On signing day, brawn, not brains, rules


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One of the disturbing things about all the hubbub surrounding college football's national signing day is the scholarships being handed out by too many schools serve as silent approval that the oft-shoddy academic preparation of these kids is all right with them.

* All indications are that "March Madness" will be a true horse race this time around, TV analyst Billy Packer's biannual claim of at least a dozen teams having a bona fide shot at the championship ringing true for a change. Game in and game out, there's probably not a half-point's difference among Indiana, Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, Cincinnati and maybe even UCLA.

* A full-page ad in one of the New York fish-wrappers the other day had the Yankees' home schedule, ticket application form, a list of promotion days and caricatures of several players behind (repeat, behind) grand and glorious owner George Steinbrenner. Same ol' George.

* Triple Crown nominees are in and among the favorites are Iwantallthemarbles, It'sali'lknownfact, Exclusivengagement, Splitwindowcoup, Proudtobetogether, Pleasedontexplain, Inappropriateattire and a half-dozen more 18-character run-on names. Imagine poor Dave Johnson fumbling with 14 of these names before getting to his trademark "...and down the stretch they come" on Derby Day.

* Just about all the Boston Celtics complaining about the 87-82 "stall" pulled on them by the Golden State Warriors and coach Don Nelson the other night don't recall the pre-24-second clock days when a slowdown meant just that. Picture a George Mikan-Jim Pollard-Vern Mikkelson championship team engaging in a 19-16 game.

* From time to time, sportswriters are accused of only criticizing, pointing out flaws and weaknesses, not providing answers for the things that afflict mankind. OK, here we go: Next time one of the professors down at Navy finds the master copy of his final exam missing, even if it's for just 15 minutes, he should immediately sit down and prepare another test. Constantly testing the honor system only leads to disappointment.

* Three cheers for "Tricky Dick" McGuire being elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Now there was a guy who thought first, last and always about setting up his mates with a slick pass, which used to be the prime responsibility of the guy handling the ball all the time.

* Any city that orders up a parade to celebrate a sports championship by one of its teams should be sent to the proper facility for psychiatric testing. Increasingly, it's an invitation for roving bands of thugs to raise hell, as evidenced in Dallas yesterday. Certainly, Troy Aikman didn't skip out of the Pro Bowl after three quarters Sunday to be on hand for this.

* Now that Al ("What, me worry?") Iafrate has been soundly thrashed by short-track speed skating gold medalist Cathy Turner, it's time for the big guy to issue a challenge to Eric Heiden over 500 meters if he wants to experience real fire on ice.

Still on the Washington Capitals: Wearing the "C" (denoting captain) sweater meant almost everything to Rod Langway over the last decade. That's why his giving it up now that he's a part-time player for the Caps speaks volumes for the guy's character, integrity and leadership.

* As the middle of February approaches and the stretch drive begins, it's still futile looking for signs of life in the Big East. Go ahead, ACC nuts, say "We told you so." The Big East schools can talk about improved academic standards leading to their losing out on blue-chip prospects, but the fact is the style of play in the league, roughly akin to playing nose guard in the NFL, no doubt turns off high school hotshots who want a career, not a limp.

* One reason interviews following boxing matches on TV aren't worth the time and effort put into them is because more often than not they resemble a liar's convention. To hear Riddick Bowe and his manager Rock Newman tell it after the heavyweight title fight unpleasantness the other night, WBC champion Lennox Lewis would not, in their lifetimes, get a shot at Bowe's twin titles. A new day hadn't dawned before they were peddling a whole different story.

* All things considered, the Washington Bullets' eight-game, 17-day road trip, which began in Houston Monday, is already semi-successful as a result of their 106-100 victory over the Rockets. Washington has now won four (of 22) games on the road, which is a zillion times better than the effort of the Dallas Mavericks (0-20).

* It's obviously time to scrub the NBA and start all over, considering this year's All-Star Game in Salt Lake City will be played without representatives from two of the league's cornerstone franchises, the Celtics and Lakers. File a protest, Reggie Lewis.

* Parting Shot: There's absolutely no truth to the rumor Eli Jacobs' dog ran away. But he is thinking about it.

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