THE latest furor on the American sports scene swirls around the University of California basketball program and the midseason firing of its coach, Lou Campanelli. The school cited alleged abusive behavior by Campanelli toward Cal's players as the reason for the decision.
One especially caustic tirade was reportedly overheard by athletic director Bob Bockrath before the firing. What really set off Campanelli's colleagues in the college coaching profession was the suddenness of his dismissal and what his fellow coaches considered the absence of due process. Against a backdrop of success, this may have seemed all the more shocking to coaches bred to win.
After all, Campanelli had turned around a long-lethargic program. His record at Cal was 123 wins to 108 losses. The team had gone to the national postseason tournament four of his seven seasons at Cal, and the current squad had a 10 to 7 record.
"Coaches are hired and fired all the time," says Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. "We have to accept that fact. But at the same time we have concern about in-season firings because it is inconsistent, in our view, with what intercollegiate athletics is all about."
A similar chord was struck by Dick Schultz, executive director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, who said the firing made it appear "that we're just like the professionals."
Actually, in this case, Cal appears to have fired Campanelli for the right reason - coarse behavior devoid of redeeming educational value - and not for the often-dubious motive that inspires so many coaching changes - disappointing athletic results.
The error in this case may have been letting a situation reach crisis proportions without adequate warnings to Campanelli, who 18 months ago had his contract extended through the 1996 season.
More broadly, however, universities often allow coaches such wide latitude in their basketball and business realms - TV shows, shoe contracts, summer camps - that they may invite abuses of power.
Certainly, both college administrators and coaching associations should work to establish high standards of professional behavior that are consistent with educational, as well as societal, standards. Baseball's alluring rite of spring
Baseball as it ought to be - that's what major-league spring training represents to fans who flock to exhibition games in Florida and Arizona each year. And they don't have long to wait, as spring drills commence this week, with Grapefruit and Cactus League play soon to follow.
The attractions of spring ball are many, including azure skies, balmy temperatures, day games, grass fields, and small, clean parks, some of which - like the new 7,500-seat beauty built for the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla. - are absolute gems. Then, too, there's a more relaxed atmosphere surrounding games, yet a keen competitiveness on the field, where millionaire ballplayers must begin justifying their salaries while hot prospects try to make "the big show."
Traditionally, Florida has been only a training ground for the majors. For the first time, however, the Sunshine State has its very own franchise, the Florida Marlins, who will play in Miami. Their progress in preseason workouts at Melbourne, Fla., will be closely watched by the state's year-round residents.
The most jolting aspect of attending spring training these days may be seeing so many familiar players in new uniforms. This year, the changes brought on by free agency have been especially numerous.
In fact, the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays hardly seem like the same team. Gone are Tom Henke and Manuel Lee (to Texas), Dave Winfield (to Minnesota), Kelly Gruber (to California), David Cone (to Kansas City), and Jimmy Key (to the New York Yankees).
Such wholesale turnover robs the game of the season-to-season continuity that helps build fan allegiance for players and teams. Baseball may need to seriously consider ways of controlling the situation.