COLLEGE BASKETBALL / GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI : A Presidential Mess Badly Mixes Politics and Sports

C-SPAN and college basketball somehow collided recently, which is the rough equivalent of William F. Buckley Jr. doing play-by-play with Dick Vitale as his color sidekick.

If you have cable (and zero social life), you could have watched last Friday's thrilling Rutgers University Board of Governors meeting. That's when the board pledged its support of school President Francis L. Lawrence, the same chowderhead whose racially insensitive remarks at a Nov. 11 faculty meeting later sparked a student sit-in at last week's Massachusetts-Rutgers game.

It was Lawrence who said: "The average SAT for African Americans is 750. Do we set standards in the future so that we don't admit anybody with the national test? Or do we deal with a disadvantaged population that doesn't have that genetic hereditary background to have a higher average."

Oh, boy.

Thanks to Lawrence, about 150 protesters plopped themselves down at midcourt, eventually forcing the suspension of the game until March 2, when it will be completed--sit-ins, willing--at the Palestra in Philadelphia, site of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.

Caught in the middle of this mess is Rutgers Coach Bob Wenzel, whose team was leading the then-No. 4-ranked Minutemen, 31-29, at halftime. So far, Wenzel has seen his employer assailed, his home-court advantage taken away, his recruiting jeopardized and his chance of an upset reduced to near-zilch now that previously injured UMass center Marcus Camby is all but recovered from a leg injury.

"My feeling is the game should be played at Rutgers," Wenzel said. "It's a Rutgers home game."

Not anymore. Security concerns, date considerations and scheduling difficulties forced conference Commissioner Linda Bruno to switch venues.

"I think Linda Bruno showed a lot of strength in what she did and doing it immediately," said UMass Coach John Calipari, who makes out like a bandit in the deal.

SIT-IN--PART II

Meanwhile, back at Newark. . . .

Lawrence is doing what he can, which is mostly apologizing for the remarks and pointing to a career's worth of commitment to minorities and higher education. As for Wenzel, he's busy holding his breath or citing statistics that show Rutgers among the nation's leaders in the number of minority students enrolled and African Americans on the faculty.

Asked about rumors that his players had considered joining the sit-in, Wenzel said: "The players are student-athletes. As students, they can do whatever they want. They're also athletes. As athletes, they have a responsibility to the team. Those are decisions they have to make.

"I'm telling you what I told them."

In other words, sit at your own risk.

Lawrence and Wenzel aren't flying solo on the image-repair flight. To the rescue comes Temple Coach John Chaney, who knows a little something about public screw-ups.

A year ago to the week, Chaney made his infamous postgame beeline toward UMass' Calipari and vowed to "kick your. . . . " Now Chaney, a longtime spokesman for the Black Coaches Assn., says Lawrence's comments were ill- advised, but not fatal.

"I know that everybody makes mistakes," said Chaney, whose team plays Rutgers at the Brown Athletic Center tonight. "Mr. Lawrence made a mistake. All of us make mistakes, but I also know the man has made great contributions to education, to Rutgers, to diversity, and I'm willing to go on."

Instead, Chaney chided the Rutgers students for not showing the same concern when co-authors Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein published "The Bell Curve," which suggests that genetics are the reason whites score higher than African Americans on standardized intelligence tests.

"The (issue) around the country is bigger than just Rutgers," Chaney said. "The students are missing the big issue. They always do."

BOYS AND GIRLS ON THE BUS

Coming soon to an arena near you . . . "the Horde."

Thanks to a geographical quirk and the continuing rise of Connecticut basketball, the size of the media covering the Huskies is swelling like the nearby Willimantic River after a snow melt. And it's only going to get worse now that UConn is ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history.

No other program in the country is smothered with such attention. About 15 newspapers cover the Huskies daily. Another nine publications, including the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, cover UConn home games. Even the New York, Boston and Philadelphia papers have assigned writers to Husky games regularly.

And those are just the ink-stained types.

If you have an FCC license and a control board, you're in business at UConn. Three Hartford television stations and one New Haven network affiliate follow UConn like hound dogs on Harrison Ford's trail. So does the Israel Cable Programming network, which reaches about 1.3 million homes and whose subscribers can watch the hoop exploits of native sons Doron Sheffer and Uri Cohen-Mintz. And at last count, 18 radio stations in Connecticut treat the Huskies like royal family.

For last month's game against St. John's, UConn officials issued 178 media credentials. Then the school issued a news release detailing the record number of credentials.

"It's gotten pretty ridiculous," said Kyle Muncy, UConn's assistant director of athletic communications. "Fun, but ridiculous."

In comparison, UCLA is expecting 80 to 90 credential requests for Sunday's clash-of-the-titans game between the Bruins and Arizona at Pauley Pavilion.

HALLELUJAH

With his team perched atop the NCAA tournament bubble, Georgia Coach Hugh Durham has found Southeastern Conference religion.

Praise the SEC, says Hugh.

"The unfortunate part of it is we have to do a better job of blowing our own horn," said Durham, tooting away. "I think around the country we don't do a good enough job letting people know how deep we are. If you get 17 wins in this league, you definitely need to be considered for an NCAA berth."

True enough, but Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino has some advice for Durham, whose team lost to Vanderbilt Wednesday night to fall to 14-7, and everyone else busy preparing their chamber of commerce speeches to the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee.

"It really doesn't matter when (the committee) closes the doors," said Pitino, whose athletic director, C.M. Newton, is a longtime member of the committee. "They just look at the power rankings, the strength of schedule, records, strength of conference."

If Pitino is right, then at least four SEC teams (Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi State and Arkansas) should make it, with three others (Georgia, Florida and Auburn) sweating it out.

For what it's worth, the SEC isn't among the top five in nonconference records. As of Monday: ACC 79-14 (84.9%), Big Eight 90-17 (84.1%), Big East 67-17 (79.8%), Metro 78-23 (77.2%) and Pacific 10 69-14 (74.2%)

THE REST

First-year Oklahoma Coach Kelvin Sampson, who spent the previous seven seasons at Washington State, says his new conference is slightly better than his old one. "I think the Pac-10 is very underrated," he said. "Being here now, it's easy for me to evaluate: There's not a lot of difference in these two leagues. The Pac-10 is a great league, but I think the Big Eight, top to bottom . . . is better." . . . With last Saturday's sweep of Providence--its first of a fellow Big East team--Miami climbed to 10-9 overall and 5-7 in the league. The word now coming out of Coral Gables is that Coach Leonard Hamilton is safe for at least another season. . . . George Raveling, who was asked by the Big Eight (soon to be Big 12) to apply for its commissioner's job, isn't among the finalists. The short list: Kansas Athletic Director Bob Frederick, Southwest Conference Commissioner Steve Hatchell, Ohio Valley Conference Commissioner Dan Beebe and Patty Viverito, senior associate commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference. Frederick and Hatchell are the favorites.

After needing seven stitches to close a cut on his head during last Saturday's game against Oklahoma, Kansas point guard Jacque Vaughn said, "Some way to celebrate my birthday. I think I'm averaging one blood timeout per game now." . . . St. John's guard Felipe Lopez almost had the rare freshman quadruple recently against Seton Hall: 25 points, 15 rebounds, 10 turnovers and nine assists. . . . And now the statistic of the season: In its upset loss to Auburn last Saturday, Mississippi State scored 19 points in the last 90 seconds.

Injuries to watch: Louisville's 6-foot-9 freshman center Samaki Walker (stress fracture in right foot) might return by Feb. 25. The Cardinals had better hope so if they want a guaranteed NCAA tournament invitation. Walker is averaging 14.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and is shooting 56.4% from the field. Also, Memphis' 6-9 junior forward David Vaughn (stress fracture left foot) could miss two to four weeks. The Tigers are OK for now--games against Dayton twice, Marquette and Long Beach--but really need Vaughn back for a March 2 game at Cincinnati. Vaughn is averaging 13.9 points and 10.4 rebounds. . . . If UMass' Camby is recovered from a second-degree muscle strain in his leg, Calipari said the star sophomore center will play in the second half of the suspended game against Rutgers. "If we're going to play the game, then I'm not going to have it hurt us," said Calipari, adding that to play without him "wouldn't be fair." Tell it to Rutgers. One bright spot for Wenzel's team: Since Camby wasn't in the official scorebook for the first game, UMass will be assessed a two-shot technical foul for inserting him into the suspended game. Rutgers also will get the ball. . . . Memo to potential protesters at tonight's Rutgers-Temple game. Don't do it: Chaney isn't in the mood. "We're not concerned about the safety of our team," he said. "We will be there to play basketball." A Rutgers athletic department official said security measures will be "adequate and necessary."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Top 10

As selected by staff writer Gene Wojciechowski

No. Team Rec. 1. UCLA 16-2 2. Kansas 19-3 3. Maryland 19-5 4. North Carolina 19-2 5. Connecticut 20-1 6. Kentucky 17-4 7. Michigan State 18-3 8. Massachusetts 18-3 9. Arkansas 20-5 10. Arizona State 18-5

Waiting list: Arizona (18-5), Wake Forest (16-5), Missouri (18-3), Villanova (18-5), Mississippi State (16-5).

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