NCAA TASK FORCE: The U.S. Olympic Committee and NCAA are creating a task force to study the decline in Olympic sports at the collegiate level.

The Joint NCAA/USOC Task Force includes 16 people with knowledge in collegiate and Olympic sports and will work for 18 months. While no dates have been set, the group is expected to meet at least four times.

"This task force is an important step in stemming the decline of Olympic sports programs on NCAA campuses," NCAA president Myles Brand said.

"Obviously, colleges and universities are faced with significant economic issues with regard to athletics programs. But the benefits these student-athletes bring to campuses and the benefits many ultimately share with the nation on the Olympic stage should not be minimized when institutions make budgetary decisions."

Olympic sports are often the first to go when NCAA schools face budget constraints. Wrestling, men's gymnastics and swimming and diving programs have been hit particularly hard. In men's gymnastics, for example, there were 202 teams in all NCAA divisions in 1972. Now there are about 20.

FIRE BREAKS OUT: A small fire broke out at the Olympic International Broadcast Center on Tuesday and was extinguished by the building's sprinkler system.

The facility is at the main Olympic complex, north of central Athens.

The fire department said the blaze apparently was started by overheated electrical wiring in a basement storage area.

They were alerted by residents who saw smoke coming from ground-floor windows.

"A small fire has been extinguished in the basement area of the International Broadcast Center . . . it appears to have caused limited damage," a statement from organizers said.

Firefighters wearing oxygen masks entered to building to check the site.


RATTAY SURGERY: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Tim Rattay had successful surgery on his left groin Tuesday.

Rattay tore a tendon in his groin during the first practice at San Francisco's minicamp last Friday. The 49ers expect him to return for training camp in late July, but acknowledge the injury could keep Rattay out longer.

Auto racing

NASCAR TAXES: Stuffed in a Senate package of proposed corporate tax breaks is an order to the Internal Revenue Service: Don't start treating NASCAR like it's something other than a carnival ride.

For three decades, the owners of NASCAR tracks have built new grandstands and added restrooms or concessions using a seven-year depreciation schedule, an arrangement also enjoyed by amusement park owners.

But given the actual life of such grandstands, the IRS has begun challenging whether racetracks and amusement parks should be treated the same. Recently, the agency has been telling track owners they should use depreciation periods of 15 years or more, which would reduce their tax deductions by half on an annual basis. They still could recoup their investment, but it would take twice as long.

NASCAR leaders say they aren't seeking anything special; they just want the tax treatment they've enjoyed in the past put into law.

"We've had this. It's worked, and why mess it up?" said Humpy Wheeler, president of Speedway Motorsports, which operates six tracks. "Everybody's trying to get an economic advantage today, whether it's taxation or whatever it is. There just simply won't be as much construction if we don't have the favorable depreciation."

While track owners are the primary beneficiaries, politicians are conscious of the latest political target demographic: "NASCAR dads." They're white, working-class men who like President Bush but could be persuaded to vote Democratic, particularly in state and local races.


MISSOURI INVESTIGATION: The Missouri basketball program failed to monitor NCAA compliance and violated multiple rules from 1999-2003, the organization said in a 19-page formal notice of allegations.

The notice was released by the school Tuesday.

Also, one member of the athletic department staff, whose name was taken out of the letter "failed at all times to maintain an environment of NCAA rules compliance."

The violations don't include anything related to academic dishonesty or fraud, the school said. If the allegations are validated by the NCAA's Infractions Committee, the school could face recruiting sanctions, including loss of scholarships or recruiting privileges.

After a lengthy investigation, the NCAA threw out allegations that troubled former player Ricky Clemons received improper academic help to get into Missouri because the charge couldn't be substantiated.

Associate head coach Tony Harvey, top assistant to Quin Snyder, is alleged to have given Clemons $250, an anonymous source familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press on Monday.

WYOMING SIGNS PLAYERS: Wyoming completed its college basketball recruiting class by signing 6-foot-7, 200-pound forward Kevin Lewis.

Lewis, who comes to Laramie from Compton (Calif.) College, is the sixth student-athlete overall, and the fifth junior college player, to be signed by coach Steve McClain in this class.

"I really liked the campus, the people were nice, the guys on the team seemed cool, and it seemed like a place where I could come in and make an impact," Lewis said of his decision to sign with Wyoming.

Wyoming signed three junior college players to national letters of intent earlier: Justin Williams, a 6-foot-10, 215-pound power forward from Colby (Kan.) Community College; Derek Wabbington, a 6-9, 235-pound center from Northeastern Junior College; and Chris Anderson, a 6-8 forward at College of Eastern Utah.

After the NCAA Board of Directors recently loosened recruiting restrictions, the Cowboys added James Ebert, a 6-2, 165-pound guard from Kirkwood Community College.

The lone prep signee is Steve Neal, a 6-5, 190-pound swing player from Minneapolis Patrick Henry High School.