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Blast travels abroad, but has challenges here


THERE'S ONE PROBLEM with the Blast playing an exhibition game in England, as it will tonight, 13 games into its Major Soccer League season -- and coach Kenny Cooper is aware of it. It can take the players' minds off the real business at hand and prove a distraction that will sidetrack the team later.

As the English-born Cooper says of this game against Oldham Athletic in Manchester: "We don't want to lose sight of the fact that we have games to win back in America." The next two of those will take place in the Arena this Saturday night (7:35) against Wichita and Sunday evening (6:05) against Tacoma.

Although the Blast vs. Oldham Athletic marks the first time an MSL team has gone to England to play, it's not hard to handicap the game, which will be played indoors. The Blast should win. Explains Baltimore's Billy Ronson, who was also born and reared in England: "The indoor game is our game. The English play outdoor soccer."

* The annual debate is heating up over whether there should be a championship football playoff in NCAA Division I-A. Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner Gene Corrigan, one of the most respected officials in college sports, sums it up this way:

"I-A football is the only NCAA sport that doesn't have playoffs, but a national championship tournament adds another month to the season and creates extra stress. With the bowl games, 16 teams go home thinking they're champions. A bowl game is a celebration. Playoffs are a business."

What's likely to lead to a I-A playoff already is beginning to happen and was alluded to in the Nov. 12 NCAA News by Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne: "I think the conferences are going to get bigger to have more lucrative television packages. When you get four or five big conferences, it's going to lend itself to a playoff."

* The worst team in the NFL is the New England Patriots -- on thfield (1-11) and off (totally botching the Lisa Olson incident). The 26,280 spectators at Foxboro Sunday for the Pats' 37-7 loss to Kansas City was the smallest in the league that day. It's obvious that owner Victor Kiam is a decisive, action-oriented guy ("I liked the company so much I bought it"). One NFL source tells me Kiam is going to clean house after this season. When that's done, there won't be anyone named Sullivan left in the front office.

Regarding the Olson affair and the issue of women in the locker room, ESPN's Dan Patrick said on "SportsCenter" the other day that he personally has witnessed a couple incidents in which women reporters were abused by players in a locker room. Unlike Olson, they, regrettably, didn't report it, Patrick noted. And, though he failed to note it, neither did he.

* There's no substitute for experience, as we all know, and Jim Phelan last weekend gave us a good illustration of that. Phelan, in his 37th year as basketball coach at Mount St. Mary's, saw his team play poorly in a loss to Loyola Friday night at the Beltway Classic. So the next morning he held a practice -- on a game day. That night he shook up his starting lineup and the Mount snapped back and beat UMBC, 97-81. Chalk one up for Ol' Bow Tie. When Phelan lost point guard Kevin Booth for the season with a knee injury, he said: "When this happens it's best to turn the page and move on." Again, experience.

The Beltway Classic coaches were talking about Navy coach Pete Herrmann's ultimatum to win 15 games and his sudden penchant for three-point shots. Said UMBC coach Earl Hawkins, "That's the way to do it, shooting threes. That way, you have some fun and you might win 15 games."

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