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DePaul's basketball coach bowing out; Winter Olympics on TV

If DePaul wins the NCAA basketball championship, Coach Ray Meyer won't face the same problem North Carolina State's Jim Valvano did last year. The demonstrative Valvano pranced wildly around the court looking for a player to hug after the Wolfpack won the title. Meyer could simply turn and embrace the young man sitting on the bench next to him, who happens to be his 34 -year-old son Joey, an assistant coach. Joey will replace his dad next season.

Ray, a grandfatherly 70-year-old, is retiring after 42 years at the small Chicago school. Before doing so, however, he will attempt to take the fourth-ranked and 26-2 Blue Demons to their first national championship. DePaul will be chasing this pot of gold in the 53-team NCAA tournament, which began earlier this week and will culminate in Seattle on April 2. DePaul's first test comes Saturday against the winner of the Illinois State-Alabama game.

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Within the past decade, two coaches have bowed out of the profession on top. John Wooden did it at UCLA in 1975 and Al McGuire followed suit at Marquette two years later.

A lot of people will now be cheering for the affable Meyer to end his career the same way. The only problem is DePaul's tendency to collapse in the tournament. Several times it's been upset in the first-round, and only once, in 1979, did it make the Final Four. That team lost by two points to Larry Bird and Indiana State in a semfinal game.

Meyer has sometimes had problems with prima donnas, but is quite fond of his current group of ''overachievers,'' including Marty Embry, the team's 6 ft. 9 in. sophomore center. Embry is certainly not overpowering. And this fact would seem to give the edge to teams with more prominent big men, such as No. 1 North Carolina with Sam Perkins, No. 2 Georgetown with Pat Ewing, No. 3 Kentucky with Twin Towers Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin, and No. 5 Houston with Akeem Olajuwon.

TV and the Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics are basically a collection of sports with limited appeal to the general public, which is why the price tag on the 1988 television rights for the Calgary Games seems so out of line. ABC-Sports will pay $309 million for them, a hefty increase on the $90 million paid this year in Sarajevo.

As the result of lower-than-anticipated ratings during last months's Winter Games, ABC plans to compensate adver-tisers for lost viewership in the form of no-charge ''make good'' ads. Part of the problem was in unforseen weather post-ponements that kept bumping the Alpine events off the air during the first week. Things picked up thereafter, but hardly enough to make advertisers think '88 air time will be a bargain at any price.

ABC had to bid for the Calgary coverage before the Sarajevo Olympics ever began, so it could only make a projection about viewership down the road. In going for broke, the network is hoping that considerable live coverage will make for riveting programming.

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Very little live coverage was possible from Sarajevo because of a six- to nine-hour time difference with the continental United States. This was a considerable drawback in attracting hockey viewers, who saw no real reason to watch games where the results were known, and the US had lost as often as not.

Live or no, however, the fundamental consideration in covering the Winter Games is the nature of the events. Many are highly repetitive, and few boast head-to-head competition. The bobsled and luge, for example, are fun to watch for a while, but the novelty wears off quickly, partly because there is so little visible difference between one run and the next.

Figure skating and Alpine skiing, the winter glamour events, can always be counted on to make a striking visual impact, as they did in Yugoslavia. But showing a steady diet of these sports tends to dilute their appeal. Even at the Olympics, there are only a handful of skaters really capable of dazzling an audience, and most ski races are essentially over after the first dozen or so competitors cross the finish line.

ABC is talking about 80 hours of coverage from Calgary, up from 63 1/2 hours aired this year. Filling that time effectively promises to be a real challenge, especially without the potential for the many travelogue-like features Sarajevo provided. The price of the exclusive rights could reach the point of no returns.

Illinois making noises

The University of Illinois is having quite a year. It won last fall's Big Ten football title outright, then emerged as this season's co-champion in basketball alongside Purdue. In the process, Illinois defeated every other conference member in both sports, the only time this has happened within the school year.

The football team won all nine conference games, and the basketball team beat every league foe at least once during the home-and-home schedule.

The basketball team only hopes its season ends more satisfactorily than the football team's did. The Fighting Illini were crushed 45-9 by UCLA in one of the most lopsided Rose Bowls in history. The defeat dropped Illinois from fifth to tenth in the final football rankings.

The basketball team, which finished the regular season 24-4 and sixth-ranked, earned a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament and will meet either Villanova or Marshall University on Saturday in Mideast Regional action.

Illinois is a balanced, defense-minded team that would like to advance to the Final Four in Seattle, just as the 1952 squad did. That team, led by All-America guard Rod Fletcher and John (Red) Kerr, lost a two-point decision to St. John's in the semifinals.

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