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Baseball Cancels Opener in Japan

Probable war in Iraq prompts move to keep A's, Mariners home. NCAA says basketball tournaments will proceed as scheduled.

March 19, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Major League Baseball's season opener in Japan is off; the NCAA basketball tournaments are on.

The conflicting announcements came Tuesday, by Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who cited the "tense world situation" as his reason to cancel, and by NCAA President Myles Brand, who expressed his wish that "the American way of life goes on as scheduled" as reason to play.

Brand said his decision to play came after he received safety assurances and encouragement to maintain normal domestic activity from Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

"[Monday] night's announcement by President Bush heightened our concerns, and our thoughts and prayers go to the men and women in the desert and elsewhere defending our freedom," Brand said. "We are also concerned that the American way of life goes on as scheduled."

Thus, March Madness, which opened with a play-in game Tuesday night, will begin in earnest Thursday with 16 men's games. The 64-team women's tournament starts Saturday.

The shelving of baseball's regular-season-opening two-game series between the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners, which was to begin next Tuesday at Tokyo Dome, turns the Angels' March 30 home game against the Texas Rangers into baseball's regular-season opener.

"Given the uncertainty that now exists throughout the world, we believe the safest course of action for the players involved and the many staff personnel who must work the games is to reschedule the opening series," Selig said. "It would be unfair and terribly unsettling for them to be half a world away -- away from their families -- at this critical juncture."

The A's-Mariners' games have been rescheduled as Oakland home dates on April 3 and June 30. Both teams had been scheduled to depart their spring training homes in Arizona and head to Japan today. The trip would have marked the returns of three Mariners -- former Japanese League stars Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuhiro Sasaki and Japan native Shigetoshi Hasegawa.

"This is the prudent course of action," said Don Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Assn.

Baseball officials said the Cactus League schedule will be modified to adapt to the Mariners' and A's extended stay in Arizona. Derrick Hall, the Dodgers' senior vice president, said there is no indication remaining exhibition or regular-season games will be postponed or canceled.

"I can definitely understand the decision [to reschedule the games]," said Paul Lo Duca, the Dodger player representative. "You have some guys who still wanted to go, and some guys who didn't want to, and there are obviously reasons to be concerned. We just came back from Mexico and it was fine with security, everything went really well and we didn't have any problems, but we weren't traveling when there was a war going on.

"I know they [were] talking about [postponing] the NCAA tournament because of everything, but I don't think that's the right thing to do. I think that's what they want us to do; stop our daily lives here and have everyone staying at home, watching CNN and getting depressed about everything. And the thing is, nobody knows how long this is going to go on ... we can't stop living our lives or they kind of win."

Had the NCAA postponed first- and second-round games, it would have complicated an already uncertain television broadcast schedule and created difficulties regarding travel, hotels and arena usage.

Beyond that, coordination appeared to be lacking. Officials at West regional men's sites in Spokane, Wash., and Salt Lake City said they had not been told to reconstruct their schedule in the event the first two rounds were delayed.

Before Brand's statement, Mike Daniels, assistant commissioner of the Big West Conference, host of the West regional semifinals and final at the Arrowhead Pond, said, "We've heard nothing at all from the NCAA about a contingency plan. We're going forward as planned and not considering any delay until we're told we need to."

Said Brand: "The logistics would have been complicated, but they were by far not the determining factor. The overwhelming sentiment was we were not going to let a tyrant decide how we'll live our lives. We know of no reason not to go forward with games.

"Extraordinary things, totally unforeseen events, may still happen, but we cannot deal with those hypotheticals now."

CBS, which is negotiating to move men's tournament games to ESPN should war coverage take precedence this week, canceled a conference call with reporters Tuesday because CBS Sports President Sean McManus was not available. Spokeswoman LeslieAnn Wade said he was "involved in round-the-clock discussions regarding our contingency plans." This is the first year of the NCAA's $6-billion, 11-year contract with CBS.

A day after President Bush presented Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein an ultimatum to leave the country within 48 hours or face war, networks worked to solidify their backup plans should news coverage preempt scheduled sports programming.

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