RESTATING THE CASE FOR REFORM
In 1976, Arthur Hansen, the president of Purdue University, fired Alex Agase, the football coach, whose record in four seasons with the Boilermakers was 18-25-1. Hansen praised Agase's "integrity and honesty," but he also said, "The main thing is keeping gate receipts at the games as high as possible." Today, in the face of college sport's burgeoning academic cheating scandal, Hansen doesn't shrink from his definition of the "main thing." Insisting that intercollegiate sport can be clean and big, Hansen still emphasizes the importance of filling the football stadium.
"There are 20,000-plus students at the stadium on a given Saturday," Hansen told SI's Bob Sullivan. "They receive a tremendous sense of spirit, a positive, psychologically lifting experience. Then there's the allegiance of alumni. For some, football is the only tie. There are community gains, too. Football is a positive good which, if we were to remove it, would have negative ramifications."
Hansen is hardly alone in defending big-time college sport. Despite the pervasiveness of the current scandal, there have been few calls for "de-emphasis" of college athletics, a remedy widely espoused during similar troubles in the '40s and '50s. Given that fact, the most one can realistically hope for is the adoption of reforms to eliminate some of the excesses. But the need for such action is urgent, a fact underscored by the situation in the Pac-10, whose presidents and chancellors two weeks ago disqualified five member schools—USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon and Oregon State—from this year's conference championship race because of various improprieties. Last week the Pac-10 also declared three Oregon football players ineligible for the season for accepting free airline tickets. Meanwhile, questions have been raised about how four UCLA freshman basketball players were reportedly able to buy cars costing up to $7,000 from two L.A. dealers without need of financing. Yet another Pac-10 school, California, has been embarrassed by reports that Chuck Muncie, an All-America running back now with the New Orleans Saints, received credit in 1974 for an extension course at Santa Clara University he never took. Away from the Pac-10, an investigation by the Nevada State Journal and Reno Evening Gazette reveals, astonishingly, that of the 80 blacks who played football or basketball at the University of Nevada-Reno over the past nine years, only two graduated from that school. One nongraduate, Edgar Jones, a basketball player now with the New Jersey Nets, was quoted as claiming that coaches had discouraged him from pursuing a meaningful education.
"They didn't give me incentive to get out of bed," Jones said. "I wanted to take math classes. I couldn't do it. They said it's too hard, drop it. I was a whiz with numbers." Jones said he was also talked out of biology classes and was steered instead into physical education classes in which "you learned things you learned in health class in grade school." Straining to find something good to say about his college education, Jones said, "I learned to weld. I never welded before."
In his examination of academic cheating in SI last May, John Underwood put forward a list of suggested reforms. The NCAA has already adopted Underwood's proposal that credits for extension and correspondence courses be applied toward athletic eligibility only if the courses are offered by the athlete's own school. Other proposals advanced by Underwood will be considered at the NCAA convention next January, including elimination of eligibility for freshmen to give them more time to acclimatize themselves to the demands of the classroom. But some items on Underwood's agenda are meeting resistance, notably his suggestion that pressures on football coaches to win—and to cheat—might be relieved by granting them tenure like that enjoyed by professors. But it seems that many college presidents are reluctant to relinquish their God-given right to fire football coaches.
Such squeamishness about tenure and other needed reforms is unfortunate. The current crisis in college sport raises serious doubt about whether academic excellence is compatible with high-powered, high-pressure intercollegiate sport. We hope that Arthur Hansen and other likeminded administrators are right in saying it is. But as the 1980 college football season begins, the burden is squarely on them to prove it.
TANDEM POWER CLUB
When Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit 61 and 54 home runs, respectively, in 1961, the Yankee sluggers became the most accomplished duo in what Jeff Bachrach, sports editor of the Willamette Week in Portland, Ore., calls the Tandem Power Club. Membership in the TPC is open to any two teammates who combine for 80 or more homers in a season. There have been only 34 such pairs since Babe Ruth (60) and Lou Gehrig (47) became the first in 1927. Their 107 is second to the 115 by Maris and Mantle on the alltime list.
Interestingly, the TPC has been cracked just once since 1973. That occurred in 1977 when Cincinnati's George Foster (52) and Johnny Bench (31) hit 83. Combining for 80 homers has proved difficult because, even though there are more teams and a longer schedule than in bygone years, the number of individual players who hit 40 or more homers in a season has declined. Thus it was noteworthy that Milwaukee's Ben Oglivie and Gorman Thomas ranked second and third behind Reggie Jackson in the American League last week with 32 and 29 homers. But Oglivie and Thomas had better step it up. At the rate they're going, they'll finish with 78 homers, missing the TPC by two.