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Archive for Saturday, May 13, 1995

MAYER SATURDAY COLUMN

May 13, 1995

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Did you see that article the other day about the NCAA's boosting its payout by $17 million based on its contract with CBS for the men's basketball tournament?

Not long ago, the NCAA signed a seven-year contract with CBS television for $1 billion plus. Kansas' Bob Frederick had a hand in the deal. Major sports institutions will pocket $80 million from the latest pact.

So pardon the late Phog Allen of Kansas and buddies like KU's Dutch Lonborg if on a clear, quiet night you can hear "I told you so!" filtering down through the stars -- followed by derisive snickering.

Phog was instrumental in getting basketball added to the Olympic program in 1936. He was perhaps the first one to advise and pressure the NCAA to take advantage of its program to gain high-profile status.

Lonborg, a multi-sport star at Kansas, later Northwestern basketball coach and ultimately KU athletic director, was another gigantic pioneer. Such is another part of the fabulous Kansas collegiate basketball heritage that too often is overlooked.

When pundits talk about wins, losses, superstars, titles and such, they should also take into account the way Lawrence, Kan., figured in creating this modern money machine.

After long goading by Phog and his compadres, the NCAA began its cage championships in 1939 with an eight-team field. Oregon beat Ohio State 46-33 at Evanston, Ill., where Lonborg was Northwestern coach. Dutch was for years instrumental in operating the college tourney.

Now-retired Walter Byers, then NCAA chief, was smart enough to listen and see the potential, and the kind of administrator to make it happen. Byers was the NCAA equivalent of Roone Arledge who invented the ABC Sports dynasty.

The Final Four in 1939 also included Oklahoma and Villanova. OU beat 'Nova for third place. The consensus All-America team included such household names as Irving Torgoff of LIU-Brooklyn; Urgel Wintermute of Oregon; Chet Jaworski of Rhode Island; Ernie Andres of Indiana; Jimmy Hull of Ohio State. Andres played pro baseball and in 1946 was with the Boston Red Sox.

The next year, another eight-team field was dominated by Allen's Jayhawks and Branch McCracken's Indiana Hoosiers. Indy won in a Kansas City showdown. Each team took home a whopping $750 after expenses, rent, heat, lights and water bills were paid. When you consider Oregon and Ohio State had to settle for $100 each in 1939, it was an upgrade.

The tourney field was expanded to 16 teams in 1951, then 22 in 1953. The 1957 Kansas-North Carolina game in Kansas City created the largest media turnout in the 18-year old meet. Carolina was undefeated, and left that way after a single-point, triple-overtime win. Kansas had sophomore Wilt Chamberlain whose presence didn't lessen public interest.

Washington University's 11,000-capacity Seattle fieldhouse wasn't sold out in 1952 when Kansas beat St. John's for the championship. But momentum was growing, Phog's and Dutch's predictions kept looking better -- now we're talking millions.

Doc, Dutch and Walt Byers have a right to chuckle. Fortunately, the crusty Byers is still able to do his giggling as a living elder statesman.

  • Leslie Nielsen, the brilliant dead-pan actor with the great comic flair, has been turning out books and videos about "bad golf made easy." They're delightful -- especially to hopeless cases such as I. Nielsen recently offered a nifty explanation of the unique appeal of golf.

"You can watch Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird do incredible things in basketball and know you'll never, ever duplicate it. You see a great football catch by Jerry Rice or a brilliant run by an Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders and you can only dream. But in golf, you can hole out from a trap, drain a 25-foot putt or make the green with a long approach shot. For that one instant, you've done the equivalent of a shot by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus or Lee Trevino. For a single moment, you match the best. You may muff the next one, but for just an instant ... "

Nielsen as the bungling Detective Frank Drebin in the "Naked Gun" foolishness has had some classics. My all-time favorite is when he and oafish sidekick George Kennedy go into a restaurant to quiz a waitress about a crime. They sit business-like at the table and this wondrously endowed waitperson with a blouse cut to her navel comes up and bends over to clean the table.

"We're going to have to ask you some questions," says the unaware Drebin, to which the startled waitress responds: "Say, is this some kind of a bust?" ... Without even looking up or changing expression, Nielsen responds: "Very impressive, but we still have to ask some questions."

A lot of his golf stuff is just as goofy.

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