HAVE FINALS, WILL TRAVEL
It's a disconcerting fact that when this season's first two college football bowl games were played last weekend, three of the four teams involved—Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, the rivals in Saturday's Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. (the Aggies won 33-16), and Wisconsin, a 28-21 loser to Tennessee on Sunday in the Garden State Bowl at New Jersey's Giants Stadium—represented schools that were to begin final exams at the start of this week. Please note the dates. The games were played on Dec. 12 and 13, respectively, with exams scheduled to get underway on Dec. 13 at Wisconsin and Dec. 14 at the other two schools ( Tennessee's finals ended Dec. 8). Although learning to deal with distractions is certainly part of one's education, it's difficult to fathom how universities could participate in such extravaganzas, ostensibly student activities, hundreds of miles from campus on the eve of exams.
Conflicts between bowls and exams are becoming increasingly frequent. Because they're so lucrative for all concerned, the number of major-college bowl games has doubled, to 16, over the past two decades, with several of the newer ones being held in mid-December to avoid a scheduling logjam on TV. This would be fine except for a simultaneous change in many academic-year calendars. In the early '60s, 80% of all four-year institutions were on the semester system, under which final exams are ordinarily held in middle or late January. This meant that most schools could participate in bowls in December or on New Year's Day with a fair amount of time left for students to prepare for finals. Today only one-fourth of all colleges are on the semester system. Owing largely to a desire to get finals over with before Christmas vacation, most institutions have switched to trimester or quarter systems with exams in early and mid-December.
Besides the Independence and Garden State, the bowls most likely to come in conflict with exams are the Holiday in San Diego and the Tangerine in Orlando, Fla., which are scheduled this year for Dec. 18 and Dec. 19, respectively. For the players, such conflicts are compounded by practice and pregame publicity appearances. A school is free to decline a bowl bid, of course, but this disappoints players and fans and means giving up a lot of money. Nevertheless, because of exams, Stanford passed up the Holiday Bowl last year, and Wisconsin, whose exams run through Dec. 19, ruled out this year's Holiday and Tangerine bowls. The Badgers were saved by the Garden State bid, which they snapped up; participation in a bowl two days before the start of exams was at least preferable to playing in one during exams.
Two other schools confronted with a conflict were this year's Tangerine Bowl opponents, Southern Mississippi and Missouri, whose exams had been scheduled to run through Dec. 18 and 19, respectively. Missouri arranged for its players to reschedule their finals as needed, while Southern Mississippi made it easier for ordinary students to go to the game by moving its entire exam schedule ahead by three days. By contrast, Independence Bowl-bound Texas A&M made no such concessions; with exams looming, only 350 of the school's 36,000 students attended the game. Asked by SI's Jill Lieber about this inconvenience, Ralph McFillen, the NCAA's postseason-football spokesman, replied, "To say the bowls exist for the students is wrong. They exist for the communities in which they're played." This startling statement, a contradiction of the NCAA's official position that intercollegiate sport is played by and for students, is an affront to student rooters who faithfully follow their teams all year. It also implies that band members, cheerleaders and players who are obliged to participate in bowls aren't students.
Most conflicts between exams and bowl games could be eliminated by scheduling all the games in late December or early January. However, McFillen says that because of NFL playoffs and other factors, it would be impossible to secure the necessary TV dates. If that's the case, it would be consistent with the NCAA's oft-expressed assurances that academics come before athletics if the early bowl games were simply scrapped. In the meantime, one hopes that Robert Sandmeyer, dean of Oklahoma State's College of Business Administration, was right when he said of the Cowboy players who made the trip to Shreveport: "We assume they took along their books."
In his latter-day profession as a leading breeder of harness horses, onetime baseball star Charlie Keller pays due homage to the New York Yankees, the team he played for during most of a 13-year big league career that ended in 1952. Keller calls his 160-acre Maryland spread Yankeeland Farm and gives his foals names like Smokin Yankee, No No Yankee and Yankee Mama. Two of his horses were called Yankee Mick and Yankee Scooter, in honor of former teammates Mantle and Rizzuto, but those were exceptions. For the most part, says Keller, "I just have a list of names and I go down it."
Which brings us to Yankee Tyrant, owned by a couple of Quebec residents, Lise Casey and Rejean Leger. Contrary to what one might suspect, the horse wasn't named after George Steinbrenner. However, the 10-year-old Keller-bred trotter did wind up having something in common with the New York team's owner the other evening at Montreal's Blue Bonnets Raceway, where Yankee Tyrant finished second in the ninth race behind Amour Vic, which made like the Dodgers in coming from behind to win.
Keller is quick to point out that Steinbrenner isn't the original Yankee tyrant: The horse was foaled two years before Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973 and was given a name, arbitrarily, from among the possibilities on Keller's "list." What's more, although Keller still gets back to Yankee Stadium for an occasional Old-Timers' Game, he says he and Steinbrenner have never met.