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SPRING FORWARD, QUARTER BACK
In a recent article in the Long Island newspaper Newsday, John Jeansonne addressed the question of whether the United States Football League, which plans to operate in the spring and early summer starting in 1983, was on to a good thing with its "Other Season" concept. Jeansonne quoted USFL founder Dave Dixon as declaring, "It's absurd to say you only chew gum in the spring or make love in the summer. If you like doing something, you like doing [it] year-round." That sounded like an ironclad argument until Jeansonne, playing devil's advocate, issued a reminder that "lemonade isn't so great in the winter, or hot chocolate in the summer, and absence makes the heart grow fonder." There's many a sports fan, Jeansonne went on, "who finds a delicious anticipation in the off-season; who likes the buildup from season to season...who likes red and gold lawn leaves on his drive to the stadium."
The possibility that the Other Season may be ill-advised has also been raised by New York Giant President Wellington Mara, who as an NFL boss has an obvious reason to hope so. Mara has pointedly noted that the NFL once considered launching a springtime league but dropped the idea for fear that college players would thereby be induced to quit school in their senior year without waiting to get degrees. The same fear has been voiced by Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler, who warned that USFL coaches and scouts would be barred from his school's practice fields if they carry out their planned midwinter college draft. Schembechler said that such a draft followed by a spring season would prevent USFL-bound Wolverines from graduating on time. Of course, NFL personnel have always been welcome enough in Ann Arbor, even though the NFL makes a practice of flying college players around in the spring of their senior years to pre-draft tryouts and bringing them to rookie camps that frequently coincide with final exams. For the record, one recent study showed that more than 40% of Michigan alums playing in the NFL hadn't graduated. Also for the record, Mara's Giants have signed their share of non-graduates.
In any case, the USFL has already displayed a knack for creating controversy, something not necessarily incompatible with success in pro sports. Another dispute involves a USFL scheme giving each team the exclusive right to pick players from certain colleges, generally within their own territories, e.g., the Tampa Bay Bandits get the rights to all players from Florida and Florida State. But officials of rival USFL clubs grumbled that George Allen, coach and part owner of the USFL's Chicago Blitz, was approaching players whose rights belonged to other USFL teams. Some observers found it significant, for example, that it was only after Allen signed UCLA tight end (and Chicago Bears' third-round draftee) Tim Wrightman, whose USFL rights belonged to the league's San Diego franchise (since moved to Los Angeles), that a trade with San Diego for those rights was announced.
Similarly, Dick Coury, the coach and general manager of the USFL's New England franchise, which held the USFL rights to former Baltimore Colts Quarterback Greg Landry, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying that he dealt those rights to Allen only after the latter had begun negotiations with Landry, whom Allen wound up signing. "I told George I'd like to be able to talk with my players before he does," Coury said wryly. Noting that Allen had had trouble with league rules during his long career as an NFL coach—he once traded a draft choice his team didn't own and on another occasion was blocked in court from jumping from one coaching job to another—Coury called Allen's handling of the Landry deal "semi-aboveboard, which is pretty good for George." Coury also said, "Rozelle couldn't control George for 14 years. If we can somehow do it, we'll already be one step up on the NFL."
Although Coury later denied having spoken so harshly of him, the question of "controlling" Allen was subsequently brought up at a meeting of league officials. But USFL Commissioner Chet Simmons said he had determined that the signing of Wrightman and Landry had involved no violation of league rules against tampering.
Will spring never arrive?
RENEE STEPS ASIDE
With Renee Richards as her coach and Nancy Lieberman as her trainer, Martina Navratilova has won 59 of 60 matches this year, taken the first two legs of the Grand Slam and amassed more than $1 million in prize money. Navratilova, who in the past sometimes seemed emotionally vulnerable, has also displayed signs of the mental toughness she'll need to win her first U.S. Open, which would earn her $90,000 in prize money and an additional $500,000 from something called the Playtex Challenge, a $1 million jackpot offered this year to anybody who won four selected women's events. Navratilova has already received $500,000 for winning three of them; an Open victory would complete the sweep.
But last week the outward serenity of Navratilova's magnificent season was disturbed by the abrupt resignation of Richards, who had coached her for nearly a year but who now insists that Navratilova can win the tournament with only Lieberman in her corner. "She's a fighter, and Nancy is a pretty positive influence on her," Richards told SI. "There's probably enough mental support from Nancy to carry Martina through." Why did Richards step aside? She says she had resumed her ophthalmology practice on a part-time basis last January and had planned to work at it full time after the U.S. Open but moved up the date because of a personality clash with Lieberman. "Nancy had begun to assert a greater role as Martina's adviser, calling the shots, and I felt I was losing my effectiveness," Richards says. "I began to feel a little left out, a little unappreciated. It was a gradual erosion, but if you want to know a particular incident that punctuated it, I wasn't invited to Nancy's birthday party at Wimbledon. Everyone and their brother was invited but I wasn't."