WHEN IT PAYS TO LOSE
The practice of splitting postseason tournament and bowl revenues among members of the same college conference is, by and large, a good thing. The arrangement ensures that perennial powerhouses don't ladle in every last drop of gravy and that have-not schools don't go utterly without nourishment. But there's a potentially awkward problem with such share-the-wealth schemes. They can, under certain circumstances, create financial incentives to lose, a situation in sports that's patently objectionable.
An example of how losing can be more lucrative than winning occurred in the final of the 1984 Big Eight basketball tournament between Oklahoma and Kansas. Oklahoma, with a 29-3 record, had a berth in the NCAA tournament all sewed up, but the only way that Kansas, whose record was 20-9, could have guaranteed itself a spot would have been by upsetting the Sooners and receiving an automatic bid as conference champions. And the Jayhawks did win, 79-78. Had Oklahoma won, it wouldn't have taken in an extra nickel in NCAA revenue. But, because its loss put Kansas into the NCAAs, it stood to receive under Big Eight rules a share of any money the Jay-hawks earned in the NCAA tournament. As it happened, Kansas lost in the NCAA tourney's second round, and Oklahoma's cut was about $20,000, but that figure would have been closer to $75,000 if Kansas had made it to the Final Four.
None of this is to suggest that anyone is taking a barney in college sports. One look at Oklahoma star Wayman Tisdale lying abjectly on the floor after his team's unexpected loss to Kansas tells you that. So does the fact that Oregon State, with an NCAA berth already in its pocket, might have aced itself out of as much as $30,000 under the Pac-10's distribution formula by beating UCLA in the regular-season finale; the loss probably cost the Bruins an NCAA bid. Ditto Northwestern's season-ending win over Michigan that may have knocked the Wolverines out of the NCAAs and thereby cost the Wildcats as much as $30,000 or so.
Few, if any, college administrators show much concern over the situation. Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt, who heads the NCAA Division I men's basketball selection committee, dismisses any suggestion that a school might try to enrich itself by intentionally losing a meaningless late-season game as "Star Wars stuff." In fact, it isn't clear what can be done about the problem, short of divvying postseason revenues equally among all NCAA schools without regard for who wins or loses, a remedy, incidentally, that might also ease some of the financial pressures to win that lead to recruiting and academic abuses. The movers and shakers of college sport would never in a million years adopt such a drastic reform, which means it's probably worth at least considering.
THE ZAPPING OF GIPP (CONTINUED)
You mustn't blame the folks at Dick Clark Productions for what happened. You see, when they set out to make the latest installment of Celebrities! Where Are They Now?, a one-hour special scheduled for May 10 (9 p.m. E.D.T.) on ABC-TV, they dearly wanted to show a waiting America the two missing "Win One for the Gipper" scenes from the 1940 Warner Brothers movie Knute Rockne—All American. Instead, one of the scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor. So what else is new?
The Gipper saga has impressed itself on the national consciousness even though the scenes largely responsible were excised from circulating prints of Knute Rockne—All American back when Warner sold television rights to the movie in 1956. In one scene a dying George Gipp, played by Ronald Reagan, implores Rockne, his football coach at Notre Dame, to ask some future Irish team to "win just one for the Gipper." The movie then shows Rockne, years later, dramatically telling a hushed locker room full of Notre Dame players about Gipp's deathbed request. The exact reason for the deletion of these scenes was long cloaked in mystery, but SI cleared it up on the eve of Reagan's inauguration as President (SCORECARD, Jan. 12, 1981). The Gipp material had been based on a radio script, and Warner Brothers had ordered the cuts "to eliminate any possible infringement" of the copyright. In a subsequent letter to SI managing editor Gilbert Rogin, Reagan said that he had always labored under a different impression of why the deathbed scene had been deleted. "The only problem I ever heard about...was that Gipp's family had never been notified of his illness in time to get there before his death," the President wrote. "They were, of course, resentful. That's why we staged the scene with the unidentified woman there with Bonnie [Rockne]. We felt the audience would assume it was his mother, but we could not legally in any way suggest it."
The producers of Celebrities! Where Are They Now? decided to find the missing footage and include it in a segment of their show dealing with Pat O'Brien, the actor who portrayed Rockne in the movie. They arranged clearance with both John Driscoll, the author of the radio script, and MGM/United Artists, which now owns the movie, and borrowed a print of the uncut film from Notre Dame's archives. They also had O'Brien, whose Rockne impersonation had over the years become a banquet-circuit favorite, recreate the locker-room scene; this was done six days before O'Brien died last October.
If the TV show had been broadcast as first envisioned in November, both Gipper scenes would have been included. But the air date got pushed back, and after Reagan announced for reelection in January, the network decided it didn't want to risk demands for equal time by his Democratic rivals by showing him on the air as the Gipper. Accordingly, while O'Brien's locker-room scene will be presented on May 10, the deathbed scene involving Reagan has been cut from Celebrities! Where Are They Now? (although it could be edited back in for reruns after the election). This disappoints the program's producer, Al Schwartz, who says, "I don't think showing Ronald Reagan 40 years ago as George Gipp would have any bearing on a presidential campaign. Just look at how The Right Stuff helped John Glenn."