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TELLING IT LIKE IT IS
Well, the NCAA did vote in favor of a liberalized amateur rule at its convention in San Francisco (SCORECARD, Jan. 7), a radical step for that often stodgy body to take. An athlete at an NCAA school now can compete as an amateur in one sport even if he is a professional in another. This means that a man who has signed a professional contract in baseball can, for example, play college football or basketball. This is in direct contradiction to the Olympic premise, which holds that an athlete who even competes against professionals is no longer a true amateur.
The sharp men, the cool men, are already figuring ways to take advantage of the new rule—signing a man to an inflated contract to play exhibition tiddledywinks in order to make sure he will bring his amateur talents as a running back to good old Subterfuge U. Perhaps such manipulations will prove a minor enforcement problem. The bigger difficulty lies in international competition. Even though Lord Killanin, president of the International Olympic Committee, hinted that a change in the Olympic definition of amateur might result from the NCAA action, some authorities felt there was little chance that other countries, particularly those where there is no parallel to our high-paying professional sports, will agree to relax international standards to accommodate the NCAA ruling. In other words, an Olympic champion turned pro footballer, such as Bob Hayes a decade ago, would not be allowed to continue as an amateur runner in international competition. It also means that an athlete who competes with or against these sometime pros runs the risk of being banned by international sports bodies.
In brief, the rule is a plus for domestic competition, but international approval will be a while coming. Even so, it is a welcome step toward reality.
Speaking of amateurs, cross-country skier Mary Lee Atkins of Durango, Colo. is one who got into trouble for not paying attention to commercial considerations, which shows you how confusing standards can be. Miss Atkins, ranked first last year in the Samsonite series of cross-country races and second this year, has been named Colorado's outstanding female athlete of the year, but when she did not wear the U.S. ski team's official uniform (which is supplied by Sears) to a banquet in Michaywe, Mich., she was sent home by Coach Martin Hall.
"I didn't wear the pants because they didn't fit," the 19-year-old skier said. "They're uncomfortable and I don't like them." She admitted she had had similar trouble before. "It was at a banquet in Aspen," she said. "There were a lot of heavies from Sears and Samsonite there, and I didn't wear all uniform clothes. I wore a pair of pants that looked like the uniform pants. Because I did, Coach Hall told me I'd have to pay my own way to Michaywe, but later on he gave me my ticket." When Hall sent her home from Michigan she said she thought at first of quitting, "but then I realized I had been wrong and that quitting wasn't the right thing to do."
Hall said, "I certainly don't think the punishment was too strict. They have more combinations of clothing to wear than you could shake a stick at. On that night in Aspen the president of Samsonite was there, and he's worth a cool $80,000 to the team. And the chairman of Sears was there, and he's worth $200,000 to the team. We have an image to present. We represent those people. They've given us money. The least we can do is wear their clothes.
"These kids like to run around the country, but they don't seem to have a sense of responsibility of where the money comes from. I don't think it's too much to ask them to wear their uniforms. I don't think running around in red corduroy pants and clogs without socks is the right image."