The fact that neither rookie is a part of the old-boy network was mentioned as a positive by more than one player. "They don't have favorites," says veteran Houston Rockets guard Eddie Johnson. Adds Denver forward LaPhonso Ellis, "They don't make many hierarchy calls."
The consensus seems to be that Kantner, who is also the supervisor of officials for the WNBA, is the more confident of the two refs, sometimes to her detriment. "Dee's problem is that she's a little too familiar out there," says one veteran referee. Familiar? Well, an Eastern Conference All-Star says that in one game Kantner rested a hand on his rib cage as he talked to her. "Why is that?" says the player. "Joe Crawford isn't going to hold my ribs." Then again, an Eastern Conference coach says that Palmer allows herself to be overruled on correct decisions and must "come in with a stronger frame of mind."
One very on-the-record critic of both women is Seattle Super-Sonics forward Sam Perkins. He asserts that Kantner and Palmer have done "a subpar job." Perkins disagrees with Johnson and Ellis, saying that Kantner and Palmer "base their calls on who you are" and in that respect have "taken on the personality of men refs by favoritism." But even Perkins gives the duo one grudging nod: "It looks like they're in better shape than the male refs. They run quicker?' That's something Perkins better do when Kantner or Palmer works a Sonics game.
Seasons on The Brink
Comments last week about postseason play by two high-ranking sports executives are deliciously comparable in the unconscious messages they send. The first is from Dave Checketts, CEO of Madison Square Garden, the conglomerate that owns the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers, among other properties. While discussing the fact that revenue will decline if neither Garden team qualifies for the postseason, Checketts told The New York Times, "Missing the playoffs will hurt, but our event business, Radio City Music Hall and our TV networks are performing very well." Ah, sports in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz fumed to the Edmonton Sun about the interruption of the NHL season for the Olympics. "I didn't like having one game in February," said Wirtz. "Our fans want hockey in the winter, not April and May."
Trouble at Texas
Athletic director DeLoss Dodds has put a smiley face on the losing and the coaching changes that have plagued Texas athletics of late. But it's time for Dodds to take a hard look at the way he's running things. It's not just mat three major programs (baseball, which at week's end was 16-22-1 with 16 games left; football; and men's basketball) might finish with losing records for the first time since 1954-55. It's more the coaching carousel that is turning round and round (four head coaches have been fired, been reassigned or have resigned in 21 months) and the suggestion by former coaches that alumni have far too much sway over Dodds.
The most recent—and most embarrassing—exhibit is men's basketball, whose coach, Tom Penders, "resigned" on April 2. On March 8, the day after the Longhorns wrapped up a 14-17 season, four members of Penders's team met with Dodds. They expressed concerns over their development and threatened to transfer. Dodds concedes that the meeting was set up by Texas alum Bill Wendlandt, a former Longhorns basketball player as well as the former AAU coach of Longhorns freshmen Luke Axtell and Chris Mihm, two of the disgruntled players. "I'm upset that someone outside the program got access to my players and tried to undermine me," says Penders.
Further, Dodds waited five days to tell Penders about the meeting, informing him the day before Penders left on a Caribbean vacation. After Penders announced mat Axtell would be suspended for academic reasons (Penders said he reached mat conclusion only after consulting with the athletic department's academic adviser), Dodds said publicly that he didn't support that decision.