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BULLDOGS WITH A TARK

April 17, 1995
April 17, 1995

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April 17, 1995

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BULLDOGS WITH A TARK

BULLDOGS WITH A TARK

This is an article from the April 17, 1995 issue Original Layout

If it were simply a matter of providing an old alum with a safe
landing, Fresno State's decision last week to hire Jerry
Tarkanian, class of '55, as its basketball coach might be hailed
as an act of charity. But altruism is in short supply among
captains of the college-sports industry, and the self-interest
of Fresno State's move quickly became apparent. Even before
Tarkanian, the former UNLV coach, agreed to take over the
Bulldogs, rumormongers at the Final Four had all but conceded
him a national championship. According to the scuttlebutt, this
was the scenario: Don Marbury Jr., the brother of Brooklyn high
school point guard sensation Stephon Marbury, would be hired as
a Fresno State assistant coach, and Stephon would renege on his
oral commitment to Georgia Tech and follow Don to the San
Joaquin Valley; and Stephon's buddy Kevin Garnett, the 6 10"
schoolboy star from Chicago's Farragut High with abysmal test
scores but skills so sublime that some NBA executives predict
he'll be a first-round pick in the June draft, would join them.

The rumors turned out to be far from pie-in-the-sky. Georgia
Tech coach Bobby Cremins rushed to New York last week,
apparently to reaffirm Marbury's commitment, and Tark was
indeed on the phone with Garnett's high school coach, trying to
arrange for Garnett to visit Fresno last weekend. (Alas, Garnett
had to take the ACTs last Saturday.) Meanwhile, last Friday, the
New York Post quoted an unnamed source who described Tarkanian
as asking about Richie Parker, the Manhattan schoolboy guard who
pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual abuse earlier this year;
guard Rafer Alston, a chronic truant from Queens, N.Y., who's
now at junior college; and 7-foot Mark Blount, a discipline case
who, after drifting through six high schools, committed orally
to Massachusetts last August, thus making him, in the words of
one recruiting guru, ``the first kid in history to pick a
college before he picked a high school [SI, Oct. 31].''

Lousy grades, a sex-offense conviction and the sanctity of one's
word are minor impediments in the anything-goes world of player
procurement. ``What -- I'm not supposed to recruit good
players?'' Tarkanian told USA Today last week. ``I didn't come
here to go 15-15 and go eat some Armenian food after the game.''

Given Tark's run-ins with the NCAA at Las Vegas and, before
that, Long Beach State -- and given that Fresno State received a
hire-Tark-or-else telephone threat from an anonymous fan before
introducing him as its new coach -- the school must have had an
inkling of what it was getting into. At UNLV, Tarkanian
demonstrated the kind of proclivity for trouble that would
ordinarily give a university president serious pause. But
inferiority complexes can lead people and institutions down
dubious roads. At the press conference to announce Tarkanian's
hiring, Fresno State president John D. Welty seemed to embrace
the curious goal of providing ``quality sports entertainment for
the community.''

It's not yet clear what it will take to lure players to the city
that consistently places poorly in Rand McNally's livability
rankings, and to a school with two winning seasons in the last
10. Whatever it takes, however, the towel-teething one will
surely do it. Then Fresno State can decide whether taking a
place atop another set of rankings was worth the price.

SWEET HOLMES

Larry Holmes put up a gallant fight in losing a unanimous
decision to WBC heavyweight champion Oliver McCall last Saturday
in Las Vegas, earning every cent of the $350,000 he was paid.
``Time to give it up,'' the 45-year-old ex-champ said afterward.
Reminding the media that he owns a building housing a federal
court and a jail in his hometown of Easton, Pa., Holmes said,
``As long as there are bad guys, I'll always have money.''

HOTLANTA

Officials in charge of the equestrian events at next summer's
Atlanta Olympics set the competition schedule to spare horses
from having to perform during the hottest parts of what are sure
to be some very hot Georgia days. Unfortunately officials
overseeing two-legged Olympic runners aren't showing as much
horse sense. The track and field schedule, which was finalized
last week, conforms to the wishes of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the
International Olympic Committee president, and Primo Nebiolo,
the head of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, the
world governing body for track and field, by slotting the men's
marathon to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 4, so it will end in
front of a huge crowd just before the Games' closing ceremonies.

While this arrangement may make for an attractive and lucrative
television package, it also forces athletes to race during the
early evening -- a distinctly unappealing prospect to
competitors and a horrifying one to many track officials. The
average temperature in Atlanta at 7 p.m. in early August is 80,
while the humidity is typically 65% -- figures that argue, in
the name of both safety and performance, for an early-morning
start.

Some 15 months ago Harmon Brown, an American physician on the
IAAF medical committee, recommended to the Games' medical
support group that the marathon begin no later than 8 a.m.
Nebiolo dismissed these concerns recently when he said, ``We
have a tradition from history that the Olympic marathon was
always the last event before the closing ceremony.'' In truth,
only since the Los Angeles Games in 1984 has the marathon led
into the closing ceremonies. Before that the race took place at
various times throughout the Games, without losing any drama or
spectator appeal. Recall Abebe Bikila finishing his glorious
barefoot run in 1960 under spotlights beside Rome's Arch of
Constantine -- long after the cobblestones of the Appian Way had
cooled. In fact, at both the 1988 Seoul and the 1992 Barcelona
Games, the men's marathons finished in half-empty stadiums well
before most closing-ceremony ticket holders had arrived.

But these arguments appear to have counted for little with
Nebiolo and Samaranch. As for the athletes, despite some
grumbling, they'll run whenever the race is held. ``We'll all
try to be flexible in our preparation,'' says Ed Eyestone, a
veteran of the last two Olympic marathons and a favorite to make
the1996 U.S. team. ``But it could be a death march. I'm afraid
that's what it's going to take to convince the IOC: for someone
to run into real problems out there.''

THE END OF HISTORY

With replacement baseball mercifully a thing of the past, Dick
Hannasch, an SI reader from Huxley, Iowa, took a fanciful look
back at the pseudoseason that ended last week with a
scintillating World Series in which the San Francisco Gi-ain'ts
defeated the Cleveland Stand-indians. Hannasch went on to
speculate about who'll someday earn election to the Replacement
Hall of Fame. His top candidates: Dupe Snider, Pete Ruse, Harmon
Fillinbrew, Henry Errin' and Faux Jackson. Our first-ballot
shoo-in: the St. Louis Dis-cardinal star outfielder, Lieu Brock.

OINK

CBS commentator Billy Packer has never concealed his contempt
for women's basketball. During a broadcast he once speculated on
the kind of wife Mississippi's Jennifer Gillom would make, and
he has advanced the proposition that women's teams be done away
with entirely -- that real gender equity will result only if
there's a single team for which both men and women try out. Thus
it was hardly surprising to hear him express incredulity last
week that CBS's broadcast of the NCAA women's title game between
Connecticut and Tennessee pulled down a 5.7 Nielsen rating,
outdrawing both the 4.0 for the Phoenix Sun-San Antonio Spur
game on NBC against which the women went up, and the 3.7 for the
men's showdown between SEC powers Arkansas and Kentucky on Jan.
29.

Packer insists he was questioning the validity of the Nielsens,
not denigrating women's basketball. But it's odd that Packer --
a relentless booster of college hoops when he stands to benefit
-- never suggests that the ratings overstate interest in the
men's game. All of this brings to mind a line one wag once used
to describe Packer: ``He's a master of X's and O's. It's the
other 24 letters of the alphabet he has trouble with.''

STOP, GET TICKET

Because the New Jersey Nets play at Meadowlands Arena just off
the New Jersey Turnpike, folks around the NBA refer to the team
as the Exit 16W Nets. Now the U.S. Basketball League is adding a
team called the Jersey Turnpikes. They'll play in Hoboken --
which would make them the Exit 14C Turnpikes.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: STEPHEN KRONINGER [Drawing of Jerry Tarkanian]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Peter Forsberg winning the goal off Corey Hirsch at the 1994 Olympics.]

THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US

Officials with the International Olympic Committee have granted
provisional recognition to ballroom dancing as an Olympic sport.

THEY SAID IT

Dan Duva

Fight promoter, on the intelligence of Mike Tyson's re-signing
with Duva rival Don King: "He didn't go to Princeton for three
years. He went to prison."

STAMP OF DISAPPROVAL

Distraught by a forthcoming Swedish postage stamp that will show
Sweden's Peter Forsberg slipping the gold-metal-winning goal by
him in the 1994 Lillehammer Games, former Canadian Olympic
goalie Corey Hirsch has threatened an image appropriation
lawsuit against the Swedish government if it issues the
commemorative. "It's not the way I want to be remembered," he
says.

Hirsh isn't the only sportsman trying to stuff history back into
the bottle. Last week the salty dogs at the San Diego Yacht Club,
that hubristic outfit that supervises the America's Cup Defender
Selection Series, apparently succeeded in altering history by
allowing the equally hubristic Dennis Conner to stay alive in Cup
competition despite his last-place finish in the Series' semifinal
round. For more on this travesty, which was perpetrated largely to
indulge the Cup's corporate sponsors, see E.M. Swift's POINT AFTER
on page 72.