Starr’s Act Hits All the Right Notes

Tom Starr returned home from the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. convention this week with a swollen right hand and approval for the first Disneyland Pigskin Classic. The hand will heal; it’s the Pigskin Classic that Starr hopes will swell.

Starr slapped more backs, shook more hands, endured more boring stories, pasted more silly grins on his face than an RV salesman with a quota to fill. Had someone asked Starr to sing show tunes, he would have asked, “What key?” and then belted out the theme to “Brigadoon.” No dummy, is Starr. He arrived at the convention with his own hoop to jump through. If NCAA members, specifically, the assembled college presidents and athletic directors, wanted a floor act, Starr would give it to them. Just as long as he got votes in return.

So there was Starr, tap dancing his way into the hearts of the unconvinced. He wanted a season-opening football game for Anaheim Stadium, sort of a Kickoff Classic-West. NCAA types wanted reasons why they should vote yes.

After all, does college football need another bowl game, preseason or otherwise? Isn’t there something wrong with a football game that begins before the leaves change? And how exactly can you call it the Pigskin Classic when the first game has yet to be played?


As for timing, Starr’s couldn’t have been worse. This was an ugly, unruly bunch of conventioneers. Or as Starr put it: “There was not a lot of humor at the convention this year.”

The furor over Proposition 48 had divided them, caused their tempers to soar and their patience to wane. Nays came easier than yeas. About the last thing you wanted to do was trot out Mickey Mouse and start jabbering about Pigskin Classics and what not.

But that’s what Starr did. He threw Mickey and the gang at them and hoped nobody threw the lovable rodent back. He mentioned that the prime beneficiary of the game would be a trust fund for the American Football Coaches Assn. (The way things are going in college athletics these days, I would have suggested it go to a legal fund, but that’s just me.)

Starr had all sorts of fancy-schmancy reasons why football needed the Pigskin Classic, beginning with the apple-pie Disney image and ending with my personal favorite: You don’t have to go to East Rutherford, N.J., to see a preseason game.

The Disney people did what they could. They distributed to voters a 7-minute videotape that featured the many advantages of the Classic (argh). They dangled the Disney name. They revealed that Sneezy suffers from a rare allergenic condition, thus, his name.

If someone wanted to hear the pitch, Starr & Co. unveiled their pie charts and market shares and began selling. The American Football Coaches Board of Directors listened. So did the National Assn. of College Directors of Athletics--three times. So did the various television networks. And so did the conventioneers.

“We did our homework,” Starr said.

But even with all the high-level schmoozing, Starr still wasn’t sure he had enough votes for passage. A roll call:

The coaches loved the idea. Of course, who could blame them? Money would go to their trust fund.

The athletic directors generally were in favor of the game. Then again, any deal that might eventually mean more bucks for their program usually ensures support.

Now the college presidents . . . that’s a whole other breed of animal. They’re a conservative group by nature. Just because somebody sticks a free Mickey Mouse beanie on their head doesn’t mean they’ll vote yes. You need to reason with them, appeal to their intellectual senses.

Or beg, whatever works best.

“They’re very concerned about academics,” Starr said. “They’re just afraid of adding a lot of new events.”

So Starr told them not to worry. That academics wouldn’t be compromised because classes don’t start in August, which is when the Pigskin Classic is scheduled to be played. And new events? There’s only one other preseason game. Compare that to the 17 postseason games presently sanctioned.

And then Starr held his breath, and with good reason. The coaches may clamor for the game, the athletic directors may heartily endorse it, but without the college presidents’ approval--and vote--all you’ve got is a mouse holding a football with mud on his face.

“I didn’t know until going into the convention hall whether we had the votes or not,” Starr said.

Now he knows: 61 Division I-A schools voted yes, 47 voted no. Starting in 1990, Anaheim Stadium has another bowl game on its hands.

“We feel like we pulled off a major coup,” Starr said. “We were one of the few proposals that got passed.”

If all goes as Starr plans, the Pigskin Classic will strengthen the struggling Freedom Bowl. Something about a package deal involving ticket sales and television rights.

We’ll see. For now, Starr should enjoy his victory. And maybe soak that right hand, too.