Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Morning Thoughts from the Ridiculous to the Sublime---from the NCAA to Bruce Edwards

I have two things on my mind this morning: one sublime, the other ridiculous.

The ridiculous--surprise--is the NCAA. There was an item in the paper this morning about a study which shows that NCAA justice comes down a lot harder on smaller schools than power schools. Naturally, the NCAA says that simply isn't true, that the study is somehow flawed.

I don't know if the study is flawed or not but I do know this: the NCAA comes down a LOT harder on those who don't make TV money for them than on those who do. In fact, the best description I ever heard of NCAA justice--yes, Kentucky fans I've used this line before but this time it isn't directed at you--came when Jerry Tarkanian made the comment after the cash fell out of the Emory Air Express package en route to a Kentucky recruit's father that the NCAA was SO mad at Kentucky that it was going to put Cleveland State on probation for another three years.

Tark was one of those characters who was impossible not to like. Did he color outside the lines during his years at Nevada-Las Vegas? No doubt. And, ironically, it was Vegas that received a one year delay when the NCAA was about to impose postseason sanctions in 1991. Why? The Rebels were the defending national champions and the folks at CBS were having conniptions about not having them in the tournament with four starters back.

What I liked about Tark was that he didn't play silly games like, "I'm an educator first," with you. He was a basketball coach, paid to win games. Someone once asked him why he took so many transfers. "Because," he said, "their cars are already paid for."

In December of 1986, Navy played at Vegas in a national TV game. David Robinson was a senior and Navy was good. Vegas--which went on to win 37 games and lose in a wild game to Indiana in The Final Four--was a lot better. Tark could have named the score but he pulled his starters fairly early and the final margin was probably about 20. It could have been 40.

After the game, I was standing with Tark when his AD walked over. "That was a good thing you did taking the starters out," he said said in a very a serious tone. "The coach on the other bench is a Christian too."

Tark thanked him and he walked away. When he did, Tark looked at me and said, "Good thing for Pete (Herrmann, then the Navy coach) that he's not Jewish, huh?"

Funny thing was, I was thinking the exact same thing.

Here's the problem with the NCAA--and by the NCAA I mean the presidents and commissioners who control it--they're never wrong. Here's the quote from some NCAA flak according to USA Today. This is from an e-mail since I guess at the NCAA flaks don't speak directly to the media. According to the flak, the claims in the study "are based upon an inadequate explanation of the facts..." (Really, how does she know that?) "It should (also) be noted that...probationary periods are not designed to be punitive but rather remedial in nature."

Seriously, she said that. Apparently the non-powers need more "remedial," time than the powers and the historically black schools--who get nailed by a wider margin than anyone else, REALLY need it.

Why--WHY--can't someone at the NCAA say something like, "we need to take a look at this study. If there is merit to it, we should re-examine what we're doing."

No, they can't do it. We're right, you're wrong. It is no different than the BCS. Why does the BCS continue to exist? Because we (the presidents) say so. Everyone else is wrong, we're right because we're always right. Seriously, doesn't the self-righteousness of it all make you sick? Go back and read that statement. Remedial not punitive? In the words of John McEnroe, "you can NOT be serious."

The saddest part is that they are serious.

On to the sublime. I was asked this morning by the folks at Golf Channel to sit down and answer some questions for those "Top Ten," shows they do. I opted out of things like, "Tiger's greatest comebacks," and "Tiger's greatest celebrations," because there are plenty of media guys who will line up to sing Tiger's praises. I'm not needed for that.

One of the topics was caddy/player relationships. At the top of the list--as it should be--was Tom Watson and Bruce Edwards. Bruce was a good friend, which is why, when he was diagnosed with ALS in 2003 he asked if I would write a book about his struggle, about his relationship (30 years) with Watson and about his life as one of the first fulltime caddies on tour, I was reluctant at first because I knew what ALS was going to do to him, but eventually said yes and I'm grateful that I did. I learned so much from Bruce during that year about dealing with REAL adversity and about friendship and loyalty and about courage. (Courage is NOT making a 12-foot birdie putt or a jump shot with time running down).

Bruce died in April of 2004--on the first day of that year's Masters. Since then, along with Watson, I have put on a celebrity tournament in Bruce's name. We've raised about $2.5 million in four years--our fifth one is this coming Monday--but we are still SO far from a cure it can get very discouraging for everyone. The neurological diseases are the toughest for the scientists to figure out and ALS may be the most difficult one in the lot. Worst of all, it is an absolute death sentence. The only question is when. Bruce died 15 months after being diagnosed and I know he was happy that he didn't linger unable to walk, talk or move at all--which is what happens to those who do stay alive for longer periods.

I was re-telling one of my favorite Bruce/Tom stories when I started to choke up. It wasn't the one about the chip-in at the '82 Open--although the untold part of that story is Bruce's pep talk to Tom walking off the 17th tee after Tom said, "that's one's dead," when he saw the ball sail left of the green. This was another time at Pebble Beach when Tom wasn't playing very well and asked Bruce for layup yardage at a par-five (they were actually playing, I believe, Spyglass) over water.

“It's 237 to the hole," Bruce said.

"I want the layup yardage," Tom said.

"Yeah, I know, it's 237 to the hole. Hit the four wood."

"I want to layup."

At that point, Bruce took out the four wood and a five iron and threw them both on the ground. "It's 169 if you layup," he said. "But if you do, I don't even want to be seen with you because you're a -----."

And he stalked away. "He shamed me into hitting the four wood," Tom said later.

Bruce could do that because he knew Tom would understand why he was doing it and because they were friends. Other caddies would worry about getting fired--especially if the ball ended up in the water. (Which it didn't).

I miss Bruce all the time and I know Tom misses him more. But I take solace in something his dad, Jay, said to me during the first "Bruce," as we call the golf tournament. When Bruce had to tell his parents he had ALS they were, needless to say, devastated. They went to see their pastor that Sunday and he said to them, "I know this sounds impossible but something good will come of this."

Jay and Natalie have come to the 'Bruce,' every year. They usually get in a cart and drive around to say hello to everyone. At the end of the first one Jay took me aside and said, "I told Nat as we were driving around today that I know now what our pastor was saying. Something good did come of Bruce's illness."

I wish it hadn't. I wish Bruce was still here giving everyone--and I do mean everyone--a hard time. In the meantime my goal and Tom's goal remains the same: we want someday to tell all the people who have helped put on the 'Bruce," that we aren't holding the event anymore because the cure's been found.

Now THAT would truly be sublime.


Daniel Q said...

Heard about this through TK's radio show a few days ago. It's a great read, thank you.


Anonymous said...

Great bog John! I absolutely love it! One suggestion though, would it be possible to add a 'printer friendly' option for us readers on the go? Keep it up and keep talking tennis. We can't let this amazing sport die!

Anonymous said... don't hear many pro-Tark statements these days, though I suppose more now than back in the day. Sometime this year or last he started writing a couple articles for one of the Vegas outlets, can't remember which one. His view was great.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the remarks about Bruce and your work on raising money for fighting AlS.
The NCAA self-righteousness does make me sick.
Speaking of which are you still supporting the position the Duke Lacrosse players, especially those who were indicted, were "Guilty of something."? (See Wiki, Feinstein ,John) Does the recent Hofstra case inform you on false accusations?
Keep up the good work.