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

February 16, 1995|Gene Wojciechowski

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.

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