THE GREAT AMERICAN NON SEQUITUR
It was just a year ago that the New Jersey Generals enticed Herschel Walker out of the University of Georgia in what the USFL called an "exception" to its rule against signing players who hadn't used up their college eligibility. Today that rule and a longer-standing NFL prohibition against trafficking in still-eligible collegians are under assault on several fronts. In U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Bob Boris, a former University of Arizona punter who left school without graduating, has brought an antitrust suit against the USFL in which he argues that the league's rule deprived him of a chance to play for USFL teams; in late January, Judge Lauglin E. Waters ruled in favor of Boris on that point, a decision that, if it stands, presumably would be the death knell for the USFL rule. The USFL has indicated it will appeal, but it has meanwhile allowed Boris to sign this season with the Oklahoma Outlaws. In U.S. District Court in Chicago, former University of Illinois defensive lineman Ken Durrell has brought a similar suit challenging the rules of both the USFL and NFL prohibiting the signing of underclassmen. And the Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether those rules violate antitrust law.
It's hard to wish the NFL and USFL well in any of these cases. In refusing to traffic in collegians before their classes have graduated, the pro leagues are doing the bidding of college coaches who argue that the signing of such players would 1) severely damage intercollegiate football and 2) interfere with players' educations. Both arguments are specious. The early loss of some stars is unlikely to diminish the esprit that gives college football much of its appeal; an NBA ban against signing undergraduates with eligibility remaining was struck down in an antitrust suit brought by Spencer Haywood in 1971, and college basketball has since enjoyed enormous growth in popularity. The academic argument is even less persuasive; even with the NFL's hands-off-underclassmen policy, barely one-third of its players have college degrees.
Far from harming the colleges, doing away with the rules in question would have the welcome effect of eliminating the demeaning—to all concerned—situation in which colleges conspire to hold their players in something resembling bondage. One thinks here of Marcus Dupree, who has dropped out of two colleges in this, his sophomore year, and who, it has become increasingly clear, isn't much interested in pursuing a college education. Last weekend the USFL's New Orleans Breakers said they were negotiating with Dupree, but the league office was holding to the official line that he was off-limits. If the NFL and USFL eligibility rules remain in force, Dupree wouldn't be able to play pro football until 1987. Moreover, because of the NCAA's equally restrictive rules governing transfers, he's also currently ineligible to play college football. Boris and Durrell found themselves in a similar no-man's-land. Both were ineligible in college because of academic difficulties, yet were blocked from playing in the NFL or USFL because of the ban against signing underclassmen.
The ironic thing about the rules prohibiting football players from bolting to join the pros is that some of those athletes probably shouldn't have been in college to begin with, a fact underscored by the academic-transcript and other admissions-related scandals of recent years. In going to inordinate lengths to attract and then hang on to outstanding athletes, colleges are exacerbating a situation that Duke law professor John C. Weistart characterizes in a recent issue of the Journal of College and University Law as The Great American Non Sequitur. Lamenting the fact that so much of high-level sports competition in the U.S. is rooted in universities, Weistart writes: "We have, in this country, embraced the not-wholly-logical notion that if a young man exhibits certain unusual physical skills and wants to secure refinement of his talent, he must also be both motivated and qualified to go to college." Weistart bleakly concludes that in the absence of other post-high school outlets for talented athletes who can't cut it in the classroom, college sports will inevitably continue to be riddled by academic abuses.
The case is strong, in other words, for expanding the options for college-age athletes. The NFL and USFL rules unjustifiably limit those options.
On Jan. 24 Boone County High beat Newport High 117-111 in what went into the books as the highest-scoring game in the history of Kentucky schoolboy basketball. In running up all those points, however, the teams had help from a malfunctioning clock. High school games last 32 minutes, and at the end of the first half, which apparently ran the normal 16 minutes, the score was only 35-35. But the points began to pile up in the second half, and it wasn't until late in the game that officials figured out the reason: The clock had been taking several extra seconds to restart after every interruption of play. Unable to correct the malfunction, the coaches simply let the game drag on to its record-setting conclusion.
Is it fair to credit two teams with the record for most points in regulation time when their game lasted longer than regulation time? That question is now purely academic. After discovering that one of its players was ineligible, Boone County has had to forfeit five of this season's victories, including the one over Newport. This makes the score 1-0, equaling the lowest-scoring game in Kentucky high school history.
When a fight broke out Saturday during the Canadiens' 7-4 win over the New York Rangers, the organist at the Montreal Forum began playing Eye of the Tiger, the theme song from Rocky III. Tempers continued to flare, the officials had trouble restoring order and two players were ejected. Two days earlier a fight had commenced at Madison Square Garden during the Rangers' 4-2 defeat of the Quebec Nordiques, but it quickly petered out. The organist's selection during that one was You Always Hurt the One You Love.