Coach's Corner

Here and There: UT basketball is a great entertainment value, Major League Baseball isn't. And neither is the NFL, thanks in large part to the lousy refs, who got what they deserved in Cleveland.

I had a theory, but the facts prove me wrong. After seeing less than 7,000 fans in the Erwin Center watching Texas defeat an obscure, but good, Jacksonville team by a Tom Penders-ish score of 95-90, the theory was this: It's exam week, the basketball season hasn't really started up yet, and who suspects Jacksonville, Fla., even has a college? I scan the Sunday box scores to prove my point. A bad idea. In Lexington, 18,500 fans watched Kentucky beat a Division II school. I suppose I could insult the citizens of Lexington, but what's the point? Whatever snide remarks I might make won't hide the fact that they were there. In Columbia, a sell-out crowd at the Hearnes Center saw Missouri lose to Iowa. As a graduate of Mizzou (check it if you want), I won't trash my alma mater. Seven thousand fans is what it is. So be it.

I wish I possessed the power to convince people that basketball's a better game to see in person than football, which is much better viewed on TV. You have a seat with a back. The sun's never in your eyes. It's quite rare anyone will puke hot bourbon on your back ... Anyway, this is a highly entertaining game in spite of terrible refereeing. Oddly, few of the 185 points came cheaply. The defense is actually pretty good. Jacksonville's three-point shooters swish virtually every shot, distance and defense notwithstanding. To Texas' credit, they don't melt under this relentless pressure. They make free throws and counter the Jacksonville barrage with five guys in double figures and a sixth with nine points. Ah well. I'll rationalize that my sample of national attendance is spotty and inconclusive. I do believe that come January, the Erwin Center will become the lively place a hard-working team deserves...

Speaking of fan support, no sport deserves it less than Major League Baseball -- from the Texas Rangers -- a team from all outward appearances run by a one-winged parakeet and a moose -- to the Yankees, who operate in a solitary financial universe of their own (causing, almost by themselves, the crisis of "contraction"). Last winter, Ranger owner Tom Hicks turned the game's "salary structure" -- and I use the term loosely -- assakimbo by offering Alex Rodriguez $23 million dollars a year to play for his sorry-ass organization. Mr. Rodriguez is no fool, and understanding that New York (who would've paid more in a heartbeat if they needed a shortstop) was out, said yes before someone shook Mr. Hicks out of his opiate-saturated reverie. A few days ago they made their major winter move by trading a pitcher, a commodity in desperately short supply in Arlington, for Carl Everett, a fine hitter (not in short supply) but an otherwise cancerous clubhouse guy; a nice cross of a crazy Jimmy Piersall and a sullen Albert Bell. Still, crowds will flock to the Ballpark in Arlington in mass next summer. My views on the Dallas sports fan are well known.

The Yankees, meanwhile, treat each winter like a leisurely stroll through the Mall of America. Need a pitcher? Let's buy a Mike Mussina, a Roger Clemens ... a Christy Mathewson! A new first baseman? One hundred and twenty million dollars ought to buy a Jason Giambi. Did you see the grateful, desperate hug the newly wealthy Giambi gave an equally grateful Joe Torre? Touching. The fact they could've had Jason for $40 million less is irrelevant to the Yankees. It's just green paper with numbers on it. This is all courtesy of the massive dollars from what are essentially the Yankees and Mets' private cable stations: a luxury not available to, let's say, the K.C. Royals. It's obscene. It's revolting. But what do I know? I go the Longhorn basketball games...

As a reasonable person trying to write a reasonable column, I guess it's not good form (certainly not politically correct) to admit I enjoyed the old-fashioned football riot after a botched call cost Cleveland a game against Jacksonville ... but I sure can understand their feelings. Pro football and college basketball are routinely -- game in game out -- poorly officiated. Incorrect calls and too many whistles are commonplace. Pro football was worked better in September by the "replacement" officials, who, for whatever reasons, allowed the games to flow. Did you see the "taunting" call that almost cost Pittsburgh the Sunday night game against Baltimore? Dear God! And college basketball? The worst thing that ever happened to the college game was when they went to three refs. Saturday night in the Erwin Center looked like AAU referee tryouts ... and we saw the guys who didn't make the cut. Again, this isn't unusual.

How players and coaches cope with the whimsical and arbitrary nature of the zebra is a testament to their self-control. I'm convinced the emotionally deadening effects of continuous "official time-outs" effectively maintain crowd control. Live at a pro football game, sitting in a sleet storm, with the repetitive lulls so the network can show four commercials in five minutes, is mentally akin to lots of whiskey on top of a Valium ... maybe a Placidil or two. A similar effect is achieved at a college basketball game when both teams are in the penalty with 13 minutes left in each half. That and the 45th blaring of the Longhorn fight song will take the edge off of the angriest of fans. So score one for the inmates.

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