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Roller hockey league made for tube

The epiphany came just down the road from Hollywood _ which may explain why it seemed destined for television.

David McLane was driving unhurriedly down a Los Angeles street when he saw a youngster on roller skates, with a hockey stick in hand. McLane turned the car around to investigate and came away with a new line of work:

Founder, owner and promoter of The World Roller Hockey League.

In brief, it's ice hockey sans the ice.

Players use in-line roller skates (skates with a single line of wheels in the middle) in an outdoor arena. There is no blue line and no offsides, so there are less whistles. The goals are larger than ice hockey to increase scoring.

And the league's entire 33-game season will be shown on ESPN beginning with Monday's debut at 4 p.m.

"One may say the World Roller Hockey League has been made for TV," McLane said. "Well, show me a sport today that has not been made for TV. Look at the NBA. Those people have been the greatest benefactors of discovering they're not just in the sports business but the entertainment business as well."

Perhaps, but few sports are orchestrated for television like roller hockey.

First, none of the teams are affiliated with a city. Instead of the Los Angeles Aztecs or Baltimore Blast, it's just the Aztecs and Blast. All games were played at Universal Studios in Orlando and admission was free.

Second, the season already is over. The games were played in May, so all of the games on ESPN in June and July are on tape. In researching failed sports leagues, McLane said too many were dependent on ticket sales. So he and Nick Buoniconti, the league's co-founder and former Miami Dolphins star, opted for television and advertising sponsorships as the main source of revenue for roller hockey.

To keep costs down _ and competition up _ McLane said player salaries are based on performance. The best players on the best team got about $7,500 for their month's work, while the average salary was in the $5,000 range.

Within four years, McLane is hoping franchises move to cities and the WRHL becomes a traditional sports league.

For now, though, the league will start with ESPN's afternoon viewers. Roller hockey also is expected to be one of the featured attractions when ESPN2 starts this fall.

"Initially, we may have a cult following. I see us obviously grabbing more than the hockey traditionals," McLane said. "Because it's an outdoor sport, it's more of a lifestyle thing. How many people in Rome, Ga., can go out and play ice hockey? But anybody can put on a pair of in-line skates and play hockey in their driveway."

Ace in the hole: For the second year in a row, Vision Cable has won a National Cable Ace award for its sports event coverage. Vision Cable earned the award for its Game of the Week

presentation, which featured Philadelphia Phillies spring-training games, Arena Football games, prep sports and University of South Florida club hockey games along with other events. "I think the reason we won was we showed a proficiency with so many different events," said Vision Cable spokesman Brian Aungst, who accepted the award in San Francisco last week.

Line of the week: While New York's Frank Tanana was frustrating Braves hitters with an assortment of slow breaking pitches Monday night, TBS announcer Don Sutton had this observation: "A left-hander with Tanana's stuff is called "crafty.' A right-hander with that stuff is called "coach.' "

Around the dial: The Gatorade Ironman Triathlon will be re-broadcast Sunday at 3 p.m. on WFLA-Ch. 8. It originally ran in December. The World Triathlon Corporation _ a Tarpon Springs-based organization _ won an Emmy award for camera work in a videotaped sports special for its coverage of this event. The U.S. national soccer team's debut on national television Sunday drew a 2.0 rating, the lowest ever for the handful of international soccer telecasts on American TV. The rating was slightly better than the 1.9 for the LPGA Championship but paled next to the NBA's 17.0 rating Sunday night.

The Weekend Poll: Television's top sports highlights this weekend:

1. Suns at Bulls (today, 9 p.m., Ch. 8): Michael and Co. are set to join the legendary Celtics of the '60s and Minneapolis Lakers of the '50s as NBA three-peaters.

2. PGA U.S. Open (Saturday-Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 10): Early-round coverage is on ESPN tonight.

3. White Sox at Angels (Saturday, 10 p.m., WGN): Two teams involved in baseball's only hot pennant race thus far.

4. Winston Cup Miller Genuine Draft 400 (Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 13): Points leader Dale Earnhardt should surpass $1-million in earnings for the year in this race.

5. Wimbledon (Monday, 9 a.m., HBO): It misses the weekend by nine hours, but HBO begins it coverage of the fortnight on Monday.