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SCORECARD
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
October 06, 1980
MINI-REBELLION IN ROAD RACING
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October 06, 1980

Scorecard

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MINI-REBELLION IN ROAD RACING

As happened in tennis in the mid-1960s, pressure is building for openly awarding prize money in road racing, a sport in which under-the-table payments have become increasingly common. Most athletes, sponsors and race promoters want to end hypocritical "shamateurism" and legalize cash prizes. However, in sharp contrast to the situation in tennis, which hasn't been an Olympic sport since 1924, leading road racers often compete in the Olympics and are subject, with track and field athletes, to the archaic amateur rules imposed by the IAAF, the world governing body of the sport. While The Athletics Congress (TAC), which oversees road racing in the U.S., has promised to work within the IAAF for a needed relaxation of the rules, the pace of change remains slow.

The situation may nevertheless be coming to a head. Two weeks ago the makers of Jordache jeans paid out $50,000 in prize money at a professional marathon in Atlantic City and promised that other run-for-the-money events would follow. But Ollan Cassell, executive director of TAC, warned that, under IAAF rules, runners who entered such races would risk being stripped of their international eligibility. Alternatively, Cassell announced that he had obtained IAAF approval for an experimental Grand Prix circuit in which prize money would be awarded not to athletes but to their clubs, which then could distribute funds to members for "expenses." Cassell described the circuit as a necessary first step toward open racing. "The IAAF needs some kind of experience before diving into dark waters," Cassell told SI's Craig Neff. "They want to know where the rocks are."

Runners have reacted to these goings-on with a fine streak of independence. The Atlantic City race wound up drawing 31 entrants, but most of the big names skipped the event rather than risk their eligibility in what could've been a one-shot opportunity. But they didn't exactly rush to the TAC circuit, either. The Association of Road Racing Athletes, a newly formed group whose ranks include Bill Rodgers, Craig Virgin, Herb Lindsay, Don Kardong, Joan Benoit, Benji Durden and Garry Bjorklund, met in Chicago last week and voted to shun the proposed Grand Prix circuit. "TAC is just clouding the waters with more disguised payments," said Bjorklund. "Their circuit would just lead to more clever bookkeeping." Stung by the athletes' rejection, Cassell hinted that TAC might go ahead with its prize-money circuit even without the balky stars.

Cassell may have reason for sticking to his guns. As he points out, if TAC lent support to a prize-money scheme that ended up costing athletes their international eligibility, it might be violating the federal Amateur Sports Act of 1978 and could face lawsuits. Yet the road racers hope that by holding out for direct prize payments, they can force the IAAF's hand, especially if their mini-rebellion spreads to track and field athletes. As Kardong puts it, "TAC says it has no choice in these matters because of directives it gets from the IAAF. We're not convinced of that. We're not convinced these things are unchangeable."

The athletes' ultimate weapon is the possibility that many of them may decide to chuck their international eligibility. Thanks partly to disillusionment caused by the Olympic boycott, U.S. road racers appear determined to take greater control of their own fate. Says Kardong, "Most of us would rather work within the international structure. However, I think if someone came up with a long-term, well-thought-out system [of prize-money races], we'd all look at it quite seriously."

PUTTING THE PIG BACK IN THE PIGSKIN

As with thoroughbreds, some people perform better on mud than others. When it comes to sloshing about on a football field knee-deep in slop, nobody compares with the Mount Washington Valley Hogs of North Conway, N.H. They're the Pittsburgh Steelers of mud football, a game that has long been popular on campuses and is now gaining a wider following, especially in the Northeast.

Mud football is played on fields plowed and hosed down to produce swamplike conditions. Teams play two-hand touch, but because of the slippery footing, participants probably spend more time earthbound—or mudbound—than they would if they were playing tackle. Players are usually barefoot and even the most routine handoff can be high adventure. Says John Gorman, a special-teams member of the Hogs, "When I was eight, I'd have gotten into trouble for doing this. Now I can play in the mud without my mother yelling at me."

Mud football got started in the ski-resort community of North Conway in 1975 when a team of ski bums and locals was formed to play in the grandly named World Mud Football Championships, which were being held at another ski resort, Sugarloaf in Maine. The Hogs won the title and repeated as world champs the next three years, but in 1979 they were defeated by the Hamslammers of Holland Patent, N.Y. Earlier this month the Hogs regained the championship, beating the Hamslammers 8-7 before a crowd of 4,000 in Holland Patent. The following weekend the Hogs returned to North Conway to play host to what was billed as the Olympic Mud Games. The Mount Washington Valley Band played but refused to slog through the mire, and the Hogs were urged on ("We love you, Hogs, oh yes we dooooo...") by the Hoggettes, a corps of cheerleaders clad in gym shorts, pig ears and snouts. Alas, the Hogs were upset 19-0 in the title game by the Plymouth Valley ( N.H.) Mudders, after which the teams faced what one of the players called the most unsavory part of mud football. "I hate going under the hose to clean off," he shuddered. "That water's ice cold."

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