Basketball Penalty Should Fit the Crime

THE images and impressions still linger, even more than a week after the men's college basketball tournament concluded with the Final Four shootout in New Orleans.

Chief among these is the miscue that cost Michigan so dearly in the men's championship game, won by North Carolina, 77 to 71. For days, fans talked about what a wire report called "one of the biggest mistakes in tournament history."

With Michigan trailing by a basket, Chris Webber, the most fabulous of Michigan's Fab Five sophomore starters, grabbed a rebound and dribbled downcourt. But rather than get off a last shot, he called a timeout that Michigan didn't have, its allotment already exhausted. A technical foul was assessed that gave North Carolina two foul shots plus possession of the ball with just 11 seconds remaining.

Much was made of Webber's mental error, but less of the fact that he had traveled when he originally began his dribble. The missed call, some say, may have resulted from the referees' desire to ignore Webber as he appeared to try to call a timeout when he first rebounded a missed North Carolina free throw.

While the blooper was the focus of attention, many failed to properly credit the Tar Heels with causing it. If two defenders had not trapped the Michigan star so effectively, he might not have panicked. Michigan Coach Steve Fisher said the players were reminded that they had no timeouts left.

Just two days later, rather than cowering from the press, Webber showed up in Los Angeles for a Player of the Year presentation - which went to Indiana University's Calbert Cheaney - and refused to make excuses for his mistake.

The question that remains, however, is why a team should be so severely penalized for calling a nonexistent timeout.

Hank Nichols, an official for many years and now spokesman for the college rules committee, says a technical foul has been assessed for calling an extra timeout for as long as he can remember. The punishment became a bit stiffer several years ago when, to simplify the penalties, all technicals were made two shots.

Nichols says he doesn't anticipate that the rule will be reviewed in the off-season despite the attention it has received recently. A review would seem in order, however, since there seems little justification for penalizing a team when the referee could simply ignore attempts to call a timeout. Could Cubans be in for Olympic culture shock?

The corporatization of the Olympics, especially in the area of sponsorships, may reach a new level at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Cubans, in particular, may feel surrounded by Yanqui capitalism, as manifested by a potential blizzard of corporate logos. (Atlanta now has named an "official preferred credit card.")

At Barcelona last summer, however, the Cubans said in a press conference that their old-style, state-supported team would seek sponsorship arrangements. The Russians, meanwhile, are already deeply involved - out of necessity - in pursuing nongovernment funding. The chairman of the Russian Olympic Committee was in New York recently, speaking the new Olympic tongue. "Without support of the marketing program, it will not be possible to compete at Lillehammer," Vitaly Smirnov said of next year's Winter Games

in Norway. He reported that the sale of Olympic lottery tickets was going well and that a sponsorship agreement with the Reebok shoe company was benefiting the Russian team. US tennis blues

Some members of the American tennis community are pretty upset about how the United States was eliminated from Davis Cup play late last month. Competing without its top men players, who had other priorities, the US became the first defending champion in 10 years to lose in the first round. Neither Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl (now a US citizen), nor Michael Chang - all top-10 players - ventured Down Under, where Australia administered an embarrassing 4-to-1 defeat in Melbourne just

four months after the US beat Switzerland in the 1992 final. John McEnroe led the US in that triumph, and is now being widely discussed as a possible new team captain (coach) to replace Tom Gorman.

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