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FANS, COURTS WILL DICTATE WHAT HAPPENS

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When the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957 for Los Angeles, sports was forever changed.

That act signaled the beginning of sports as big business. It's a change that could result in most professional sporting events being available only on pay TV in the next few years.And, if the courts rule the NFL draft is illegal, it won't be long before the NBA draft will be declared as such also. The salary cap would also be eliminated under that scenario.

It's also conceivable that under a new legal climate, cities would not have to get approval from a league office to form a team. If somebody, say, in San Jose has the money to put together a baseball team and wants to do so, he or she may have that right.

The above was discussed by Utah Jazz president Frank Layden during his address Monday on the future of professional sports at the Associated Press Sports Editors Western Region Convention Monday at the Doubletree Hotel in Salt Lake City.

Layden did not say those things would happen, only that because sports has changed so much since the romantic years of the '50s, they were possible.

Ultimately, he said, "the fans are the ones who are going to dictate" what happens.

"The next decade is going to be very interesting. Nothing has to remain the same," he said.

Layden believes the fans, like sports, have changed. They might better be compared to consumers than fans. Because of the cost to attend various sporting events, they expect more as consumers than as fans.

The quest for dollars has prevented sports from making some moves that would be better for the players and the fans, Layden believes.

He said that the NBA season - which goes from early November to late June - is too long. He and Pat Riley, coach of the New York Knicks, at one point suggested cutting the season to 60 games plus a Christmas tournament. "It didn't fly because it made too much sense," Layden said.

Layden used the "Dream Team," the 12-team squad comprised of NBA all-stars and Duke's Christian Laettner, which pulverized other teams en route to the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, to illustrate his point on how money has become the main focus of sports.

It wasn't put together because the United States didn't win the gold medal four years earlier at the Olympic Games in Seoul, "but because we saw the potential to make money." That's why the team and the coach were picked a year ahead of time, for marketing purposes, Layden said.

Layden was asked how long he thought players salaries would keep escalating. His answer was, "it depends on the fans."

Talking about pay per view, he said owners may turn to it as the new way to pay the bills. He used as an example of charging $50 to see all the Laker home games. That doesn't seem like much at just over $1 per game, but if you get 2 million subscribers it would result in a lot of revenue ($100 million).

He was asked who are some of the top coaches in the NBA.

"Pat Riley is the best coach in professional basketball," he said.

Having been a former NBA player, Riley understands all the rigors the players go through, Layden said. He mentioned Don Nelson of the Golden State Warriors and Utah's Jerry Sloan as two other coaches who do an excellent job.

He commended former Jazz official Dave Checketts, now president of the Knicks, for doing what he had to do to hire Riley.

It's ironic, Layden said, that NBA owners will spend millions to sign a player who hasn't played a game in the NBA but are reluctant to do so with coaches.

"Wouldn't you rather have Pat Riley than Laettner?" he asked.

He said if he were starting a team the first thing he'd try to do would be to sign Mike Fratello, former coach of the Atlanta Hawks, as his coach and then worry about the players.

Regarding the relationship of professional sports and the media, he said that writers have a tremendous responsibility because they represent the people.

He then made a comment that all scribbled in their notebooks:

"I think we need an expansion of our sports pages."