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Indy 500 telecast won't throw caution flag over controversy

ABC's Paul Page says the network's auto racing telecast team will not steer away from the controversies that have splintered the IndyCar movement into two Memorial Day weekend races.

But Page, the lead voice on Sunday's Indianapolis 500 (Channel 2, 11 a.m.) adds they won't swerve into the brouhaha that threatens one of the world's most popular single day events.

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"My general policy is to try to keep that political stuff out of the telecast. You try to separate the sport from the front office," Page said yesterday from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "We're not going to ignore it, but we're not going to dwell on it. We could open that door, but then we'd spend three hours on it and meanwhile you hear all those sets clicking away."

The controversy revolves around Speedway president Tony George's decision to invent the Indy Racing League and to reserve 25 of 33 spots on the grid for drivers on that circuit.

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In protest, members of Championship Auto Racing Teams, including such big names as Michael Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Bobby Rahal and Al Unser Jr., are boycotting Indianapolis for the newly created U.S. 500, to be run Sunday and telecast on ABC's sister cable network, ESPN (2 p.m.).

The squabble may not be noticeable to the public, says Page, but has forced many observers to choose sides, and sent some racing fans off to NASCAR, which, coincidentally, has its longest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600, also on Sunday (TBS, 5 p.m.)

"You've got a real confluence going on here. NASCAR's popularity was already on the rise before this," said Page. "For my part, I love going to a NASCAR track. At least, I don't have to choose one side or the other."

Preakness recap

Earlier this week, we told you that the overnight ratings for last weekend's Preakness were up sharply from last year.

Yesterday's unveiling of Nielsen's national ratings -- which sample the entire country, rather than the 33 largest markets that are reflected in the overnight numbers -- provided the same results, as the 1996 race drew a 3.7 rating, a 16 percent rise from 1995.

The playoff primer

TNT wraps up its 1995-96 coverage of the NBA tonight at 8: 30 with Game 3 of the Seattle-Utah Western Conference championship series. Studio hosts Ernie Johnson and Cheryl Miller will be joined by New York center Patrick Ewing, Golden State guard B. J. Armstrong and the cheeky Danny Ainge, who had an impressive maiden season as analyst.

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NBC (Channel 11) takes over exclusive coverage of the remainder of the playoff schedule with Game 3 coverage of the Chicago-Orlando Eastern series tomorrow beginning at 3 p.m. Game 4 of the Western series airs Sunday at 3, and the fourth game of the Bulls-Magic set-to gets under way Monday at 3.

On the ice, Fox hockey analyst John Davidson, who will work Sunday's fourth game of the Pittsburgh-Florida Eastern series (Channel 45, 3 p.m.), says that the heavily favored Penguins may find their speed and passing game hurt by slow ice at Miami Arena. The third game of that series shows up at 7: 30 tonight on ESPN, which also will have the fourth game of the Detroit-Colorado dust-up tomorrow.

Finally, the men's college lacrosse season comes to an end this weekend at the Final Four in College Park, and ESPN2 will carry Saturday's semifinals, with Princeton meeting Syracuse at noon, and Johns Hopkins challenging Virginia at 3 p.m., with Leif Elsmo and Quint Kessenich on the call. The winners meet Monday at 11 a.m. on ESPN. WWLG (1360 AM) will carry all games involving Hopkins.

By the way, we're still waiting for even the most brief recognition of Maryland's women's team, its19-game win streak and two national championships on any "SportsCenter" program. Come on, guys. Five seconds isn't too much to ask, now is it?

Cinders and rackets

With two weeks to go before spots are decided for the U.S. Olympic track and field team, some of the country's biggest figures in the sport look to tune up in Sunday's Prefontaine Classic from Eugene, Ore., at 2 p.m. on CBS (Channel 13).

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Meanwhile, USA launches 33 hours of French Open tennis coverage -- 30 of those hours live -- Monday (10 p.m.) with Bill Macatee, Virginia Wade, Tracy Austin and John McEnroe working the booth at Roland Garros Stadium.

Pub Date: 5/24/96


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