OPENING UP TO CHANGE
The National Hockey League's woes continue unabated. The financially ailing Atlanta Flames, the NHL's first and only entry in the Deep South, have bolted for Calgary, leaving the league even more concentrated than before in Canada and the northern U.S. The NHL also continues to toil without a national television contract. CBS did televise the New York Islanders' 5-4 overtime defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth and decisive game of the Stanley Cup finals, but the results were embarrassing: while an early-season baseball game between the Dodgers and the Cubs was grabbing a 26% share of the audience on NBC, the NHL showdown claimed only 17%, more than one-fifth of which was in New York City. In other NHL cities, the Stanley Cup game drew audience shares as small as 6%, and interest elsewhere was practically nonexistent.
Clearly, many sports fans have trouble taking NHL hockey seriously. The game suffers from uncontrolled fighting, which league officials ritually defend as "part of the game," and other outrages abound. Following the Islanders' final victory, during which the New Yorkers scored two disputed goals, Philadelphia owner Ed Snider bitterly said, "The problem with this league is [referee-in-chief] Scotty Morrison. He should be shot." Shockingly, NHL President John Ziegler has yet to publicly rebuke Snider for his unconscionable outburst. (Morrison has threatened legal action against Snider, saying, "I don't intend to treat this lightly in this day of kooks.")
More encouraging, at its meeting later this month in Los Angeles, the NHL Board of Governors is expected to consider adoption of sudden-death overtime in the regular season, a move that would eliminate some of the ties (142 this past season) that send many fans home dissatisfied. It may also consider proposals to abandon the center red line and to move each goal and each blue line five yards closer to center ice. Abolishing the red line would reduce offside calls that disrupt play and prolong games. Moving out the nets and blue lines would increase the skating area behind each goal line, affording spectators a better view of action around the net. It also would open up play, making it harder to freeze the puck, and keep defensemen too busy chasing opposing forwards to park in front of the net. The result might be less crowding in the corners and at the goal mouth and, therefore, fewer fights, injuries and fluke goals.
The price of such an innovation would be high—a reduction of the center ice area, where skaters build up speed as they advance toward the attacking zone. But Minnesota North Star General Manager Lou Nanne, for one, favors experimenting with the proposal during the NHL's 1980 exhibition games. Nanne notes that by putting a greater priority on finesse than on thuggery, the changes could give the NHL more of the flavor of international hockey, which uses bigger rinks and offers, as many people discovered during the Lake Placid Olympics, a cleaner, faster-paced, more wide-open and often more enjoyable game than the one the NHL insists on playing.
When it appeared last month that there were ballplayers among the Cuban refugees flocking to the U.S., Bowie Kuhn promptly forbade their signing, fearing, among other things, that a costly bidding war for them might develop among major league clubs (SCORECARD, May 19). Last week Kuhn lifted the ban, and the reason he felt relaxed enough to do so became quickly apparent. The Detroit Tigers awarded contracts to Shortstop Eduardo Cajuso and Centerfielder Roberto Salazar, both 22, but the other 25 clubs didn't sign any Cubans, having concluded that most of them were out of shape and older than they admitted to being. You'd think they'd never heard of an out-of-shape, older-than-he-admits Cuban named Luis Tiant, who's still effective enough to be a starting pitcher, with a 4-3 record, for the American League-leading New York Yankees.
DIRTY T SHIRTS
The presidential primaries are over, but George Bush has a lingering problem that arose on May 14, six days before the Republican primary in Oregon. Campaigning in Eugene, a hotbed of running, Bush had gone on a 3�-mile jog and invited local residents to accompany him, giving 700 of them T shirts boasting I JOGGED WITH GEORGE BUSH. Alas, Bush not only was trounced in the Oregon election by Ronald Reagan but he also has been told by Oregon Secretary of State Norma Paulus that the T-shirt giveaway violated the state's Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits candidates from exercising "undue influence" on voters by giving them "anything of value."
Bush aides said they gave out the shirts after receiving legal advice that in campaigns for national office, federal election laws preempt state laws. Bush himself has made light of the situation, suggesting that the shirts should have been lent to the joggers until they became sweat-soaked during the run, at which point they could have been formally given to them. "How can you call a used T shirt anything of value?" he reasoned.
But the relentless Paulus said she was seriously considering prosecuting Bush campaign officials; violations of the law are punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Paulus said that before the jog she had taken the position that the Oregon law was not superseded by federal law and had exacted a promise from local Bush officials that no T shirts would be given out. Curiously, Paulus described herself as a " Bush Republican," a characterization that moved one Bush aide, Peter Hunt, to say, "That's absurd. The woman's got to be crazy."