It seems that as long as the national championship of college football is settled in the polls instead of on the playing field, there will be controversy. Such was the case last season when the two wire-service polls, AP (writers) and UPI (coaches), produced different winners, the AP voters selecting Alabama, the UPI balloters choosing Southern Cal.
In last week's final regular-season voting, UPI had undefeated Alabama on top, just as it had most of the year, but the Crimson Tide dropped to second in the AP poll, with Ohio State, also unbeaten, becoming No. 1. The Tide had nearly twice as many first-place votes as the Buckeyes, but eight writers failed to select Alabama among the top three, thus accounting for the demotion.
Putting aside the various factors that influenced the voters in both polls, the overall result is perfectly justified—although fans of Florida and BYU, also unbeaten and untied, might disagree. Unlike last season, when USC had played and beaten its rival for No. 1, Alabama, the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes have not met, nor have they played a common opponent. There isn't much to choose from between the two. Ohio State has scored more points, but Alabama has yielded fewer. Alabama's schedule was weak, but Ohio State's was no monster. USC, also unbeaten but with a tie, may well do away with the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl but until the bowls are played, both Alabama and Ohio State should be content with half a loaf.
GOING ONCE...GOING TWICE...
How can the exorbitant prices being bid for this year's baseball free agents be explained? Nolan Ryan, the plum of the draft, though barely more than a .500 pitcher during his 12-season career, signed a four-year contract with the Houston Astros reportedly for a staggering $4.5 million. But Ryan may not be the best example of how prices have soared. Take John Curtis, 31, a mediocre lefthander who was 10-9 and had a 4.17 ERA last season for San Francisco and who is 67-72 during his 10-year career. He recently closed a deal with San Diego for a reported $1.7 million over five years. In fact, of the 15 free agents—11 of whom can be safely described as run-of-the-mill players—who had signed with new clubs last week, 11 came away with million-dollar agreements.
Milwaukee General Manager Harry Dalton calls it the auction syndrome. "You go to the auction and see an old moose head that you never thought about until you got there," Dalton explained to Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post. "The auctioneer says, 'Available today only and never again. Here's your once-in-a-lifetime chance.'
"So you get auction fever. Then, when you get the damn moose home and put it on your mantelpiece, it looks hideous and contradicts the style of everything around it and you want to throw up.
"I don't want to denigrate the players in this year's draft, but I think a lot of teams have bought a lot of ugly moose heads."
SON OF PING-PONG DIPLOMACY
It may come as a surprise to some people that the Palestine Liberation Organization has a professional table-tennis team that competes internationally. But, indeed, the PLO squad was scheduled to challenge the defending world champion Royal Haiti team for the title this week. Now there are a couple of worthy opponents!