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ABL is tapping the growth of basketball

Not only is American Basketball League CEO Gary Cavalli pleased with his league's first season, he said there is a 70 percent chance the league will expand by as many as four teams.

The eight-team ABL slightly exceeded its attendance expectations. It wrapped up the season last week when the Columbus Quest beat the Richmond Rage 77-64 for the league title in front of a capacity crowd of 6,313.

The ABL has gained a loyal following in its eight markets. The next steps, Cavalli said, are expansion, landing more national sponsors and possibly a television deal with a major network.

Cavalli said he is not feeling threatened by the WNBA, which has television deals with NBC and ESPN and tons of marketing dollars. He calls those "temporary advantages."

"We're playing basketball in basketball season," Cavalli said. "We're playing in markets that have proven to be strong markets for women's basketball."

The ABL estimates its losses for the first season to be as much as $5-million. But _ as players happily point out _ the paychecks were always on time, which doesn't always happen in the European leagues.

"When you were negotiating a contract, you were wondering, "Is this thing really going to make it?" said Katie Smith of the Columbus Quest. "But once we got here, it's been awesome."

Next year, top salaries will rise by $25,000, to $150,000, and teams will carry 11 players instead of 10. Among those contending for expansion teams are Long Island, Anaheim, Las Vegas and St. Louis.

SI DEBUT: Look for the first issue of Sports Illustrated's sports magazine for women on the newsstands April 21. The magazine, Sports Illustrated Women/Sport, will feature more than 100 editorial pages.

Contributors include Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Anna Quindlen, softball gold medalist and surgeon Dot Richardson and novelist Jane Leavy. The magazine will be published twice this year; the frequency for 1998 and beyond is undetermined.

COACHING ENDOWMENT: Brown University has become the second school in the country _ the first being perennial power Stanford _ to endow its women's basketball head-coaching position.

Alumnus Elizabeth Chace and her husband, Malcolm, donated $1.4-million to the athletic department, with $1-million going to fund the coach's position and the rest for women's athletics in general.

DID YOU KNOW?: Last year's NCAA basketball championship game, in which Tennessee beat Southeastern Conference rival Georgia, was the highest-rated and most-watched women's game in ESPN history, registering a 3.7 rating.

Not too surprising _ but consider it also was the second-highest rated game (men's or women's) on the network during the past three years.

Last season ESPN's college football games averaged a 2.2 rating, NHL games a .7 rating and Sunday night baseball a 1.6 rating.

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