SWEETNESS AND LIGHT IN THE NFL
Never mind the lower TV ratings, the drug problems and the big antitrust suit brought by the rival USFL. SI staff writer Jill Lieber reports that the revised party line enunciated at last week's NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix is that the league is in great shape. "We looked around us and decided that things just weren't as bad as they seemed," said one general manager. "So why look on the negative side?"
The NFL's new, determinedly positive posture is partly a p.r. move, born of the realization that a steady stream of bad news only engenders more bad news. But there was also an objective reality to the suddenly upbeat mood. Last fall commissioner Pete Rozelle complained to anybody who would listen that largely because of dramatic increases in player salaries, a majority of the league's franchises could be losing money by next year. But that was before the USFL sharply scaled down its bidding war with the NFL for players. As a result, Rozelle was able to execute an abrupt about-face last week and declare optimistically that no NFL teams were in financial trouble and that "virtually all of them" would make some money in 1986.
There was even reason to be guardedly optimistic about the possibility of a settlement of the damages the NFL must pay as a result of the antitrust suit that the Oakland Raiders and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum won against the NFL in 1984. Three weeks ago the biggest winner in that suit, Raiders managing general partner Al Davis, sounded anything but conciliatory when he suggested that St. Louis Cardinal owner Bill Bidwill, who is making noises about moving his club to another city, had ulterior motives. According to Davis, Rozelle, his longtime archenemy, and Bidwill had concocted the threat of a Cardinals move in hopes of stampeding Congress into granting an antitrust exemption that would enable the NFL to control franchise movement. Bidwill denies the accusation, and last week the commissioner and Davis were actually talking face-to-face about resolving their long-smoldering differences over the Raiders' move to Los Angeles.
To be sure, a cash settlement might not come cheap. Counting legal fees, interest and other items, the court-ordered damages the NFL would have to pay to the Raiders and the Coliseum as a result of the antitrust suit could amount to almost $70 million. The settlement that Davis reportedly had in mind would be more in the neighborhood of $50 million. Still, a $20 million saving and an end, at last, to the Davis-Rozelle acrimony would certainly be two very positive developments for the good-news NFL.
LET US PRAY
Two pieces of evidence that the alliance between basketball and religion isn't always a holy one:
St. Louis University basketball coach Rich Grawer was asked to speak to an eighth-grade class at a Catholic school. As Grawer tells it, the nun who extended the invitation said, "I don't want you to talk about basketball. Just talk about life, maturity and growing up." So Grawer then told the kids, "The fun and excitement of childhood are nothing compared to the fun and excitement of becoming a teenager, which are nothing compared to the fun and excitement of adultery." Grawer later reported innocently, "The nun just about fell out of the chair."
At the Division II title game at the National Bible College Athletic Association tournament in Belton, Mo., Midwestern Christian of Oklahoma City whipped Northwest Bible of Minot, N. Dak. 69-61. The outcome was strongly influenced by four technical fouls called on Northwest coach Ron Carter and his bench, which resulted in seven points for Midwestern. Along the way, Carter accused referee J.P. Morgan of "making a travesty of the game," or angry words to that effect. Afterward, a more subdued Carter said, "We have a Christian program, and we're not supposed to do things like this. We'll have to pray for forgiveness later."
SI's Bruce Newman, writing about high school basketball hysteria in Indiana in the Feb. 18 issue, said that "L & M could be this year's miracle team...." Alas, it won't be. The tiny school (enrollment: 142) with the huge dream and a 28-2 record, lost 72-54 to Southridge (enrollment: 522) in the state tournament quarterfinals. L & M coach Tom Oliphant said, without evidencing any hysteria, "They outplayed us. We're not going to make excuses."