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Steve Springer

Butler Has No Game Plan for Twilight Zone

January 18, 1987|Steve Springer

Fade in.

Camera zooms in on an athletic-looking man in his late 30s. He is wearing jogging pants , tennis shoes and a short-sleeve shirt with the word "Pierce" emblazoned above the left pocket. He has a whistle hanging from his neck, a clipboard in his hand and headphones strapped to his ears. He is wandering down the sidelines of a football field.

But he is alone.

The stands are empty. So is the field.

He glances at the scoreboard where the numbers keep changing. It seems to indicate a game in progress.

A voice-over begins, the voice of Rod Serling.

Serling: Meet Steve Butler. Steve is a football coach. He has a team that wants him, a school that needs him, assistants to work for him and players standing in line to play for him.

But Steve has, instead, found himself in a nightmarish maze, a bureaucratic puzzle more complex than any play he has ever designed. Somebody else keeps calling the signals and he never seems to gain any ground in his drive to become a football coach.

Time is running out and Steve Butler still finds himself stuck on the sidelines, his coaching dreams sinking fast into . . . The Twilight Zone.\f7

Perhaps only a "Twilight Zone" scriptwriter could appreciate the convolutions in the curious case of Steve Butler.

Pierce College, after dropping its football program for a year because of budgetary considerations and the lack of a qualified coach, is ready to resume the program next fall. The money is there.

The coach? Well, he's at West Los Angeles College.

Butler, currently a teacher at West L.A. after coaching at Crespi High and Valley College, is the man Pierce wants. And he wants to go. The hang-up revolves around the new contract between the faculty union and the Los Angeles Community College District. It requires that transfers of faculty members be made only on an exchange basis. In effect, if Pierce administrators want Butler, they have to work out a trade for him.

The problem is, West L.A. administrators don't want to lose a football coach for, say, a chemistry professor, because they want to revive their own football program, which also went into mothballs last season.

So why don't they just do so and make Butler the West L.A. coach?

"We don't have enough money to run a football program under the circumstances we have now," says Jim Raack, athletic director at West L.A. "We have about $28,000 in the budget for football and, if the college commits an extra $15,000, we could conceivably have a program."

But Raack admits that probably won't happen until 1988.

"If I were there right now, we'd be attracting students to come into Pierce, and schools get paid by how many students they have," Butler says. "We'd be making money for the schools. It seems like such an easy thing to do, but bureaucracy dictates that it can't be done. It's hard for me to understand. I'm irritated and frustrated.

"It's a real shame, a shame for Pierce and a shame for the kids in the Valley. How many kids can possibly play at Valley College?"

Valley College continued its football program last season and had nearly 200 players on its roster at the start of the season and 137 after cuts. Valley already has 55 players who will return next season before the freshman class enrolls. Does that tell you perhaps there's a need for another football program in the Valley?

Says Charlie Sands, chairman of the physical education department at West L.A.: "We'd like Steve Butler to be the football coach here, but the situation at Pierce is much better than it is at West L.A."

But you see, they can't get the most qualified man for the job because he's at this other college where they don't have a program, so the end result is that all the football players wind up going to a third college that doesn't have room for them.

Understand?

Pan upward from the field while the coach adjusts his headphones and looks up to an empty press box.

Serling: There is a sixth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between man's grasp and his reach, between the pit of his fears and the sunlight of his knowledge. It is an area known as The Twilight Zone.

Fade out.

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