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CRIES OF DOOM
Some NFL personages have issued dire warnings that the Oakland Raiders' move to Los Angeles might destroy the league. Noting that the Raiders have flouted an NFL rule requiring that franchise shifts be approved by three-fourths—or 21—of the 28 owners, they say that if the Raiders get away with such perfidy, other clubs will be encouraged to freely break league rules, too. The result, Pittsburgh Steeler President Dan Rooney warned last week, is that "we may not have a league." Similarly, Green Bay Packer owner Dominic Olejniczak said of the Raider move, "It could spell anarchy."
But such wild alarums may be just that—wild alarums. The Raiders' move to L.A. has resulted in several lawsuits, the most threatening to the NFL being one brought by the Los Angeles Coliseum alleging that the rule requiring a three-fourths vote on franchise shifts violates federal antitrust law. That suit is pending before U.S. District Court Judge Harry Pregerson in Los Angeles, who last month enjoined the NFL from forcing the Raiders to submit its move to L.A. to a vote by the other clubs. Although Pregerson's action has since been stayed by the U.S. Court of Appeals, one of his written opinions in the case provides a revealing glimpse of his thinking on the legality of NFL procedures and rules generally.
Pregerson says NFL franchises are individual businesses whose "cooperation" raises antitrust questions. But he says that by the very nature of sports, cooperation in some areas—playing rules and scheduling, for example—is paradoxically necessary for competition to exist. He implies that certain other NFL practices, such as player drafts and jointly negotiated TV contracts, if tested in the courts, might well be adjudged permissible under antitrust law. Nor does Pregerson entirely rule out the possibility that even the three-fourths rule might eventually be upheld as legal. None of which sounds remotely like a declaration of open season on the NFL constitution.
Even if it doesn't presage the NFL's imminent demise, however, the Raiders' shift to L.A. is an affront to the fans who long and faithfully supported the team in Oakland. And it could, therefore, cause the NFL long-term problems by arousing the undue attention of Congress. Nevertheless, Raider boss Al Davis last week said that his team had received orders for season tickets from 20,000 Angelenos and had changed its name to the Los Angeles Raiders.
The passage nearly two years ago of Proposition 13, which sharply cut California property taxes, has inevitably placed financial strains on high school athletic programs. At the same time, school sports budgets have also been strained by the rapid proliferation of girls' teams. To avoid drastically curtailing athletic programs, California high schools have turned increasingly to booster clubs to raise funds. Many also have begun charging students for participating in varsity sports.
The fees assessed under "Pay for Play" plans vary widely. Athletes at Rolling Hills High on Los Angeles' affluent Palos Verdes Peninsula shell out $67 for each sport, while those in the San Francisco suburb of San Mateo pay $20 per sport up to a limit of $60 per family, regardless of how many siblings or different sports are involved. Officially, payment in most cases is voluntary. "If the student can't or won't pay, the fee is paid somehow," says Chick Hinds, commissioner of San Mateo's seven-school Mid-Peninsula League. "The student can work for it, or the booster club or somebody will find the money for him." But some California schools reportedly are quite forceful in "requesting" payment.
The idea of having to pay for what once was considered a vital part of the educational process is disturbing, especially since fees obviously put an unequal burden on lower-income students. The only possible salutary effect is that athletes who pay to participate in high school sports are understandably loath to sit on the bench. Accordingly, some coaches might conceivably be a bit more disposed to let everybody play than they would otherwise be.