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Basketball league channels energy into TV deals

The Women's NBA doesn't have any players _ or even any franchises _ but you'll be able to see them all on television three times a week.

The WNBA, a women's professional basketball league run by the NBA and scheduled to begin next summer, last week added deals with cable networks ESPN and Lifetime to the five-year pact it reached last month with NBC.

"ESPN delivers the strongest male demographic on cable; Lifetime delivers the strongest female demographic on cable; and NBC delivers the highest overall sports ratings on television," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "These agreements ensure that the WNBA will receive the most extensive coverage ever of any professional sports league in its first season."

ESPN will show games most Monday nights during the 10-week season, although Stern said games could be moved to Tuesday or Wednesday to avoid conflicts with baseball's All-Star Game in July and NFL preseason games in August. Lifetime will televise games every Friday night, Stern said.

NBC will broadcast games on the weekends, including the league championship game Aug. 30, 1997.

Like the NBC deal, no upfront rights fees were paid by ESPN or Lifetime, Stern said. The league and the networks have signed a revenue and profit-sharing agreement instead.

By comparison, the American Basketball League, an eight-team women's pro league set to begin in October, has its only television deal with SportsChannel Regional Network, a cable operation with 3-million subscribers.

The WNBA plans to have teams in eight NBA cities. Franchises will be owned by the NBA and operated by the NBA teams in those markets. No decisions have been made on where the teams will be placed, but Stern said he has had inquiries from at least 16 teams expressing interest. An announcement, he said, should be made around Labor Day.

FAIR OR FOUL: The most interesting element to the lawsuit brought against Florida State last week by former women's basketball coach Marynell Meadors _ who contends co-workers conspired to have her fired _ is the part in which she alleges the school violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by paying her less than men's basketball coach Pat Kennedy.

Kennedy made $108,446 in base salary last season, Meadors $74,800.

This is the same thing former Southern California coach Marianne Stanley fought _ and lost _ two years ago, leaving Stanley essentially blackballed from the coaching ranks until she landed the head job at Cal for the upcoming season.

Meadors, 52, ranks sixth with NCAA Division I women's victories at 495, but the past four of her 10 seasons at FSU were losing ones.

KEEP AN EYE OUT: Reebok will feature some of its female athletes in two new commercials set to air during the Olympic Games.

In the first, Olympic women's soccer player Michelle Akers gets the best of fellow planeteer Emmitt Smith, whose brand of football is not an Olympic sport. Akers' advice for anyone who wants to get to the Olympics: "Don't wear a helmet." In the sequel, Smith marches past a number of women athletes in an attempt to muscle his way into the Games.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.