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Rutgers coach took challenge too far

You wonder, would public/media outcries have been different on "strip basketball" at Rutgers University had the abused jaybirds been women?

Josh Sankes and Earl Johnson Jr., former players at the school, along with Juan Carlos Pla, a student manager, charge that December 1997 free throw practice turned "sexually offensive" when coaches mandated that each missed shot result in the student removing an article of clothing.

At first, we chuckle.

Why do I have a vision of Shaquille O'Neal standing there, dressed in nothing but an earring? But, as I joke, naked hoops silliness at Rutgers reminds how overbearing coaches can become in sporting pursuits. Litigants claim they figured the nonsense would be over when they got down to gym shorts.

Kevin Bannon, then coach at Rutgers, was sued along with athletic director Robert Mulcahy. Civil rights violations were charged, but the case was thrown out by a New Jersey court. Twelve days ago, an appellate body overturned the decision, so legal procedures continue.

Claims against coaches can become overcooked. It becomes even more volatile when male coaches are involved with female athletes. At times unfair. Quick legal triggers have wrongfully smacked a lot of dedicated, well-intentioned professionals.

But the stupid stuff does go on. Did coach Bannon offer to strip when players made free shots? Fortunately, such garbage happens less frequently than 30 or 40 years ago, when coaches were known to kick kids, spit at them and scream degrading obscenities.

"I was humiliated," said Sankes, claiming it caused him to develop ulcers. "It was the worst time in my life. I really didn't want to play basketball anymore." He transferred to Holy Cross and led the Crusaders into last season's NCAA Tournament.

Rights must be protected, within reason we would hope, always trying to understand the strained nature of some sports competitions. But what happened at Rutgers appears to demand far more than growls of "boys will be boys" along with weak jock apologies.

JABS: Clemson is granted few brainy jock mentions alongside ACC egghead brethren Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia, but only the Tigers, in all of NCAA Division I football last season, produced two academic All-Americans, center Kyle Young and linebacker Chad Carson. Glamor has long been a subtle, not entirely popular LPGA pursuit, as saucy tour calendars prove, and now 6-foot-3 volleyball celeb, Playboy poser and FSU and Keswick Christian alumna Gabrielle Reece is working in pursuit of professional golf talents with Tiger Woods teacher Butch Harmon. Setting new standards for a "starter home," Lakers hero Kobe Bryant, at 21, and his 19-year-old wife are settling into a $13.5-million California spread.

READERS SHOUT: E-mail from Jim Kuppe asserts: "I take umbrage with your Joe Paterno commentary. Yes, he donated large sums for a library; for that I commend him. But the media has fallen for the Paterno propaganda machine.

"As a Penn State grad and former resident of Pennsylvania, I can tell you the love affair in the press about him doesn't resonate in PA. It has significantly impacted his recruiting and let's dismiss the idea JoePa is all for academics.

"Paterno has sold the media a bill of goods and no one challenges what he does. I'm not a Miami fan but I read where it graduated all 17 (football) seniors in May. Any word on what PS graduated?"

Dave Suban suggests in a message on the same subject "Joe has brought dignity and respect. Unfortunately, too many of today's hotshot sports commentators focus on wins and losses and not character.

"I see JoePa getting the record (surpassing Bear Bryant for career major-college football coaching victories), but that guy at FSU (Bobby Bowden) will not quit until he beats it with a wimp league (ACC) in which they win lots of games every year."

UPPERCUTS: Pebble Beach is a golfer's fantasy, but rough at Monterey Peninsular Country Club has become notably penal. It's not Bermuda, bent or St. Augustine, but it is unquestionably grass. More than 100 marijuana plants were discovered. Narcs estimated value at $500,000. More than one foursome asked about free lifts. Bowden, queried on the biggest distractions for FSU football players, listed, "Girls, followed closely by agents." Speaking of Bowdens, both the 'Noles gent and son Tommy, coach of Clemson's smarties, were asked about the toughest stadiums they encounter on the road. Tigers boss named The Swamp, home of the Florida Gators, but his FSU dad eschewed a Gainesville mention, declaring, "Notre Dame in 1993," where Heisman Trophy quarterback Charlie Ward and the rest of those national champions from Tallahassee took a 31-24 licking. Since 1983, Florida schools have won seven national championships; four by Miami, two for FSU and one for the Gators, but runaway all-time leaders are N.D. and Oklahoma, with eight apiece, including 2000 achievement of Bob Stoops' Sooners.

Whatever happened to Gabby Sabatini?

_ To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.