SPORTS WATCH : Hockey Precedent?

Hockey fans can rejoice. The Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks will soon take to the ice again. The pro hockey season has been saved because the National Hockey League players union accepted a final contract offer from the owners, who had locked them out for 103 days.

The battle lines resembled the lines drawn in the baseball strike. A salary cap, free agency and the customary tug of war between struggling small-market teams and affluent large-market teams. However, hockey owners and players had a better shot at resuming play because there is no federal antitrust exemption to slant things in favor of management. That exemption allows baseball owners to escape the labor equity rules imposed by federal law. Repeal of that exemption, which Congress now contemplates, would be good for baseball.

The baseball strike created an opportunity for hockey, the least popular of the four major professional sports in this country, but the advantage was lost because of the lockout. The NHL had been scheduled to open the season Oct. 1, before the start of the basketball season and in plenty of time to capitalize on the lack of baseball pennant races and the World Series. Hockey's impasse stole an opportunity for the sport to increase its television exposure, popularity and income.

Though profits are sure to be off heavily because of the truncated season--48 games instead of the scheduled 84--better a short season than none.

Compromise settled the hockey dispute. It can do likewise for baseball.

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