apples and Boston Lobsters both suspended operations, reducing the 5-year-old league from 10 teams to eight. And the Seattle Cascades and New Orleans Nets were not answering the phone, fueling rumors that they, too, were going under. Looming over everything was the WTT's problem in lining up talent. Having endured the defections of Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg in the past, WTT teams have been unable to win commitments for next year from the stars they did have, including Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Ilie Nastase and Vitas Gerulaitis.
Whether or not the WTT folds, however, depends on the resolve—and the bankroll—of Jerry Buss, a Los Angeles chemistry-professor-turned-real-estate magnate who exerts tremendous influence on the WTT. If Seattle and New Orleans expire, the WTT would be left with six teams, four of which are to one extent or another under Buss' sway. Buss owns the defending WTT champion Los Angeles Kings. His main partner, Frank Mariani, owns the San Diego Friars. Larry Noble, another partner, owns the Indiana Loves. And Buss and Mariani have a piece of the Anaheim Oranges.
And what does Buss say? He and other WTT officials were scheduled to meet in Los Angeles early this week to discuss the league's future. Meanwhile, he was vowing that the league would keep going. He argues that several WTT franchises are relatively strong; he says, for instance, that despite his failure to sign Evert, L.A. season-ticket sales are running ahead of last year, when the Strings led the league with an average attendance of 7,140.
Nobody doubts that if Buss sticks to his guns, he and his associates could keep the WTT alive in some fashion, perhaps as a predominantly West Coast operation. But would it be worth it? Without big-name stars, or teams in cities like New York and Boston, the "World" in World Team Tennis' name, always a bit of a stretch in what has been a U.S.-only league, would have an even stranger ring.
Through the NFL's first eight weeks, the number of roughing-the-passer calls—mostly for late hits—was up 59% over last season. This presumably indicates that officials are finally cracking down on some of the sport's more blatant violence. That interpretation is certainly preferable to another possible explanation: that defensive players are taking more cheap shots than ever.
YOU'VE COME A LONG WAY, JOCK
It was 11 years ago that Jock Semple, the flinty Scotsman who has long been the driving force behind the Boston Marathon, forever cast himself as an archvillain in feminist eyes. Old Jock earned his ignominy by dashing onto the course of the '67 race and attempting to rip the number off the back of Kathy Switzer, a young woman who had sneaked into the field of what was then a men-only event. Since then, of course, the Boston classic has gone coed in a big way, and so have other distance races; in the recent New York City Marathon (SI, Oct. 30), there were 1,009 women among the 9,875 participants—and Switzer was on radio with expert commentary.
Semple has always denied harboring ill feelings toward women runners. "I was brought up that a rule's a rule," he says, explaining the Switzer confrontation. Be that as it may, there is no doubting where Semple stands today. Now 75, he was the official starter last month at the Bonne Bell road race in Boston, an all-woman event that attracted 4,524 entrants. "I was agreeably surprised," Semple says of that race. "The women didn't get into arguments the way men do. They were all waving and so happy-looking."
Semple even advocates introduction of a women's marathon at the Olympics. He says, "The women's race could start with the men's. There are only about 100 males in the marathon. They could put 25 to 30 good women marathoners in there, too. I would like to see it but I don't know if I will. Some of the officials are so fuddy-duddy."