'The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it," Oscar
Wilde once wrote. Even in the world of sports, there is support for
the witty Dubliner's aphorism.
Sports revisionists have rarely run into controversy as long
as they focused on lesser-known marks of bygone athletes. But the
recent Nykesha Sales episode at the University of Connecticut
raised a few questions. When and why should records be changed. And
Sales is an All-American basketball player at Connecticut who
is often described as unselfish and brilliant. She was one point
short of a school scoring record when an injury ended her season
with one regular season game left in her college career. Since she
was so well liked, her teammates and opponents felt Sales should
have the record.
Such gestures are not unprecedented. An injured Lou Gehrig
once preserved his consecutive games streak when given a courtesy
at-bat. He quickly left from his 1,427th game and returned to his
hotel to recuperate.
The Sales incident, however, was met with an outcry. The
integrity of women's basketball was questioned in newspaper and TV
reports. It became a story that could not be ignored. Then, acting
on a tip, ESPN's magazine reviewed television footage of an earlier
game and discovered that Sales was wrongly credited with two points
someone else scored. Hence, the magazine said, Sales was still one
point short of a record.
"Whenever there is a conflict, we allow the two contesting
teams to resolve the dispute," says Jim Wright, director of
statistics at the National Collegiate Athletic Association. In the
Sales case, it was UConn and Seton Hall University, the host.
Representatives of both schools said they were happy with the
scoring, and Sales got to keep the record.
"We only get involved when a national record is involved,"
says Wright. "And only when there is substantial and irrefutable
An athlete's career is often weighed in terms of statistical
milestones. The availability of technology such as slow-motion
television replays and computer databases make it possible to track
these more closely than before.
Last week, the UCLA-Alabama women's basketball game was
analyzed, frame by frame, to determine how long the timekeeper took
to restart the clock in the waning seconds of Alabama's 75-74
"That's absurd," says Gary Johnson, an NCAA statistician of
the excessive scrutiny. "Everybody is human."
Recordkeepers are quick to point out that referees and
timekeepers must make many judgement calls. There are more than 900
colleges in the US and the ability of statisticians is bound to
vary widely. …