While corruption in sports was scarcely unknown in bygone years, there seems to be an unusually large number of scandals, scams and unseemly incidents these days. In addition to the case of the Phillie Seven and the point-shaving scandal at Boston College (page 14), there have been recent allegations of widespread ticket scalping in the NFL, improper payments to basketball players at Wichita State, misuse of telephone credit cards by track athletes at Kansas State, use of non-athletes to rewrite term papers for athletes at Kansas, fixed races at Suffolk Downs, the tanking of matches in the Grand Prix Masters tennis tournament, the hitting of a rival player by North Carolina Basketball Coach Dean Smith, expense-account abuses by coaches at Purdue and Cincinnati and a $20-million-plus embezzlement in boxing.
Now these are all just allegations, remember. Still, what in the world is happening? The mere fact that there are more teams, more athletes and more sports events than ever before probably has something to do with the increase in suspected shenanigans. So, no doubt, does the unprecedented amount of money now at stake in sports. Another factor is a growing tendency by newspapers to treat sports as part of the real world and to assign investigative reporters to uncover abuses—and not just for the sports section, either. Thus, the allegations about Wichita State, Kansas State and Kansas first appeared in a series that ran for five days last week on the front page of The Kansas City Times.
It's comforting to know that reporters and law-enforcement officers are keeping an eye on the would-be corrupters of sports. At the same time, there's a danger that the seemingly endless allegations of wrongdoing will diminish the public's capacity for outrage. Or at least the right kind of outrage. Consider the reaction to The Kansas City Times series, as described by that paper's editor, Michael Davies. "Our stories upset a lot of rabid sports fans," he says. "Many seemed shocked. They tell us, 'What you are printing can't be true. Even if it is true, so what? Everybody else is doing the same thing.' "
As a possible water-conservation measure, drought-stricken New York City has proposed the digging of a well at Shea Stadium to provide water to keep the field green for Met games. SI Baseball Writer Steve Wulf suggests that the city begin its search for water at third base because, as every Met fan knows, there's already a big hole there.
MEOW AT M.U.
Sponsored by Ralston Purina Company, the recent women's intercollegiate gymnastics meet in Columbia, Mo. was called the Purina Cat Classic. The participants were the Pitt Pantherettes, Montana State Bobcats, Brigham Young Cougars, LSU Lady Tigers, Penn State Lady Lions and the host Missouri Tigers.
BUY ME NACHOS & CRACKER JACK
Peanuts typically account for only 5% to 10% of concession sales at big league ball parks, but it's hard to imagine baseball without them. Alas, during the 1981 season, concessionaires at Fenway Park and Atlanta Stadium will no longer be selling peanuts, and those at Texas' Arlington Stadium and Kansas City's Royal Stadium may drop them, too. Explaining the break with tradition, Rico Picardi, who handles the Fenway concessions, says, "The price is crazy and the peanuts are small and dried up. I'd feel guilty selling those things."
The situation described by Picardi was caused by dry spells last summer that cut the U.S. peanut crop by 40% from the year before and tripled wholesale prices. Even with an increase in imports, peanuts for candy and peanut butter are in short supply, and some zoo elephants have had to be content with bananas instead of peanuts. As for the kind of roasted-in-the-shell peanuts hawked at ball parks, Picardi's assessment is only too accurate. There is an excess of low-quality "pops," i.e., peanuts with shriveled meat or no meat at all. And the price of the peanuts is anything but peanuts. During the football season, a 2�-ounce bag in Seattle's Kingdome, where the price had increased only from 45� to 50� since the opening of the stadium in 1976, was raised all the way to 75�. For the baseball season, prices are expected to rise from 60� to 75� (for a 2�-ounce bag) in Minnesota, while a 90� price (two ounces) is likely in Oakland. And it may be a dollar a bag (for 2� ounces) in St. Louis.
In Los Angeles, where the Dodgers sold an amazing three million bags last season—roughly one for each fan who passed through the turnstiles—peanuts are now in such short supply that Roger (Peanut Man) Owens, a vendor who makes a show of acrobatically flinging bags of goobers to customers, says forlornly, "I only hope I can keep throwing." Assuming peanuts are available at Dodger Stadium, the same three-ounce bag that last season sold for 50� could go for a buck this year. By contrast, the concessionaire at San Diego Padre games will hold the price at 50� but reduce the size of bags from three to 1� ounces. A strikingly different marketing approach is being considered at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, where Bob Forbes of Volume Services, the concessionaire, says, "If a family of six comes to the park, they're not going to each buy a bag of peanuts. They'll buy one big bag and share it." Accordingly, Volume Services may introduce the "family pack," a one-pound bag that would sell for a small fortune and whose contents Mom and Dad could ration to the kids like caviar.
On the absence of peanuts at Red Sox games, Picardi says, vendors will "push the popcorn." In Atlanta, peanuts will be replaced by potato chips, corn chips and fried fatback. At ball parks still selling peanuts, fans who don't want to shell out for them will be offered alternatives. Thus, Cleveland will push nachos, cheese-topped tortilla chips, while Kansas City will offer nachos and pretzels. Milwaukee and Minnesota may introduce sunflower seeds. Though it is hoped the crisis will be eased when the next peanut crop is harvested in October, a shortage of good seed peanuts makes this uncertain. But everybody will be glad to know that Cracker Jack, the other half of the one-two combination heralded in the song Take Me Out to the Ball Game, has so far been spared any great upheaval. A company spokesman says that because of preexisting long-term contracts, its supply of peanuts, at least nine of which go into every Cracker Jack box, is assured for the foreseeable future.