SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
February 20, 1984
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February 20, 1984


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In seeking to distinguish between amateurs who are allowed to compete in the Olympics and professionals deemed unworthy to do so, the International Olympic Committee can be more than slightly myopic. It meekly accepts the straight-faced claims of Soviet and other socialist-bloc sports officials that their athletes are amateurs even though they're paid. It also buys the assertions of Western officials that their athletes are amateurs, never mind that many of them accept lucre in the form of college scholarships, "trust funds" and "broken-time" training payments. Last week's IOC ruling on hockey eligibility in Sarajevo contained similar elements of make-believe.

In declaring ineligible five players who'd seen action in the NHL—two each from Canada and Italy, one from Austria—the IOC insisted that it was sticking to its Rule 26, which bars from Olympic competition anybody who signs a pro contract. But what of certain other players who signed pro contracts yet were allowed to compete at Sarajevo? Although Olympic officials didn't expressly say so during a tumultuous press conference on the subject, it appeared, as a result of the new IOC action, that Rule 26 now applied only to those who'd signed contracts and played as pros. What's more, insofar as hockey was concerned, only the NHL was now considered to be professional, and not the defunct World Hockey Association, the minor American Hockey League or the various play-for-pay leagues in Europe that insist on calling themselves amateur.

The effect of the hockey ruling was to further muddle the subject of Olympic eligibility—and to raise anew the question of why the Olympic brass still bothers to distinguish between pros and amateurs. The inconsistencies and hypocrisies seem to multiply with each Olympics. To take another example, tennis will be a "demonstration" sport at this year's Summer Games, and in this case eligibility apparently will have nothing to do with whether one has signed a pro contract or played for pay. The latest word is that tennis eligibility will be determined solely on the basis of age: Anybody under 21 can play, anybody over can't. Thus, 19-year-old Mats Wilander, who made more than $1 million on the pro circuit last year, is an amateur, while Uncle Max, who plays pitty-pat with his cronies at Retirement City, is a pro.

Absurd though all this clearly is, the IOC keeps drawing and redrawing the hopelessly blurred line between professionals and amateurs. The results can be as harsh as they are illogical. Consider the way the IOC switched signals on poor Hannu Kamppuri, a Finnish hockey player who abandoned his efforts to make his country's team for Sarajevo after being informed last October in a letter from IOC director Monique Berlioux that he would be ineligible because he'd played two games in the World Hockey Association and 19 in the Central Hockey League. Under last week's ruling, Kamppuri, who never played in the NHL, presumably would have been allowed to compete in Sarajevo after all. Asked about the case, Berlioux denied having written the letter to Kamppuri. But a photocopy of it turned up. The letter said it was "indisputable" that he was ineligible for Sarajevo.

A self-explanatory comment from Dr. Lawrence A. Simpson, director of the office of career planning and placement at the University of Virginia, on how members of the school's 1983 graduating class fared in the job market: "Our highest salaries were for graduates of the Department of Rhetoric and Communications Studies, where the beginning average pay was $55,000 a year. Of course, the average height was 6'5". Thanks, Ralph."


For home games in Alumni Fieldhouse, basketball players of St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Ind. dress in the basement and go up a tunnel to the playing floor. Just as the Pumas headed up for a game against Wisconsin-Parkside, assistant coach Dave Smith ducked into the rest-room. By the time he got to the tunnel door the players had passed through it, and it had been locked from the outside by the team manager. "I pounded on the door and yelled through a vent, but no one came," Smith said later.

Unable to get out. Smith, who ordinarily charts fouls and keeps track of time-outs for coach George Waggoner, listened helplessly as the pep band played and the crowd of 1,500 cheered. By positioning himself in the shower area, he could hear the PA. man introduce the starting lineups and announce fouls, time-outs and the like. "I never realized how long a half of a basketball game can last," Smith said. "But I made the best of it by keeping track of time-outs and fouls. I couldn't tell who made the free throws, though." Not until the Pumas, who would win 73-70, came in at halftime did they learn what had happened to Smith. "Where have you been?" demanded Waggoner. Relieved but also chastened. Smith said, "I was beginning to wonder if anybody missed me."


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