Its opponents are dealing boxing low blow

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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On cue, following the fight between Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan in London Saturday night, which sees McClellan fighting for his life after brain surgery, opponents of boxing are pushing for a worldwide ban on the sport. In other words, send it underground as in the old days.

Short of that, a spokesman for the British Board of Control suggests boxing needs a governing body "just like FIFA." FIFA is the body that runs soccer, and what a strange organization to cite as an outfit that conducts a sport expertly. Better to turn over the chicken coop to a fox.

Barely a day goes by when there isn't a soccer violence story in the paper. Presently, and after a match between England and Ireland was abandoned two weeks ago, dozens being hauled off to the slammer, folks in Bruges, Belgian, are quaking over an English team arriving for a match in their city today.

Two days before the (Fill in the Blank) Cup pairing, dozens of Brits were apprehended in Bruges, lugging around knives, clubs, tear gas canisters and the usual stuff you haul to a match if you're a card-carrying hooligan.

Thing is, there is absolutely no reason or excuse for these "special" tournaments, which pit winners of various cups last season when the victors had completely different teams, etc., save for money (the biggest reason, of course).

Maybe if boxing set up an international board of control run along the lines of the way major-league baseball is run, the world would be a better place.

* One of the lead arguments for the creation of a national championship format for college football is that all the other sports conducted by the NCAA have them. Chief among these, of course, is hoops and its Big Show, The Dance, Final Four, whatever. But, really, does anyone think North Carolina State in 1983 or Villanova two years later were the best in the land, or did they get hot at the right time, take advantage of the schedule and just be outrageously lucky?

The Wolfpack finished fourth in the ACC with a 17-10 mark and probably had to win the conference tourney to get in. Villanova was 19-10 prior to its run and was booed out of Madison Square Garden in the Big East tourney after sleepwalking its way through a first-round loss. Just two of the last 17 No. 1s have made it to the title. The polls couldn't be that unreliable.

* The way things are going for the Washington Capitals, it may not be long before fans are treating them as the "lovable losers" of two decades ago: A standing ovation greeting their every positive, no matter how minuscule.

Trailing Tampa Bay 1-0 after two periods Sunday, the Caps got the tying goal 32 seconds into the third period, then not another shot on goal in regulation (19:28). Any thoughts that the object of the game might have slipped their mind were dispensed during the overtime when the team got another shot.

Coach Jim Schoenfeld theorizes that it's the "mental baggage" the Caps are carrying right now that has things in 3-9-5 disarray. "We're more frightened of losing than hungry to win," he says. A team with vets like Dave Poulin (13), Dale Hunter (14), Michal Pivonka (9), Kelly Miller (10) and a half-dozen more with five years in grade have such problems?

* For years a general feeling among players concerning the U.S. Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, N.Y., was, as Kevin Curren put it, "deserving of having an atom bomb dropped on it."

Martina Navratilova was equally critical of the setup hard by Shea Stadium and under the glide path of planes entering and exiting LaGuardia Airport. So, presently under way is the $227 million program of the USTA to expand the facility and take more and more space away from the surrounding ground that sees thousands competing on weekends in softball, soccer, baseball, and you name it.

* An outfit with a well-organized newsletter called Fans Mean Business puts it to the Orioles in their current edition, pointing out that the Birds had the most operating income in 1993, so why the need for a price hike that could gross an additional $7.3 million per year coming off a strike year?

Meanwhile, an outfit in Cleveland, reportedly representing fans, is going to give its ballclub a replacement name if the Tribe is going to use replacement players. It's also banging out marketable items touting the Cleveland Lampreys (a fish parasite) and, forthwith, the suits commence.

Things are really going well in sports these days, aren't they?

* Talk about courses for horses, in the last six years at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, Fred Couples has had 22 sub-par rounds in 23 attempts while winning twice, coming in second twice and finishing seventh and 12th. All told, he's 60 under par.

* The Cherry Blossom 10-miler in Washington April 9 got its full complement of runners (5,800) by Feb. 13. Sponsor Northern Telcom will present a check for $34,000 to Children's Hospital. . . . A 3-K fun run (no charge) accompanies race.

* There will be two shows, April 8 and April 11, at USAir Arena when the world figure skating champions tour. First one sold out.

* Attention-getting headline: "McEnroe Complains About Foe's Tactics." No, it's not John, who knows every trick in the book and invented about a thousand of his own, but brother Patrick. It seems his opponent, Greg Rusedski, "wets" up the tennis ball with sweat just before serving, in effect producing a knuckleball serve.

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