Disney's New Cash Mountain

R eading between the datelines . . .

ANAHEIM--The Mighty Ducks announce ticket prices for their first season, ranging from a single-game high of $125 to a low of $18. Average price per seat is $31.80, nearly six dollars above the league average.

In horror, I listened as temporarily deluded friends and colleagues attempted to defend The Worst Nickname Ever Bestowed Upon A Professional Sports Franchise.

"It's only sports," they said.

"It's fun."

"Kids'll love it."

"What's wrong with appealing to a younger generation of fans?"

Then they saw the Mighty Duck-at prices--$125 for the first row, $75 behind the nets, $55 to $35 on the lower level, $28 to $18 on the upper.

What was that about "family-oriented entertainment" again?

If not your soul, Disney wants your wallet, which brings us back to the original problem of naming a National Hockey League team "the Mighty Ducks."

It isn't a nickname, it's a billboard. And what's being promoted isn't hockey, or even a "wholesome" athletic activity, but a second-rate Disney movie --which, not coincidentally, re-opened in Orange County within days of the now-infamous press conference/Disneyfest at Anaheim Arena.

This is what separates Disney from every other ownership group in professional sports. Quoth Vince Lombardi: "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." Quoth Michael Eisner: "Winning isn't everything, profit is." Bruce McNall also makes movies, and also likes money, but when he bought a hockey team from Jerry Buss, he didn't rename it the Los Angeles Fabulous Baker Boys. There comes a point when capitalistic enterprise crosses that fine line between abject greed and obscenity, but Disney keeps squinting and can't see that line anywhere.

So, Disney decides to charge $18 for its cheapest hockey seat (the Kings charge $11), and no less than $35 for any seat on the lower level, and then sets the bait: Cute cartoon nickname, thousands of wide-eye children tugging on their parents' sleeves, "Can we go see the Mighty Ducks? Can we, can we?"

"Well, Jimmy," the parent will say, "if you're really good and save your allowance every week, you might be able to buy a ticket in 1995."

The Mighty Buk$ are coming to town next season. They say they mean business, and don't we know it?

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LAS VEGAS--The Nevada Las Vegas basketball team, snubbed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, is ranked 25th in the Associated Press' final regular-season poll.

The last Big West Tournament in Long Beach--for a while or forever--will be remembered as Jerry Tarkanian's Revenge, some of it masterminded by the unemployed but never undeterred Shark himself.

Tarkanian showed up at Long Beach Arena just long enough to advise Seth Greenberg on how to stop J.R. Rider (Make him write his own term papers, perhaps?) and, thus, stop UNLV.

Then Tarkanian watched Greenberg's Cal State Long Beach squad edge UNLV by a basket in the Big West semifinals, effectively eliminating UNLV for NCAA postseason consideration.

Then Tarkanian caught the next flight out of town.

His work was done.

Does UNLV belong in the NCAA Tournament? At 21-7 and No. 25 in the AP ratings, obviously.

But did UNLV give Tom Butters' embattled staff any compelling reason to toss a bid its way?

Not with a 5-5 record down the stretch.

Not with losses to Cal State Fullerton, UC Santa Barbara and Pacific, plus a 1-2 mark in three meetings with Long Beach.

The latest installment of Educating J.R. surely didn't help, either. Butters must have cringed at the thought of a Q-and-A session at a Sweet 16 site: "So, J.R., do you now understand how to prevent premenstrual syndrome, and if so, how will that help you to prepare against Kentucky?"

Give the NCAA a reason and its tournament can find a way to live without UNLV. Tark or no Tark, the sleight-of-hand, under-the-table reputation endures, with the conference MVP allegedly kept eligible by enrolling in bogus classes and receiving bogus grades.

At this stage, UNLV has become to NCAA basketball what Al Pacino was to "Godfather III." The school changes coaches, it swears it's going to clean up its act . . . but, as it rages to the heavens with fists clenched, "they keep pulling me back in."

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LONG BEACH--Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine end their basketball seasons with first-round defeats in the Big West Tournament.

In November, what kind of odds could you have gotten on this prediction:

Cal State Fullerton will win twice as many games, and then some, than UC Irvine.

You've seen the final numbers.

Fullerton (John Sneed's blemished leftovers, coached by green-to-the-gills Brad Holland): 15-12.

Irvine (Rod Baker's top-25 recruiting class, joined by Division I transfers Lloyd Mumford, LaDay Smith and Keith Walker, coming off a program-turning upset of UC Santa Barbara in the 1992 Big West Tournament): 6-21.

Some final thoughts:

--Holland and defensive guru Ed Goorjian accomplished wonders with a five-man roster, but now we'll see what kind of recruiter Holland is. With shooting guard Don Leary the only returnee averaging better than three points a game, Holland is essentially building from ground zero.

Already on board for 1993-94 is redshirt point guard James French, formerly a starter at Washington, 6-7 swingman Josh King, currently involved in Carmichael Jesuit's bid for the State Division I championship. But Holland still needs a center, a power forward, a backup center, a backup power forward, a backup small forward and maybe one or two more guards.

What Holland really needs is an expansion draft.

--The smartest move Baker made at Irvine was the first one--he negotiated a four-year contract--and although Year 2 left him shaking his head, it wasn't a total loss, Baker has tried to convince himself.

Freshmen Todd Whitehead and Shaun Battle, according to Baker, "showed they can become big-time players in the conference." Junior Lloyd Mumford "can be one of the best point guards in the West." And Ed Elisma, the 6-9 prep star from New York City, has narrowed his college choices to two--Georgia Tech and Irvine.

"To be honest," Baker says, "it ought to be an easy signing for us. We've done as good a job as we can do for being a school 3,000 miles away."

That Bobby Cremins-to-South Carolina rumor hasn't hurt much, either.

"And I pass that rumor along every time I hear it," Baker says.

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