"I guess you could look at it as a form of consumer fraud," Harold Solomon said of recent disclosures that the public was not told the truth regarding financial arrangements involving "winner-take-all" tennis challenge matches.
"It's gyping the public," said the tennis star from Silver Spring, Md. "It was locker room knowledge that guys weren't playing for all that moeny, that the purses were going to be split.
"Manolo (Manuel Orantes) told me that he couldn't make less than $250,000, no matter what happened."
The challenge matches pitting Jimmy Connors against John Newscombe (April 26, 1975, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas), Orantes (Feb. 28, 1976, at Caesars Palace) and Ilie Nastase (March 6, 1977, at Ceromar Beach Hotel, Dorado Beach, P.R.) were falsely billed as having $250,000 "winner-take-all" purses.
In fact, the purces were split beforehand, with each player getting an agreed-upon fee or percentage of net receipts, regardless of the outcome.
In the first of the series, Connors vs. Rod Laver at Caesars Palace Feb. 2, 1975, the winner apparently was guranteed $100,000 and the loser, $60,000. In subsequent matches Connors, as defending champion, was guaranteed considerably more than his opponent, win or lose.
All four matches were televised nationally by CBS-TV, which put up a total of $1,910,000 in rights money.
Bill Riordan Salisbury, Md., who conceived the series while he was Connors' manager and promoted the last three matches, has a contract with CBS for one more year of the "heavyweight championship." The network has two one-year options on the series thereafter.
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that a member of the Federal Communication Commission is considering an inquiry into the series.
Robert Wussler, president of the CBS television network, who was vice president of sports at CBS when the first three challenge matches were played, said: "I don't think the recent disclosures will have any impact at all on whether a promoter puts two top players together in a challenge match in the future, or on whether we'll televise it.
"Frankly, all this hasn't been a subject of very wide interest or discussion in the sports world. I really think most people don't care. We'll see what transpires next year and whether circumstances warrant a match of this type.
"In retrospect," Wussler added, "I don't think it makes one bit of difference to the viewer whether it's winner-take-all or the purse is split like a prize fight. I think the public just wants to see top players in a meaningful match."
Solomon's views differ.
"I don't know what the legal ramifications are," Solomon said, "but I think it's bad for tennis."
Solomon predicted the "heavyweight championship" series has come to an end.
"I think they were losing interest anyway," he said. "I don't think anybody cared about the last one - Connors-Nastase. It doesn't mean anything if they're playing every week."
Cliff Drysdale, former president of the Association of Tennis Professionals and now one of three players representatives on the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, agreed.
"I think the revelations that there was some financial skulldruggery in the Riodan matches came at a time when the public was getting tired of them." Drysdale said."I think they would have died a natural death, and this may hasten it."
Connors, who won all four of his "heavyweight championship" matches and collected $1.55 million, refused to discuss specifics and referred all questions to his attorney.
Riordan was asked if he thought Connors would be willing to defend his title.
"I can't answer that," he said. "I think that if the timing is right, and there's a logical opponent, and the guy is being handed a quarter of a million dollars to play one match . . . I don't know about Jimmy, But I'd go to death Valley and play.