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Detroit Scores NFL Free Agency Coup

Column by Brian Petersen and Bo Light
Union Representatives

Your regular EA Sports columnists, citing their opposition to the salary cap imposed by the editors, have gone on strike.

The editors, not wishing to disappoint avid readers, have hired replacement columnists to fill in until the strike ends.

Hi! We're your replacement columnists, Chip Bodine and Bobby Joe Torkelson. We wanted to talk all about auto racing and the WWF, but those other two guys called us scabs and said if we wrecked their column, they'd do really bad things to us. So we're gonna talk about other stuff.

NFL: free agency report

The big news this week, obviously, is that the Green Bay Packers released All-Pro receiver Sterling Sharpe to free up money under the salary cap.

Sharpe's season ended just before the playoffs when he was diagnosed with a career-threatening neck injury. He has since undergone surgery to fuse two vertabrae, and is recovering, but the Packers didn't want to take a $3.2 million dollar chance that he might not play again. Look for him to be picked up by San Francisco for a song, and to be playing again in 1996.

Around the league, Detroit scored the first coup of the free agency season by signing Minnesota defensive lineman Henry Thomas to a three-year, $7.35 million contract. Thomas' presence will give the Lions some much-needed help with their pass rush; unfortunately, while they were busy signing Thomas, they lost guard Shawn Bouwens to Jacksonville, further weakening an already shaky offensive line.

On the Ice

As the NHL season wears on, some of the divisional races are starting to take shape. Without a doubt, the top division so far is the Central, with four twenty-point teams already - Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, Toronto.

The cream of the league, however, is still in the race for first in the Northeast division: Pittsburgh and Quebec. These teams have roared out to a big lead over the rest of the division with the two best offensive outputs in the NHL. The edge in this race goes to the surprising Nordiques, who owe the advantage to better goaltending.

Over in the IHL, hockey's equivalent of a Triple-A league, the action continues to be hot despite the loss of several talented players to the NHL. The lockout was a boon for the IHL, as the league is enjoying phenomenal success: With many tickets available for $10 or less, its popularity will stay high. The IHL has been expanding rapidly over the past few years, and already a franchise in San Francisco has been announced for next season.

This expansion is good for the league in general - they are constantly pushing into new markets, and are in no danger of depleting a huge talent pool - but it could hurt the older, smaller teams in the league. Peoria and Kalamazoo are two of the top teams in the league, but cannot generate half the revenue of, say, the Minnesota Moose, a crappy team that happens to play in a big stadium and has cool uniforms. These teams are trapped in their small towns; Kalamazoo plays in the 5,200-seat Wings Stadium, and the city has no plans to upgrade the facilities.

Unfortunately, these teams will be forced to keep up with the league or fold, and their cities will have to build larger stadiums or risk losing very popular teams and a great deal of revenue.

Pete's Top 10

1. UCLA

2. Kentucky

3. UNC

4. Kansas

5. Maryland

6. UMass

7. UConn

8. Arkansas

9. Wake Forest

10. Michigan St.

Watch out for the Demon Deacons, who with Tuesday's win over UNC, are in a three-way tie for second in the ACC behind Maryland (pending the outcome of the Terps' game at Duke, which took place after our deadline). Wake, led by All-American candidate Randolph Childress and sophomore sensation Tim Duncan, looks poised to make a serious run in both the ACC tournament and the Big Dance.

The ACC title will be decided this weekend when the Terps go to

Charlottesville to play sophomore sensation Harold Deane and the Cavs. Our prediction: Virginia knocks off Joe Smith & Co., thus leaving a four-way tie for the title between the Tarheels, Demon Deacons, Cavs, and Terps.

Big Ten Review

The Big Ten, our favorite conference, had a down year talent-wise and in competitiveness on a national level. This was supposed to be the final tour for Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, and the Big Dog.

Instead they opted for the fame and fortune of the NBA. That, combined with a weak freshman class (Indiana and Michigan are the exceptions), has resulted in the lack of a national powerhouse (the Spartans are currently the conference's only Top 10 representative). Michigan State, on the grounds that they have an easier remaining schedule than Purdue, is our pick to finish first.

Here's our All-Big 10 Team: PG Kiwane Garris, Illinois; SG Shawn Respert, MSU; C Rashard Griffith, Wisconsin; SF Cuonzo Martin, Purdue; PF Alan Henderson, Indiana.

One may contend that the Badgers' Michael Finley is better than Martin. But Martin has almost single-handedly carried the Boilermakers, who have hardly missed a beat since Glenn Robinson's defection to the big leagues. Martin's amazing perimeter touch, along with his senior leadership, make him a lock to be a first-round draft pick in June.

Player of the Year honors go to Respert, who is averaging 25 points per game and is continuing that Spartan tradition of producing top-notch guards like Steve Smith, Scott Skiles, and that Earvin "Magic" Johnson guy.

NBA Insights

In this era of high-salaried, ego-tripped players, we would like to tip our hats to the Lakers and Cavs, who are bucking the trend by proving that having coachable players, not just talented ones, is the key to winning in sports. Despite injuries and limited talent, both the Cavs (33-22) and Lakers (34-19) are contending for divisional titles.

They do have excellent coaches in Mike Fratello and Del Harris, respectively, but so did Golden State, who had Don Nelson. He won in Milwaukee and also did so early in his stint with the Warriors despite never having had a legitimate big man (Alton Lister and Paul Mokeski do not qualify!). However, as we all witnessed in his recent downfall, great coaching plus great talent does not always equal winning. Chris Webber, Billy Owens, and Latrell Sprewell had attitude problems and were uncoachable.

All three were traded or demanded to be shipped elsewhere. Consequently, Golden State, along with New Jersey (Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman), are labelled underachievers. These are teams who should be contending for the title: Instead, they are fighting to stay out of the cellars of their divisions.

Trivia Question

When did Michigan State last play in the Final Four, and name the other three teams that made it that year? Send answers, along with comments, and applications for the crew of America3, to easports@the-tech. Winners will receive a free tour of The Tech's offices.

Answer to last week's question: The last Big East team to play in the Final Four was Seton Hall in '89. The Pirates lost in the finals to Michigan, 80-79 in overtime. Congratulations to Leo Chang G, who sent in the only correct answer. Come to The Tech's offices (fourth floor of the Student Center) to pick up your prize.