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College sports under scrutiny - and the world of science on 'Discover'

This is a bad week for the nation's sports. On Monday the new PBS documentary series ''Frontline'' pointed (mainly by innuendo) to the alleged influences of gamblers and gangsters on the National Football League. And now that professional football has gotten its rough (but seemingly deserved) treatment from PBS, CBS is on the attack against intercollegiate basketball.

CBS Reports: The Basketball Machine (Thursday, 10:11 p.m.) arrives at an especially relevant time - in the midst of the current attempt of collegiate sports through the National Collegiate Athletic Association to put its own house in order by establishing new scholarship standards for athletic ''scholars.''

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CBS correspondent Lem Tucker points out that last season college basketball netted over $200 million, and this has put ''tremendous pressure on the colleges , the coaches, the players to win, to make money. In the headlong rush toward those objectives, many universities have shoved aside their first priorities - to educate and build character.''

Rather than concentrate wholly on the individual schools' illegal recruiting (which is covered adequately), the documentary focuses more on the effects on the athlete himself of the professionalization of collegiate basketball. CBS Reports joins the scouts, coaches, basketball buffs, and ratings services in attending the Dapper Dan Classic, the all-star tournament where star high school athletes exhibit their talents.

Then the documentary follows an athlete on the University of Kentucky basketball team, which, according to Tucker, ''destroys any illusion that these are just scholar/athletes and not semi-professionals.'' Tucker also introduces the TV audience to Kevin Ross, a former Creighton University basketball star. After four years of college, he almost appears barely able to read or write.

Does Tucker have an answer? Yes - a simple one: ''The abuse will end only when they (the school presidents, faculties, and athletic departments) decide that their first obligation is to educate. Until then, college basketball will continue to use up thousands of the nation's youth . . . and give them very little or nothing in return.''

Current campus discussions indicate that there is, indeed, a move to protect the college athlete from harmful manipulation by college authorities. This CBS Reports performs a public service by making it clear that there must be more rapid action. New 'Discover' episode

If PBS's weekly ''Nova'' does not provide enough science programming for you, it's time you discovered ''Discover.''

Not the monthly magazine published by

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Time Inc., but the now-and-then series of specials called ''Discover: The World of Science.'' It is expertly produced by two of television's most facile science programmers, John Angier and Graham Chedd (whose work you may know from PBS's ''Nova'' and ''Odyssey''). Now they are back again with show No. 3 in the ''Discover'' series (syndicated on about 60 stations throughout the last two weeks of January, check local listings).

In many ways similar to the recent 30-minute CBS science show ''Universe,'' this one-hour magazine-format program substitutes retiring Peter Graves for the authoritatively articulate Walter Cronkite. Thus the focus automatically reverts to the science itself rather than the personality presenting the science.

In this third edition, ''Discover'' delves into five areas - the most engaging being an investigation into post-eruption Mt. St. Helens, experiments with sleeplessness and its effects, and human-powered vehicles (notably bicycles , tricycles, and in one case a four-wheel, five-seater). In all cases, ''Discover,'' takes its cameras to the site of the experiments, involving the viewers in the research - and the excitement - as it is actually happening.

At Mt. St. Helens ''Discover'' discovers how nature so often manages to recuperate from such volcanic disruptions. In the sleeplessness experiments, it was discovered that humans can continue reasonably well for 72 sleepless hours . . . as long as they are not required to focus on boring and routine tasks. The human-powered-vehicle segment concentrates on bikes that traveled at 57.8 miles an hour and over . . . and on a whole strata of the scientific community involved in streamlining human pedal power.

''Discover'' is not a mere ''Believe It or Not'' show; it is a straightforward attempt to provide scientific enlightenment as it also entertains. It manages to do both superbly.

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