Today's sports carry peculiar aroma

April 12, 1995|By PHIL JACKMAN

The beauty of the games we play, watch, read about and call talk shows over is that they are infinitely simple.

Toss, kick, shoot a ball or a puck into a goal and see the crowd roar and the scoreboard explode or something. Race cars, boats, sleds, bikes, horses and, for those who like to do the work themselves, sculls and a crowd will show up.

Hit the ball between the lines of a court or keep a golf ball long and true between tee and green and the world is your oyster. Knock down pins or opponents. Advance a runner around the bases or a ball into the end zone enough times and you're a winner.

Run fast, leap far, shoot straight, lift a ton, ski or skate true or do somersaults and spins off a diving board or on a gym mat and it could mean a trip to college, gratis.

We love it, always have and probably always will. But reservations are starting to pile up.

Problems arise when basically simple rules are tampered with. When a price is put on the quest for excellence. When self-interest intrudes on games once played by youngsters whose only objective was to kill time and have fun.

Look at the opportunities to despair over what has been done to "our games" over the last few months. Baseball tried to commit suicide. Hockey attempted to make it a double. Mini-scandals have become so prevalent in collegiate sports they're no longer front-page news.

With publicity have come shady dealings on the high school level, even dipping down into junior high. Gender equity isn't going to lead to women getting half or more of an athletic budget, but to the demise of football as practiced on campuses where television is a stranger.

Professional teams threaten to depart if state-of-the-art stadiums and arenas aren't built for them immediately. And, usually, our answer to this problem and others is to add another game to the lottery, tack a few mores bucks on the student activity fee or drop the minimum qualifying test score several more points.

Here's a solution: Don't get caught up in any of it.

As soon as an owner starts poor-mouthing, a player begins complaining about the rigors of his work day or an amateur in a non-revenue-producing sport whines about not receiving his monetary due, turn a deaf ear.

Don't get wrapped up in the politics that has seen a sport like boxing explode from eight champions in eight weight divisions to about a hundred champions in 25 weight divisions, compliments of more organizations than belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Just say no to all the hijinks and shenanigans that take something as simple as a boat race, first one over the finish line wins, and transform it into a never-ending argument over constantly changing rules, interpretations, equipment, behavior, protocol and deals struck in smoke-filled rooms long after midnight.

The America's Cup, in case you hadn't noticed, is about to be contested again, beginning May 6, and this week is probably as good a time as any to learn the basics of what lies ahead.

After seemingly months of trials, pre-trials, round-robins, etc., boats from New Zealand and Australia are vying to see which challenges the boat representing the defending champion U.S. It's best-of-9 and may the best from down-under prevail.

It's the semifinals and that usually means two, head-to-head, the winner going on, the loser going home. Not in the land of the free and the home of the brave. We have three boats still sailing with a promise that just one will be around to race for the Cup.

But that's only if all protests regarding rules, which seem to change every time the tide rolls into San Diego Harbor, and appeals are heard and dismissed. Again, don't get hung up on these technicalities.

Watch a race similar to the one Dennis Conner's "Stars and Stripes" ran yesterday in defeating the "Young America" boat and chuckle that Dennis and crew shouldn't even be there. On Monday, "America3 (Cubed)" whipped "Young America" and this was supposed to be our best hope.

At this point, the scoring system doesn't matter. Just hope that the best of the three boats in the defender series is our representative in the final. And don't worry that the race committee set up a course yesterday that "would have been better if it had been set up further south," as ESPN race analyst Gary Jobson explained.

Don't sweat the fact that yachting's final four is a final five. In a little more than three weeks it will come down to a basic boat vs. boat test and it will be easy to follow. Unless, of course, the rules change again and you can direct your attention to the Kentucky Derby, which is being run the same day.

We'll cut through any expected controversy and let you know how it all comes out, on or before May 20.

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