SPORTS NOTEBOOK

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Football: Facing Flaws Of America's Game Teddy Roosevelt once came down hard on football so disturbed was he by its violence. If it hadn't survived, we can only imagine how different the face of the American sports landscape would be today. Perhaps soccer would be king, the United States would be the World Cup champion several times over, National Soccer League doubleheaders would be televised every Sunday, and college teams and fans would be fixated on who's No. 1. Doubtless, some of the attendant problems associated with big-time college football would be part of the package. But one has to wonder, too, if some of the problems would largely drop out. Two garnering attention at the moment - criminal charges against three University of Nebraska players and almost embarrassingly lopsided scores by several teams - logically could occur in any sport. That they exist in football, as currently constituted, however, should not seem especially surprising. Below some of the surface flaws of the sport, perhaps the root cause of some of its challenges are the excessive number of athletic scholarships awarded. The number of scholarships any single program may award has been trimmed from 100 to 85, and still many coaches howl, claiming that the quality of the game will suffer. But who ever said college football had to look like the professional game to be entertaining, which shouldn't be the main point anyhow? Fewer scholarships, for one, would force coaches to be more careful in what kind of students they recruit for their programs and would also give them smaller flocks to tend. If this happened, wouldn't some of the off-field problems diminish? And with a greater dispersal of quality players, maybe the playing field would be more level, and fewer scores like 77-17, 77-28, and 66-14 would appear in Sunday papers, as they did over the weekend. Touching other bases * Pop quiz: How many innings must be played before a major-league baseball game goes in the book? (Answer appears below.) * Baseball's new, expanded playoff format may hold nightmarish possibilities for a team like the Boston Red Sox, who are currently running away with the American League East race. The New York Yankees, their fiercest rivals, could still qualify for the playoffs as a wild card and win the American League championship. Since the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, the Yankees have won the World Series 22 times, Boston none. In their most recent encounter, New York swept Boston in a three-game series. * Unlike its outdoor progenitor, where goals are hard to come by, indoor soccer generally produces bushels of them. In fact, until last month no team in the Continental Indoor Soccer League had ever been shut out. That's when goalkeeper Jim Brazeau made 18 saves, including a number from point-blank range, as the Portland (Ore.) Pride blanked the Pittsburgh Stingers, 10-0. The CISL's regular season ends Oct. 1. * On the men's pro golf tour, about the only thing rarer than left-handed players are aces. The PGA Tour averages nearly a hole-in-one per tournament (28 in 35 events this year), while most weeks only two lefties, Phil Mickelson and Russ Cochran, tee it up. * Who would have imagined that the National Basketball Association would pay a player's airfare from Paris to New York just to cast a ballot? NBA commissioner David Stern wanted to encourage participation in the recent vote on the status of the players' union. To ensure a high turnout, the league offered to help pay transportation costs to National Labor Relations Board offices, where decertification was voted down last week. Dino Radja of the Boston Celtics took advantage of the offer and flew from Europe to New York on the Concorde, only to turn right around and go home. * Three years ago, with baseball people already talking about Cal Ripken's assault on Lou Gehrig's consecutive-game streak, Sports Illustrated decided to identify 10 unbreakable athletic records. Topping its list was an ironman streak of far fewer games than the 2,130 Gehrig played in - namely Glenn Hall's 502 consecutive complete hockey games in goal. All of those were played in the National Hockey League and most without a mask. Hall's streak spanned eight seasons. Since his retirement in the early 1970s, no NHL goalie has played every game in even a single season. * Tradition won't be completely ignored when the new FleetCenter is opened in Boston in October. The Celtics will still play on the same wooden parquet court that adorned the Boston Garden for many years. Individual floor sections have been replaced and rehabilitated over time and now the entire surface has been refinished. * Build new baseball stadiums and the fans will come. That assumption appears to be part of Major League Baseball's hope for the future - to sell people atmosphere as much as sport. National Public Radio commentator Frank Deford, however, believes the game itself needs fixing and that the attention on ballparks is ''stop-gap marketing, like when the movies used to depend on air conditioning.'' * Quiz answer: Five innings. If a game is called, on account of rain, for instance, five innings (or 4-1/2 if the home team is ahead) must be completed before it constitutes a regulation game. This explains why the celebration of Cal Ripken's ironman streak didn't occur until midway through his 2,131st consecutive game

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